LAKE WALES, Fla. (WFLA) — Growing up in northwest Lake Wales, Robin Richardson has seen the community struggle to access nutritious food.
“There’s a lot of people in the neighborhood that don’t have cars to get to and from stores because most of the stores in this area are way out,” she said.
To her, the idea of a community garden would help them.
“They’ll be able to eat healthy. Most of them, the little stores here, they don’t sell fruits and vegetables so that’ll be perfect for the community,” said Richardson.
The Florida Department of Health in Polk County identified northwest Lake Wales as a community with higher rates of food insecurity, chronic disease, behavioral health concerns and other health-related risks.
“The average median income for the northwest community is $20,000 and below. So that area, our area, it needs our help,” said Cheryl Baksh, Community Redevelopment Agency Specialist for the City of Lake Wales.
Baksh says the area is a “food desert.”
“The closest grocery store is about 2 to 3 miles. There’s no place in the northwest community to get fresh fruits, fresh vegetables, even canned goods, there’s not a place. And if you don’t have transportation, that’s a long trek,” she said.
With $35,000 in funding from the health department, the City of Lake Wales is building the “Grove Community Garden” adjacent to the James P. Austin Community Center.
It’s named after Grove Manor, a public housing complex across the street.
“My hope is that if somebody’s walking down the street and they’re hungry and they want to grab a snack that they can,” she said.
The produce will also be distributed through local community centers.
The intent is for the garden to be looked after by the city and members of the community.
“It’s good for the community and food that comes out of the garden, it don’t get no better than that,” said Andrew Borders Sr., who lives nearby and tends to his own garden which provides produce to the community. “I love everything about it. I love everything about it.”
The lot, which used to be the site of a home, will include raised planters, a fruit orchid, gazebo and pollinator garden.
It is scheduled to open in August.