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UWF Community Garden Hosts First Event During Founders Week

Credit Sandra Averhart / WUWF
Dr. Gregory Tomso gives a tour of the UWF Community Garden as part of their donation drive and plant giveaway.

As a faculty founder, Dr. Gregory Tomso has been involved with the UWF Community Garden since its humble beginnings about 10 years ago, for a short time located at Azalea Trace and then on a green patch near the UWF soccer field.

Community Garden was started by UWF faculty and students. And, we were interested growing healthy food for some healthy alternatives,” he said. “And, since that time, it’s grown into a huge community project. The whole campus is behind it, and we’re not only growing food, but native plants and pollinators and of course, we’re growing community as well, which is what we’re all about.”

Since its 2014 relocation behind the WUWF studios, the garden has undergone an extensive transformation, from a collection of raised beds into a beautifully designed sanctuary. On Wednesday, Tomso, who also serves as director of the UWF Honors Program, proudly showed it off to the dozens of people who gathered for their annual donation drive and plant giveaway.

“I’m really moved and overwhelmed by the number of people here today,” he said. “This is our first official public event. I’m also really pleased that our pathways are compliant with ADA, so people who use wheelchairs can come into our garden, they can roll up to our raised beds and work in the garden as well. The garden truly is open now and accessible to all.” 

Credit Jennie McKeon / WUWF
Dr. Gregory Tomso has been with the community garden since it began in 2009. It began as a small collection of garden beds and has grown into a "huge community project," he said.

A landscaped dry creek bed is one of the first features individuals coming to the garden will notice. Part of the irrigation system, it’s a run off channel that flows into a basin where bog plants are located.

Alongside is the newly-paved pathway winds its way up to a shaded teaching pavilion, a meditation garden and a new metal architectural feature that serves as a grape trellis and rain catcher. At the center are the raised beds of plants.

Tomso highlighted what’s left of the vibrant winter greens in the garden, passing some around for a taste.

All of you southerners will recognize the ubiquitous collard green. Again, I’ll encourage you to just rip off a piece and have a bite,” he told the group.

Phillip Billings is president of the UWF Community Garden Club. He says over the years, he and his peers have contributed their sweat equity to help make the garden what it is today.

“We work directly with our faculty founders, Tomso and Chasidy Hobbs, and so we helped them make every decision out here,” he said. “Students who have dug 800 feet of waterline so we can have water out here in the garden. We’ve had students come out and spread 40 tons of rock so we can have ground covering…students who come lay landscape cloth, etc…everything that you see out here students have helped build.”

Billings says his favorite aspect of the garden is the fact that it’s introducing today’s technology-focused students to gardening and the difficulty of growing food. His favorite feature is the teaching pavilion, which was built about two years ago. 

Credit Sandra Averhart / WUWF
Phillip Billings, president of the UWF Community Garden Club.

It was funded through the green fee here at UWF, that’s a tax that students put on themselves to pay for green projects at the University. So, this pavilion, once we finally (get) to the point where we can have classes that can reserve the pavilion for classes in the garden and I think that’s (going to) be a really important part in the future.”

Another nice feature of the garden is addition of a series of silver metallic benches, with a nautilus-shaped back that were donated by the Northwest Florida Guardian ad Litem Foundation.

UWF president Dr. Martha Saunders was taking it all in at Wednesday’s event.

I’m loving the shade in the pavilion, all of the interesting little details…the water collectors, the benches,” she said. “I love the nautilus theme that they’ve kept everywhere. And, I would probably grab some of this chard and take it home and eat it, but I’d probably get spotted.”

On that note, there is a take home schedule for individuals who regularly work in the garden and put in sweat equity. Information about garden work days is available online at uwf.edu/garden.

And, if you just want to enjoy the garden, evolvulus or blue daze plants, lantana and dune sunflowers will be spilling out of the plant beds by this summer.

Sandra Averhart has been News Director at WUWF since 1996. Her first job in broadcasting was with (then) Pensacola radio station WOWW107-FM, where she worked 11 years. Sandra, who is a native of Pensacola, earned her B.S. in Communication from Florida State University.