Welcome to Gainesville Giving Garden, a community led non-profit farm, which strives to enable equitable access to quality food and the benefits that come with healthy eating! Located in Gainesville, Florida, this garden exemplifies what can be accomplished with inspiration, some hard work, a strong community spirit and a passion for humanity.
Meg Boria-Meyer grew up in Maine with parents who were avid gardeners. Her father bought a hobby farm where Meg spent much of her time in her younger years.
The Gainesville Giving Garden was catalyzed during the pandemic. Food insecurity during COVID inspired Meg, who by this time had enough farming experience under her belt to get a community garden up and running.
Meg feels that food is the medicine that fuels us and determines whether we succeed and whether our children succeed. The generational cycles of poverty can only end when there is truly nutritious food available to everyone in equal measure.
Meg took some time and space during the pandemic to really think through how to get this garden going. She went knocking on doors looking for empty lots in the area and came across a man who owned an abandoned parking lot right in the middle of town. He offered to lease the property for one dollar, in essence donating the land to the garden. Formerly a site for crime and litter, this centrally located property proved to be the perfect accessible location for a community garden.
Once the word got out about the garden, connections with local businesses and nonprofits skyrocketed. The parking lot was excavated, and the asphalt removed. Two semi-trucks loaded with topsoil were donated. A local composting company set up a discount program. The old, abandoned parking lot was ultimately demolished and turned into a large flourishing garden.
Sunday is Volunteer Day at the Giving Garden. Tasks are discussed and distributed to volunteers who range from 3 to 73 years old. Meg says that in this college town, everyone from children to university students have helped in the garden. By the end of the growing season 50 volunteers were providing consistent manpower, allowing them to exceed their harvest expectations.
Meg has a minor in non-profit leadership. She is resourceful and a strong believer in not reinventing the wheel and not making assumptions about what is wanted. Partnering with other non-profits is what makes this garden so successful.
A program called the Free Grocery Store delivers weekly groceries to those who identify as food insecure. The Gainesville Giving Garden and the Free Grocery Store are distribution partners, delivering fresh food to marginalized individuals on a weekly basis. The garden has also partnered with other organizations, such as medical clinics and affordable health care establishments.
They also work with a local seed bank, Working Food, and nearby nonprofit nursery, Grow Hub, for seeds and plants, although they still do purchase some seeds and seedlings. The majority of the garden’s seeds are donated by Working Food. Seed stewards come to the garden and enjoy seeing the plants grown from their seeds. This arrangement bolsters local seed sovereignty — the crops do better because they’re meant to grow here and are generally pest resistant. Meg says 90% of their seeds come from this local seed bank.
Meg mentions that her co-lead, Steve, was the driver of the project’s pollinator gardens. He has a background in permaculture and his work there has attracted birds, insects and even snakes. Her other co-lead, Lauren, is a certified Nutritionist and Professor of Human Nutrition, and has led the Giving Garden’s Community Health initiatives, such as providing harvest-relevant recipe cards and seasonal cooking demos to their wider audience.
Gainesville Giving Garden is a hub for education. Gardening experiences here empower marginalized and underserved community members, and those educational opportunities, in turn, increase the garden’s food production. The garden is all about providing fresh organic food to anyone in need.
The Giving Garden works with nonprofits that serve underprivileged groups, such as Project YouthBuild and the Gainesville Opportunity Center (GOC). Project YouthBuild students come on a regular basis to help and learn while they’re working. At-risk youth and other students learn about planting, mulching, soil and water retention and all aspects of healthy gardening. Meanwhile, the GOC, which serves mentally and physically disabled folks, spend time at the Giving Garden on a regular basis for learning and practicing teamwork in the garden beds. For example, members spent their last visit at the farm harvesting tomatoes and collards as they learned.
In addition, the garden has been supporting university student interns studying garden-related and nutrition subjects such as horticulture and community health.
Community-led workshops on gardening and well-being, sustainable living and pollinators are open to the public. A class on how to ferment cabbage, on beekeeping, and a flower workshop are just some of the educational opportunities that have a connection with the garden.
Because of the climate in Gainesville, the garden is finished around mid-June and replaced with cover crops. Last season’s harvest resulted in an estimated 2,000 pounds of donated vegetables!
Meg Boria-Meyer started with an idea that grew into a prolific and highly beneficial boost to the Gainesville community. Take a look at the Gainesville Giving Garden’s website and Facebook page to learn more about this extraordinary project. The Gainesville Giving Garden welcomes donations, just as they welcome everyone in the community who needs and appreciates healthy food.
Every year, Gardening Know How awards $1,000 to 20 different, hand-picked garden projects across the United States and Canada. If your community or school garden has a growing, unmet need for more soil, seeds, fertilizers, building materials, or even just help getting the word out about your program, we’re ready and willing to help you meet those needs. As community gardens and school gardening programs spring up all over, we’re happy to do our part to help. Learn more about our grant program here.
Interested in learning more about school or community gardens? Visit our Community Gardening for Everyone page today.