Community garden grows division in neighborhood | News
ST. AUGUSTINE BEACH, Fla. -- Community gardening is a growing trend in the United States.
The one in St. Augustine Beach is making some people very happy, and others very mad.
At the St. Augustine Beach Community Garden, members pay a fee to be able to plant their plants and have access to the locked gate.
However, some neighbors don't like the property being used like this.
Chris Pennington said he's irate.
He's mad about the community garden being located across the street from the home he and his wife, Cyndi, have lived in for ten years.
"I've got bugs. I've got compost smell. I've got traffic," Pennington said as he counted on his fingers.
He blames all of it on the St. Augustine Beach Community Garden, which started a few months ago.
"And now rodents have appeared," Pennington added.
He showed First Coast News a photo of a dead mouse or rat that he believes his cat brought home from the garden.
But Maria Ivey, a new Garden Club member, is skeptical of that argument.
"We're in Florida. There are pests everywhere," she said.
She also noted the recent rains have seemingly bought out more bugs and rodents. She also says she has never smelled the odor from compost at the garden.
Ivey lives about ten blocks away from the garden. She is thrilled about growing her own fruits and veggies with her granddaughter there.
"I can't think of a single thing that's negative about it," she said. "Can you really have an issue with children coming and gardening?"
"I'm not against the garden," Cyndi Pennington said. "They're missing the point."
Cyndi Pennington and more than a hundred others have signed a petition against the community garden on the city-owned lot. The site used to simply have grass on it with large trees. Mrs. Pennington described it as green space. She and her neighbors say children used to play there.
The community garden is now fenced. As of August, the fence has a lock on it. Members are provided the combination to unlock it.
"They're taking a public land, a plaza that was platted and designed to be used by the public," Mrs. Pennington noted.
Denny Dean, her neighbor, agrees.
"This is a scary precedent as far as I'm concerned. Now they've taken what has always been open and used by the public and they've fenced it off and it's just for the use of a few."
However, Ivey and other gardeners say the locks were needed.
"There have been problems with vandalism, and [garden organizers] locked it basically for protection," Ivey explained.
Nana Royer is one of the co-founders of the St. Augustine Beach Community Garden. She said the garden is also locked because garden tools have been stolen.
Royer admits she does not live across from the garden. However, she believes the public now uses the land much more because it is a garden.
Membership ranges in price from $10 - $50 a year, depending on how much you want to plant, grow, and participate. Royer said people can become members for free by pledging to do a garden task. That free membership does come with the combination for unlocking the gate.
Royer said there will be garden beds dedicated to children, to the food pantry, and eventually to military members.
She said most neighbors and even businesses support the garden. She believes the community garden has done well in helping to connect people to their food. However, she said the group was "not prepared for the onslaught from two neighbors" who have been very vocal against the garden.
Pennington does have signs in his yard which oppose the garden.
He also plays loud rock and roll and rap music "because I like it and because they don't like it. And if they don't like it, they can take their garden and go elsewhere! I don't like what they've done to my public plaza."
The garden is on the agenda for Tuesday night's St. Augustine Beach City Commission meeting. The meeting starts at 7:00 p.m.