A few weeks ago on this page, we deplored West Palm Beach’s decision to scrap the urban farm that brought color, life and fresh produce to a dusty food desert north of downtown. There are no full-size grocery stores within a mile, so Henrietta Bridge Farm, the creation of Vietnam War veteran Stewart Bosley on an acre and a half of town land, was a godsend for residents within walking distance.
Sadly, the town, for reasons as yet unexplained – other than vague discussions about building halfway houses – refused to renew Bosley’s lease this year and forced it to empty itself.
Now here is more encouraging news. The town hall has reached an agreement with a branch of Florida A&M University to establish three small urban farms and educational programs to serve low-income residents of West Palm Beach, starting at six months.
Your voice:The community needs an urban garden
We will be happy to see the gardens take root, and do so under professional guidance, with room for growth in other locations in the future.
The historically black university has a dozen community garden programs scattered around the state, but it would be the first in South Florida. The programs, in underserved communities, provide services to smallholder farmers or those interested in becoming farmers, but also provide vocational training certification, sustainable agriculture and nutrition education, Club 4-H youth development and , of course, vegetables.
Products grown in the West Palm Gardens will be available to program volunteers and other residents of the community.
The gardens will be located near the Coleman Park Community Center, 1116 21st St., in a former teaching garden behind the tennis courts; at the Gloria Y. Williams Multicultural Center in Pleasant City, 2147 Spruce Ave., also formerly an educational garden; and in a vacant lot just north of Phipps Park at 4715 S Dixie Highway.
FAMU will provide money for equipment, supplies and training. The city has soil tests done to check for contaminants.
Although the sites are much smaller than the now bulldozed property of Henrietta Avenue, Vonda Richardson, executive director of FAMU’s cooperative extension program, said they would each provide enough produce for 30 to 50 people.
Jennifer Ferriol, the city’s director of housing and community development, said the city wanted to start small but would consider other locations once these are operational. A first step will be to contact community members to contribute to the project, participate and generate the type of property that can deter vandalism.
The city may have a harder time securing support from this community when it commits to a contract for transitional and supportive housing to replace the closed farm Henrietta Bridge.
“Meeting this need of our workforce, residents and homeless people is a top priority for Mayor (Keith) James,” a city press release noted.
Important as they are, the concentration of halfway houses in an already difficult area may not be easily accepted. But one step at a time. The new gardens will help generate positive change, in particular by supporting the city’s long-standing efforts to revitalize historic neighborhoods in the northwest.
We will be happy to see the gardens take root, and to do so under the guidance of professionals, with room for growth in the future.
Bosley, for his part, gets credit for planting the idea of urban farming in West Palm Beach and running Henrietta Bridge Farm for years. It was Bosley who recommended the city to contact FAMU, which he first urged about 10 years ago and then again more recently. Although he regretted that the city had put his farm aside, just as a new growing season was starting, he offered to help with the news as best he could.
Every now and then he glances through the chained door to the now silent lot at 401 N. Rosemary Ave. Some of the plants he established still grow their way through the soil.
Despite the shutdown, the good news is that while he’s “still a Marine in my head”, he can afford to be less regimented now, since he no longer has to get up early to farm. “I’m getting more sleep,” he says.