PUNTA GORDA — A community garden in Punta Gorda is thriving in the hands of Quality Independence, an adult special needs organization out of Port Charlotte.

“We wanted to do more skill-building activities like gardening (with our adults),” said Angela Pennington, Quality Independence president. “With gardening, (they are) learning how to grow things but also have a lot of pride in going there every week and seeing what they’ve accomplished.”

When the local nonprofit took over the city’s Agripreneur Garden on East Virginia Avenue in December 2019, it was infested with weeds.

In only a few months, the group has been able to turn the garden into a flourishing, healthy home to a variety of vegetables and fruit such as kale, broccoli, romaine lettuce, greens, tomatoes, strawberries and more.

“It was crazy that the city gave this to us,” Pennington said. “We were just looking for a place to go ... a place to do things. We had a gardening program (at our facility) with pots but they were pretty sad looking.”

A STORY OF SUCCESS

“They are already on their second growing cycle,” said Vice Mayor Lynne Matthews. “The adults in their program have great pride of ownership and it has been a rewarding program for all of them. It makes me very happy to see all of them getting excited about what they are doing.

“The organization that (we) had intended to work the garden (before) never really took ownership of it and it sat collecting weeds for a long time.”

Mayor Nancy Prafke said the team’s progress is a wonderful success story.

“Watching the smiles on the faces of this team is so energizing,” Prafke said. “They love what they do and get so much satisfaction knowing how much they are helping others.”

HELPING THOSE IN NEED

David Tucker, an adult in their program, loves working in the garden every Tuesday morning.

“It gives me a chance to help work in the garden and give food to the people that don’t have food,” Tucker said. “(We all) work and help out with everything we do.”

All the food from the garden goes to local food banks and churches.

“We donate what we grow,” Pennington said. “We’ve worked with First Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church (in Punta Gorda) and neighbors around the area. We had broccoli, tomatoes and kale that went to First Macedonia to donate and they were able to hand it to people in need in the local community.”

GOING FORWARD

Due to safety and health concerns over coronavirus, Quality Independence is taking a break from their gardening and closing its doors until at least April 1.

Pennington and other volunteers plan to maintain the garden until they reopen their facility.

The next goal is to plant cover crops like banana and avocado trees to provide cover for the soil during the summer.

“The summers get hot down here,” Pennington said. “The cover crop is basically something to cover the soil and protect it.”

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