Ethical Eating

Fundraising for Downtown Fort Lauderdale Garden: Night Owl Market Tonight

For years now, we've been hearing the buzz words: local, sustainable, farm-to-table, single-sourced, whatever. To keep up with growing demand cities throughout the country have been implementing community gardens for quite some time. As per usual, Fort Lauderdale has been behind the curve. Until now. Plans are well underway for the city's first large-scale community garden project. And the next fundraising event takes place this Thursday, at the Night Owl Market.

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The project started back in 2010, with a plot of raised beds situated on empty land in the Flagler Village area of downtown Fort Lauderdale. Due to the notorious mortgage crisis and real-estate bubble, the land was foreclosed and the twenty four plots were cleared over night. Eventually, the bank apologized and reimbursed all of the gardeners for money lost. Regardless, the situation got community members thinking. How could we make this better?

The Flagler Village Civic Association reached out the First Lutheran Church to enquire about taking an empty parcel of land, located directly next to the church, and using it to prop up the Flagler Village community. The groups settled on the idea of the garden, but rather than throw in a bunch of raised beds--like the original--they wanted it to be world-class. Chad Scott, President of the Flagler Village Community Garden has been researching gardens all over

The project, which started as part of the civic association, morphed into a non-profit of its own: the Flagler Village Community Garden. The group has conducted research all over the country and the world for inspiration. The main goal in doing so was to make it unique to Fort Lauderdale. Cādence, a landscape architecture and design company, came onboard to help brand the garden and come up with a design concept. Together the groups put on some fundraising events: the Night Owl Market--an evening craft market with beer and wine, inspired by a concept Scott discovered in Williamsburg, Brooklyn--and Better Block--an urban renewal event intended to introduce the idea of a permanent garden. Between the two events, the group raised over four grand.

The garden, which derived much of its design from a similar project in Detroit, will include seventy-nine plots--built out of a combination of hurricane shutters and composite 'wood'. Ten of which, will be used for education--university demonstrations or research, other nonprofits, or local high-schools--as well as, a an brick wall and bench to incorporate an urban aesthetic, stage and workshop area, wooden deck, and walls intended to display local art of hanging plots. To minimize the costs for members, the group is planning to install a water retention system and solar panels. While the annual membership fee is currently up in the air, the hope is to keep it somewhere between $50 to $100 per year.

The plan is to make the garden a community hangout where individuals can attend free or low-cost workshops on cooking with fresh foods, backyard vegetable gardening, how to start similar gardens, and more. There are plans for yearly pumpkin patches, an annual Christmas tree, partnerships with Fat Village's neighboring Art Walk, and a whole host of community oriented events. According to Scott, "We want a whole community based on this garden where people can interact with each-other."

To add to the appeal of the garden, the group is hoping to attract a restauranteur to set-up shop in the old house situated on the property. The church and garden are willing to make some adjustments to the overall design to accommodate a tenant. Both see it as a win-win. "We're hoping it increases the churches real-estate value. A restaurant would really add to the garden, church, and the community as a whole," says Scott.

Currently, the group is working on raising funds: over $107,000 are still needed. So far, they have received some grants from the state--they were one of 50 organizations chosen out of a pool of 150-200 applicants. Further sponsorship meetings are scheduled with the Fort Lauderdale Community Redevelopment Agency, developers, and possible corporate sponsors. According to Scott, "We only need initial funding for construction. After that, it will fund itself."

Scott and the rest of the group hopes that the garden will be part of an ongoing effort to improve the city of Fort Lauderdale. "We have such a brain-drain. It's really about inspiring people to stay in Fort Lauderdale and take on other projects to better the city," he says.

The groups next fundraising event, another Night Owl Market, takes place this Thursday, at the Fat Village Arts District.

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Sara Ventiera