Patrick Garvey of the Department of Children and Families and Donovan Pittman, a student at ACE, are growing okra, tomatoes, flowers and herbs in a plot at the Key West Community Garden.

Community garden project takes organic approach

As a government employee, Patrick Garvey has become quite familiar doing more with less.

This analyst with the Department of Children and Families was recently tasked with increasing the state’s food stamp outreach program, specifically to make the application process more accessible.

So Garvey planted a garden.

For example, a handicapped senior living on Big Pine without a car would have difficulty getting to the right social service agency to apply for food stamps.

“With decreasing budgets and job cuts at the state level, they’re aiming for more private agencies to oversee the application process,” Garvey explained.

Through his involvement with the Food Policy Council, which aimed to collect perishable items from restaurants and distribute to hungry, underserved populations (also known as Food Recovery), Garvey met Tim May, the driving force behind the first community garden in Key West. Now schools, families, individuals, church groups and the Boys & Girls Club have affordable memberships for their own individual or community plots to grow their own vegetables and witness Mother Nature’s life cycle.

Patrick Garvey of the Department of Children and Families and Donovan Pittman, a student at ACE, are growing okra, tomatoes, flowers and herbs in a plot at the Key West Community Garden.

When 18-year-old Donovan Pittman first set foot in the garden, Jody Smith Williams of GLEE asked him where he thought carrots came from, to which he promptly replied, “The store?”

Pittman, a student at ACE and one of Garvey’s mentees, is now overseeing a full plot in the community garden and regularly surprises his mother with fresh tomatoes and okra. His success has been so fulfilling, he’s now recruiting neighbors in the George Allen housing project to start their own community garden.

“There’s a few people interested,” he smiled.

Garvey said the concept is one well under way with long-time community partner, Glad Tidings Community Church at 1209 United St. in Key West. The paved courtyard adjacent to the church is the perfect site for an organic – in more ways than one – community garden.

“It’s not just the vegetables, but organic…the ultimate goal is for the community to work together yet have autonomy in supporting each other,” Garvey elaborated.

Glad Tidings Educational Director Pastor Jonathan Carey had previously expressed an interest to Garvey in a neighboring project, and the planning, as well as the initial grant writing phases, are now complete.

“We’re looking to gather community leaders, but not the typical ones you always hear about that are involved in and volunteer for everything,” Garvey smiled. “We’re looking for veterans, seniors, low-income families and hoping to partner with the agencies that serve those groups to find people to not only participate but help lead this community garden.”

He’s already gathered the gardening support of folks at GLEE, and surprisingly, Garvey admitted, from DCF.

“All our grant monies will go specifically for materials for the garden,” he continued, adding that though the model for the garden has yet to be determined, one aspect on which he hopes to focus is the teaching model. He cited Our School at Blair Grocery, an independent alternative school and sustainability education center based in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans that recently received a $1 million grant from the USDA. With a commercial kitchen already in place at Glad Tidings, Garvey and Carey agreed that incorporating an educational component will only increase the investment from the surrounding community.

“We want to help people start their own gardens up and down the Keys,” Garvey boasted of his long-term vision for what’s been dubbed the Growing Hope Club.

It’s not just about planting flower and vegetable seeds then sitting back and watching them grow; the ability to feed a family based on an individual’s efforts, really getting to know your neighbors and empowering a family to support themselves are part of Garvey’s “Keys to Growing Hope.”

“If you work side by side with your neighbor, you’re probably a little less likely to steal vegetables from them, right?” he posed.

Anyone interested in sowing a few seeds of hope, should call (305) 296-5773 or email to register. To see the Growing Hope Club in person, head over to the Glad Tidings Community Church (1209 United Street in Key West) on Saturday, May 21 from 9 am to noon.


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