Nestled in Lincolnville, just 10 historic, odd-shaped blocks from the bustling
St. Augustine Distillery, a small urban farm yields produce and fosters community. The Lincolnville Community Garden is more than an oasis in the middle of a food desert. It’s a gathering place for neighbors in a town where tourism is king and locals can be tough to connect with.
Cash McVay, one of the visionaries who founded the garden, recalls discussing environmental and community issues with five friends at a neighborhood party in 2008. “We had a desire to do something, to give back to the community, and also mix in a little bit of alternative energy, reducing carbon footprints and creating social interaction with the community. All of those evolved to a community garden,” McVay says.
Now in its sixth year, 75 percent of this urban farm’s membership is drawn from Lincolnville, a historic African American neighborhood in the heart of St. Augustine.
Cash McVay is one of the founders of the Lincolnville Community Garden.
“There’s not a restriction that members have to live here,” McVay says. But he elaborates that neighbors working alongside one another is what a community garden is built on. “Gardens need attention. They need to be watered and harvested. Plus, if you live too far away, it defeats the purpose of managing your carbon footprint,” he says.
Karen Pichette rides her bike to the garden from her Lincolnville cottage daily. After working from home all day, time in the garden is her respite and is part of the Florida lifestyle that beckoned her south a year ago. “Actually, one of the things that drew us to Lincolnville was the garden,” Pichette says. “The sense of community was No. 1 for us. I meet people from different walks of life in the garden. It is magical back here. It’s absolutely beautiful.”
Seventy-nine members tend the 55 raised garden beds, compost piles, new fruit trees and apiary. Plots are planted and cared for individually, but members gather to work collectively as well. Sunday morning compost socials and seasonal potlucks provide time for friendship.
McVay looks forward to Sundays whether the garden needs work or not. “If the compost doesn’t need turning, we work on other common areas of the garden that need maintenance. If nothing needs to be done, we grab chairs, make a circle and catch up,” he says.
Karen Pichette, Lincolnville resident and gardener.
As with most endeavors in historic St. Augustine, the past plays a roll in the Lincolnville Community Garden. The site was dictated by the location of an artesian well. No electric pump is needed; this high-pressure well feeds 11 hoses and is one of Henry Flagler’s seven wells drilled around the city.
The garden thrives thanks to its proximity to one of Flagler’s artesian wells.
An agrarian history stretches back even further than Flagler’s time in the 1880s. Agricultural roots reach to two orange grove plantations that occupied the southwest peninsula of St. Augustine. Yalaha was named for the Seminole word for orange. Buena Esperanza, the other orange plantation, inspired the phase two expansion of the garden. Lincolnville Community Garden’s Buena Esperanza is a nod to the history of the area and is home to a small apiary and a grove of fruit trees.
Volunteer-driven since its founding, the garden initially drew support from the entire St. Augustine community.
“It was really, really interesting,” McVay recalls. “It was 2009, and the recession was really biting. But the response we got from local businesses was overwhelming. We raised $9,000 in three months and were able to attract volunteers.”
Locals who weren’t even interested in gardening came together to fence the area and build boxes, a work barn and a 900-square-foot shade cloth pavilion, which reduces air temperatures by 15 degrees.
“I hate to name a few and not name all of them,” McVay says, “but we had 80 plus volunteers who donated labor supplies or funds. It was pretty amazing considering the economic calamity at the time, that blew me away.”
Community support continues today. Sunday morning socials find volunteers with pitchforks turning over compost from Creative Juices Natural Cafe, coffee grinds from the Blue Hen, juice scraps from Crave Food Truck plus horse manure from the city stables.
Lincolnville Community Garden always maintains a waiting list and shared their template for success with community gardens in Vilano Beach, the St. Augustine Beach garden and Fullerwood Community Garden in the north city.
“When I had the opportunity to help give back with all these other people … it was really something,” Cash McVay says. “It kindled my spirit for volunteerism.”
Lincolnville Community Garden yields produce, community spirit and an initiative to volunteer. That’s a crop any urban farm can be proud of.
Local restaurants and residents provide scraps for compost.
Lincolnville Garden by the Numbers:
3: Bins for the various stages of compost
6: Years the garden has been open
55: Raised beds
79: Members in April 2016
1/3: Acre is the garden
Learn more at: CitySprout.org