POLK TRAINING CENTER’S
BY ANITA TODD
For aspiring gardeners, the hard work has already been done. The land has been cleared, the soil has been added and the plots created. Now, the new “Get Growing!” Community Garden at the Polk Training Center for Handicapped Citizens is just waiting for the planting to begin.
The brainchild of Sherrie Holbrook, the Center’s Director, the two-acre Community Garden is open and ready for local residents to begin individual gardens in one of the current 36 plots.
Created for those who, for some reason, can’t plant a garden where they live; the mission of the Community Garden goes a step further.
“It is our hope that the community garden will ‘grow’ a better community for Lake Alfred and Polk County,” Holbrook said. “Some perceptions are that non-profit organizations seem to be asking for help; we feel that this is a good way for the Center to help give back.”
Holbrook got the idea while watching a television show featuring community gardens. “I thought to myself, ‘We can do that. We have everything we need’,” she said. “We started the planning months ago and it’s ready now.”
Gardeners can choose between, for the same price, organic and non-organic plots. The charges are nominal: a 5’ x 10’ plot is $20 and a 5’ x 15’ plot is $30 a season, and $3 a month watering charge. Gardeners can relax and put the responsibility of watering in the hands of the Center who will accomplish that task at night.
There are numerous benefits to participating in a Community Garden.
Gardeners can enjoy fresher fruit and vegetables, financial benefits, increase in physical exercise, interaction with other gardeners including family members who help out, health benefits of being outdoors, the reduction of carbon footprint, and reduction of mental stress, fatigue and more. As the garden grows, there will be community activities such as “plot lucks” and educational programs on gardening and cooking.
“We think there is a need for a Community Garden in our area,” said Charles Lake, President of the Center’s Board of Directors and Lake Alfred’s Vice Mayor. “It will give the community the opportunity to get involved, do something for themselves and see what goes on at the Center. We also see it as a way to give back to the community.”
The Center’s main mission is to help people with developmental disabilities have the opportunity for interaction, skills development, basic adult education, and vocational training. There are fun programs such as seed and clipping propagation, and above ground gardening, as well as working with goats and chickens.
The students of the Polk County Transition Program, Lake Alfred Transition Site, will have a plot at the Community Garden supervised by their teacher, Donna Ortt.
“In class, we are working on individual living skills and will be able to incorporate the garden into those lessons. They will learn where food comes from, how it’s grown, harvested and more,” said Ortt, a Polk County Schools teacher who works with the Polk Training Center students as part of a partnership for the Exceptional Student Education Program.
Gardeners can purchase seeds, plants and other supplies at the Center, but can also bring in their own. There will be some tools and planting advice from Center employees available, as well.
“This is not a money maker for the Center. The Community Garden is a future investment and resource to the community,” Holbrook said.
The Community Garden is located in the back of the Center in a fenced area with a separate gated entrance. There are also a set of guidelines for the gardeners such as respecting one another and taking responsibility for the garden as a whole.
“The students and staff work hard at the center to be productive, but we have a good time doing it. We want to offer that same opportunity to others. Gardening is a little work, but you can get so much back in return!” Holbrook said.
The Polk Training Center is located at 111 Creek Rd. in Lake Alfred, at the corner of County Rd. 557 and Creek Rd.