U.S. Department of Agriculture Deputy Under Secretary Ann Bartuska was led through a maze of raised garden beds on a lot nestled in the middle of a Westside neighborhood Tuesday.
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Bartuska told reporters that Jacksonville’s model for urban agriculture can be exported to other American cities struggling with economic development and access to fresh foods. It was just one stop in her national urban garden listening tour.
“The whole issue of urban agriculture (is) there’s such a variety of models out there,” she said.
Thirty three community gardens stretch from western Duval County to the beaches. The University of Florida Duval County Extension Office either manages gardens or helps community organizations, including churches and nonprofits, with planting, training and outreach. It directly oversees the operations of eight larger gardens throughout Jacksonville.
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Each urban garden has its own rules — some collect monthly or yearly dues from would-be green thumbs, while others are almost exclusively commercial enterprises that sell produce to restaurants and markets. Dues usually go towards paying for irrigation or gardening tools.
Bartuska said Jacksonville’s gardens have all the hallmarks of successful strategies she outlined in an urban farming toolkit earlier this year. The toolkit, she added, is supposed to provide cities with a blueprint for expanding urban farms. She said Duval is taking those suggestions a step further by quantifying the impact urban farms have on the county’s economy.
“This is the first time I’ve ever seen a number that equated the amount of value per square foot, translated to the crop value in real dollars,” she said. “That in itself is a tremendous statistic because then that is real money that you can turn to a policymaker and say ‘look at what you’re getting for this.’”
UF’s Duval Extension Office surveys up to 4,000 residents a year to come up with an economic value generated by community and home gardening. Its last survey found that close to $2 million in produce is harvested from urban gardens every year.
To find a community garden near you or to inquire about starting your own, visit the county extension office’s website.