February 2021 – In December, the Coalition of Community Gardens (COCG) and Garden Steps opened the Healthy 22nd Street Initiative to help residents of East Tampa gain easier access to healthy foods through gardening. Karen Elizabeth, a COCG Gardens Coordinator, demonstrated how to construct half-barrel container gardens that can be placed on apartment patios and decks so those without a large yard can grow their own gardens. At the demonstration, COCG gave away a container garden to one of the attendees. Thanks to the funds from Aetna awarded to the Hillsborough Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), Coalition of Community Gardens, and the Garden Steps team, four home gardens have now been installed.
Down the road at Middleton High School, two additional gardens were built in partnership with teachers and students from the STEM program. This included a butterfly garden inside the school grounds and a vegetable garden outside the school fence to allow community access. COCG hired three outstanding interns from USF and a Gardens Coordinator, partly paid for through the funds received from the Garden Steps Healthiest Cities and Counties Challenge Award. One of the MPO Interns, Hemashree Dunakhe, developed conceptual plans for a future garden at Tampa Family Health Center’s 22nd Street location. Another partner in this effort is the HOPE Center garden. Located at 4902 N 22nd Street, it was established nine years ago, expanding several times, to provide a hands-on opportunity for students and members of the community. The Coalition of Community Gardens is also working on future expansions going north to Sligh and south to connect through Ybor (on 22nd St).
The Garden Steps Initiative seeks to create community gardens with easy pedestrian and bicycle access in identified food deserts in the city of Tampa. The goal is to improve health equity and population health by increasing easy access to fresh fruits and vegetables. By increasing pedestrian, bicycle and transit access between a network of community gardens, we believe we will see a measurable improvement in health and social outcomes such as improved nutrition, reduced hunger, chronic disease prevention, and improved behavior in school among youth.
Garden Steps is a collaboration between the Hillsborough Metropolitan Planning Organization, Planning Commission, Florida Department of Health in Hillsborough County, the City of Tampa, Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority, and the Community Garden Coalition.