Garden Steps | Runner Up in the National Healthiest Cities & Counties Challenge!

The Third Annual Grow Community Gardens Conference took place on May 15, 2020.  Hosted by the Coalition of Community Gardens, the conference included presentations on food and health policy, and future directions for Garden Steps and the Coalition.

To see a video of the conference and presentations, CLICK HERE.

To view the conference flyer, CLICK HERE.

To view the conference agenda, CLICK HERE.

See Aetna Foundation’s short video featuring the Garden Steps project and a few other national finalists!

On February 12, 2019, Hillsborough Metropolitan Planning Organization’s Garden Steps project was selected as first runner-up in the Healthiest Cities & Counties Challenge (the Challenge). As a runner up, the Hillsborough Metropolitan Planning Organization received $50,000 to continue their work to improve health equity in the city of Tampa.

The Challenge was launched in partnership with the American Public Health Association (APHA) and the National Association of Counties (NACo), empowering 50 small-to-mid-sized cities and counties nationwide to make measurable, scalable improvements to public health issues in their local communities. Since its inception, the Challenge awarded a total of $1.5 million in grants and prizes to the 50 participating programs to support their efforts to tackle the most pressing health issues facing their communities.

Our 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.

Over the course of the Challenge, Garden Steps accomplished the following toward this goal:

  • To encourage the sustainability and formation of Community Garden, the Garden Steps team sponsored the first annual Grow Community Gardens – Tampa Bay Conference with 120 attendees participating.
  • Garden Steps installed two pop-up gardens with the strong capacity of community volunteers.
  • Working with the City of Tampa Transportation Department, a pedestrian wayfinding pilot project to a community garden was completed and installed.
  • Addressing population health, Garden Steps has hosted two vegetable cooking & tasting sessions for seniors who are learning to manage diabetes. A new partnership with Senior Connections offered an opportunity to assist in the support of better outcomes in the health and wellness of older adults.
  • Garden Steps has collected data on food deserts, chronic health conditions, transportation facilities and related indicators; creating the Hillsborough County Health Atlas, a public tool which currently features over 65 health indicators.
  • The Garden Steps Health Initiative proposed a model approach to improving health equity through presentations at events such as the Community Indicators Consortium 2017 Impact Summit, the 2018 National Conference on Equitable Development, and the 2018 Florida Public Transit Association/Commission for Transportation Disadvantaged Annual Training Workshop.
  • A Health in All Policies resolution demonstrating the relationship between the MPO’s regional, short and long‐term transportation plans with the Department of Health’s priorities in addressing health equity has been created. Click HERE to view the resolution and report.
  • Partnering with our transit partner, HART, Garden Steps created an education poster on the value of community gardening that is on display at all transfer stations and at stops along HART’s bus transitway.
  • Garden Steps has established a web page sharing information on how to begin a garden.
  • Garden Steps attended 15 neighborhood and community group meetings to consult and collaborate, and used annual community events such as the Hillsborough County Neighborhoods Conference and the Environmental Protection Commission’s Clean Air Fair, to encourage and educate on the benefits of community gardens.

Hillsborough MPO’s Garden Steps project was originally selected as one of fifty finalists for the Healthiest Cities and Counties Challenge, a two-year competition to “support communities in their collaborative efforts to become healthier places to live, work, learn, play, and pray.”

Garden Steps focuses on the built environment, with our goal to improve community health by supporting active transportation through a system of community gardens and the growth of three new gardens in areas with low access to healthy food. The success of this project relies on making a measurable impact here in our community, and identifying collaborative models that can be sustained and recreated in other parts of the United States.

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. By increasing pedestrian, bicycle and transit access between a network of community gardens, we believe that 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.

View transit lines and stops near Hillsborough County’s community gardens

View trails, sidepaths and preferred bike lanes near Hillsborough County’s community gardens

Learn more about the Healthiest Cities and Counties Challenge and Hillsborough County’s entry by visiting