Nestled in a quiet spot off Neff Lake Road in Brooksville is The Arc Nature Coast’s Tumbleweeds Garden. It’s a labor of love for the volunteers, staff and the clients. Up to twelve clients work at a time on a rotating basis tending the garden, which produces an abundance of fruit and vegetables. The organization received funding for the garden through a grant from the Hernando County Health Department and the University of Florida IFAS Extension Service.
Bobbie Hilliard, Lisa Makar, Zarena Hardcastle and Kimberly Lingafelter are volunteer Master Gardeners. The Master Gardener program is sponsored by the UF/IFAS Extension Service. The five ladies participated in the same Master Gardeners class two years ago and they come to The Arc Nature Coast campus for several hours once a week. The garden itself has been in existence about five years.
Ms. Hilliard states, “I got interested in the Master Gardening program because I went to their nursery to buy plants and I decided to join the program. Gardening has always been something that I’ve done.”
Ms. Mikar remarks, “I’ve always loved to garden, but I also have a special needs child. For me it was a win-win. I get to play with my plants and help out clients like my 21 year-old son.”
“I’ve known about the program for fifteen or twenty years, but I didn’t have the free time while I was working. Now that I’m retired, I can get involved in something like this,” comments Ms. Hardcastle.
The garden has growing towers, two raised beds and a ground bed and there are plans to put in a native plant bed, as well. The Arc clients grow peas, strawberries, lettuce, carrots, bananas, papayas and other fruits and vegetables.
As any gardener knows, pests can be a challenge. Birds, ants, caterpillars and moths are sometimes a problem. Four-footed creatures like armadillos and deer occasionally visit to nibble the crops, so there’s a fence around the raised beds to keep these larger animals out.
When the crops are ready to be harvested, the staff members assist clients in picking what is ripe. Together, they take them back to the center where the newly picked produce is used in a cooking class. Some clients take the veggies home and the residential group homes also use the produce.
Nancy Stubbs, Development Director at The Arc Nature Coast, states, “It’s a great supplement to the regular program for our folks. They get to play a part in choosing what vegetables and fruit they plant and help take care of them. They are able to harvest their crops and participate in some cooking classes where they can prepare and eat the things they’ve grown. It can also lead some of them to paid jobs working in a nursery or on a farm. Sometimes hobbies turn into careers.”
One of the program’s participants, Kathleen, comments, “This is my favorite place to be at. I like it because it’s fun. We get to plant our own vegetables.”
“I like the carrots. It’s exciting when I see the stuff grow,” remarks Lindsey, another student gardener.
Because of the Coronavirus, programs like these have been curtailed. The volunteers and the student gardeners are all looking forward to the time when they can go back to getting their hands dirty and cultivating their bountiful Tumbleweeds Garden.
For more information on the University of Florida IFAS Extension Service and its Master Gardener program call (352) 754-4433 or go to http://sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/hernando/.
For more information on The Arc Nature Coast call (352) 544 – 2322, ext.111 or log onto www.thearc-naturecoast.org.
Footnote: During the current pandemic crisis, the Extension Service is closed, but anyone wishing information on gardening or who have questions can call the number listed above. Also, the Extension is offering virtual classes. Go to their Facebook page – https://www.facebook.com/HernandoExt/ for dates and times. You can also request to join their Facebook group – https://www.facebook.com/groups/357619658144111/