The Airport Garden Group
DescriptionAmelia Island (Florida) is widely known as an upscale resort and tourist destination, where oceanfront building lots can cost $1 million or more. This is hardly the place to find a Community Garden that features a strong commitment to providing fresh vegetables to homeless and needy families in Florida’s Nassau County…but just such a program has been growing food for folks in those circumstances for more than 25 years.
It started with a group of factory workers who wanted to grow fresh food for their families. They used discarded pipes from the factory for an irrigation system (they dug the trenches and laid out more than 1000 feet of water lines) and managed to convince the City of Fernandina Beach to let them use an overgrown jungle area next to the municipal airport for their gardens. It was a major effort to clear the area and amend the almost pure sand soil but now the gardens generate almost every imaginable herb and vegetable, year around.
Today there is a dedicated group of gardeners tending 16 lots, ranging in size from 100 square feet to almost 2000. One of those lots is reserved for growing vegetables for needy families and most of the gardeners also donate a portion of their individual harvests to homeless and challenged community members.
One such gardener is Dan Groth, who “returned” to gardening several years ago, when he turned 70 years old. “I helped my family with their Victory Garden when I was a little boy” says Groth, “and it kindled a love of plants that has lasted my entire life.’
Although his vegetable gardening was interrupted by a 50-year career as an entrepreneur and business executive, Groth rekindled his plant passion by reading everything he could on gardening (his personal library has more than 100 gardening books) and enrolling in Master Gardening courses. Finally, after being on the waiting list, a plot in the Airport Gardens became available and he was off to the races.
Today his garden (known as the “Little Farm”) has over 1000 lineal feet of vegetables and flowers of all kinds and he makes a trip twice per week to donate to the local shelters and kitchens. “I always include flowers with my vegetable donations” he notes. “Homeless folks are lucky if they get bread and a few basic groceries. They don’t generally get flowers and I like to think that brings some happiness and beauty into their lives.”
Not satisfied with only this program, Groth now mentors the Garden Club at his local Middle School, where kids have their own rows of vegetables and take fresh produce home to their families. In the recent past, he also supervised the landscaping activities for his Homeowners Association (with more than 400 families).
The Airport Garden Group and Dan Groth are examples of how Americans “give back” to their communities through gardening and open-hearted generosity. It’s an old-fashioned part of the American spirit and way of life.
Story contributed by Dan Groth