El Sol planning community garden
For a small fee, residents can grow fruits, vegetables.
By Jodie Wagner Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
JUPITER — By early next year, a half-acre parcel of grassy land on the north side of El Sol Neighborhood Resource Center could be sprouting peas, beans and bell peppers.
Since 2011, a committee, made up of El Sol volunteers and community members, has worked on a plan to develop the area into a community garden.
Open to anyone in the community willing to pay a small fee in exchange for growing their own fruits and vegetables, the Sunshine Community Garden would help provide access to more affordable food and promote a healthy lifestyle, said Jocelyn Skolnik, El Sol’s executive director.
Growers would keep 90 percent of the food raised — food must be grown using sustainable methods — while the other 10 percent would go to El Sol for use in its kitchen and food pantry.
The center, which opened in 2006, connects workers with employers and homeowners needing day labor, and also provides occupational training, language and literacy instruction, counseling, health education, legal and other services.
Hot meals are served daily to day laborers waiting to be picked up for a job.
“Our goal is to provide a source of fresh and affordable vegetables and fruits to community members that can’t usually access them,” Skolnik said of the garden, which tentatively is set to open early next year. “It goes right along with all our health efforts and improving healthy lifestyles.
“We find that a lot of people that can’t afford vegetables and fruits don’t have a nutritious diet, and that’s directly affecting their health. People are developing diabetes and other health-related illnesses that we hope to alleviate.”
The garden will be divided into approximately 30 8-by-12-foot plots, with each plot expected to yield enough food to feed 250 people per month, said Alyssa Wood, a systems developer at El Sol and community garden volunteer.
Membership fees will be charged on a sliding scale depending on the grower.
The remainder of the garden’s operating cost will be covered by grants. A full-time manager will be hired to oversee the garden and kitchen, Wood said.
Volunteers are needed to assist the committee in developing a comprehensive proposal with supporters’ signatures to present to the Jupiter town council at its regular meeting Oct. 8.
The committee has met twice during the past five months and has scheduled two additional meetings to be held prior to its presentation to the town council.
“Our committee members have been putting together ideas and looking into the project itself,” said Dora Valdivia, El Sol’s associate director. “It’s been a long process in terms of start-up.”
Community gardens — single pieces of land gardened collectively by a group of people — have been sprouting up all over northern Palm Beach County in recent years.
Lake Park’s Seeds of Hope Community Garden opened in May 2011 on a 1-acre parcel of land at 725 Foresteria Drive. The garden provides plots of 20-by-20 feet for organic planting and has drawn growers from Lake Park and nearby North Palm Beach and Riviera Beach.
The Abacoa Community Garden, overseen by retired ecologist Tom Poulson and his wife, Liz, opened in spring 2011 on a 120-foot-by-60-foot plot of land donated by LifeSong Community Church.
Tended year-round by gardening enthusiasts who pay a nominal membership fee to join the Abacoa Community Garden club — the group is sponsored by the Abacoa Property Owners’ Assembly — the garden has sprouted a variety of vegetables, fruits, herbs and flowers since planting began.
“We do everything we can organically,” said Poulson, who has attended El Sol community garden meetings and helps advise committee members. “We rotate crops, we use no synthetic herbicides or pesticides. We try to grow a lot of different things.”
Wood expects the same to be true for the Sunshine Community Garden.
“We’re hoping to have more culturally appropriate vegetables, like chipilin, which is a spinach-like Mayan vegetable, and lots of different peppers, Wood said. “These are things that workers would be happy to eat.”email@example.com Twitter: @JRWagner5