Getting Dirty in Neighborhood Gardens

Citizen Centered, People Empowered. We’ve all heard Gainesville’s new rebranded label a few dozen times by now, and for good reason. As Gainesville continues onward and upward, a few quiet community leaders continue to move the needle by example. Enter the Grove Street Gardens, a label that neighborhood curator/designer, Gregory Stetz has learned to (perhaps ironically, or reluctantly) brand his latest development project over the last year or so.

“Most people have a different idea what the neighborhood should be called. Real estate developers traditionally use the same tired, cheesy sounding names. Do we really need another Turkey Creek, or Woodland Park, or Oak Something or Other? Maybe we need more Forests of the Unicorns, or at least more of whatever that developer was drinking when he named it…”

Suffice to say, Greg couldn’t seem to care less what anyone calls his development. He seems to be more interested in moving it forward, a far cry from what Gainesville natives tend to be used to with projects of similar scope.

Nestled north of Pleasant Street, south of Stephen Foster, and just west of the Duckpond, Grove Street positions itself as a bridge between the University of Florida and several popular residential neighborhoods. The premise is simple, according to Greg: utilize sustainable and creative architecture, support small business, cultivate music and art, and grow edible plants… everywhere. “The residential component will surround a farm. We’re designing a high volume aquaculture farm, community gardens, and trying to do some creative things with our storm water reserves…we are planting food forests all over the neighborhood. We own 15 acres of it, so we can make a pretty big urban impact.” Greg highlighted the importance of being able to develop an area holistically – with the help and buy-in of the community, and has set out to prove that this model can still stimulate the local economy.

Greg is proud of the effort by the community to clean up this area. He thinks the Gardens differ from other areas in Gainesville by one simple but powerful message: “it’s the people that are building it together. I discuss other tenants with existing tenants and make sure that everyone is like a family and supports each other.” Buy-in from the locals and small business has been key to the current momentum surrounding the Grove Street Gardens concept.

Working Food, a women-led organization that cultivates and supports farmers, entrepreneurs, and restauranteurs through collaboration and education, is one of the early adopters to the Grove Street concept. Anna Prizzia, Board President of Working Foods, has been a vocal proponent of this concept from its inception. “We are one of the first tenants in the neighborhood, and are working hard to do our part to ensure it lives up to its potential to be a hub for what is great about Gainesville.”

Most notably, Anna touted the Working Food’s Community Food Center, which has designed several collaborative neighborhood goals: create links between local farmers and the community, increase food literacy and security, and steward the crops that grow well in north Florida by growing, saving, and sharing their seeds. Anna’s hope is that this facility can develop into a welcoming and collaborative center that can even incorporate a commercial kitchen incubator. “We have been working at the intersection of food and culture for many years,” Anna noted. “We are providing a multifaceted space that we hope will bring people together and help bridge divides in our community, and be a place that will help inspire a vibrant, inclusive local food culture.”

Like Greg, Anna hopes to see Gainesville’s needle move to a more inclusive, community centered neighborhood, with a focus around locally owned businesses that support the live, work, and play model. “I want to see that we are protecting what is unique and beautiful about our town, while also creating real economic opportunity for those who need it most.”

Other notable anchors in Grove Street include Cypress & Grove, a craft brewery in a converted Victorian era icehouse, and Afternoon, a popular new all-day-brunch concept. As such, Greg’s Grove Street Gardens have already become a popular destination for locals and tourists alike. Greg plans on incorporating townhomes, mixed-use buildings, and bicycle friendly access to the area over the coming years. “If I had my way it would all be complete within about 3 years but I’m prepared for it to take a little longer. It isn’t easy to develop and keep the spaces affordable for small local businesses.”

Whatever Grove Street Gardens ends up being labeled, one thing is for certain – it’s a great example of a local project curated and centered around our citizens, and a great reminder that it’s important for us as a community to empower the people who are passionate about Gainesville to make an urban impact.

Interested in learning more about the Grove Street Gardens, Working Food, or the Gainesville Startup Scene? Feel free to contact josh@startupGNV.com, or visit workingfood.org to sign up as a volunteer, donate, or join the mailing list.

By Joshua Javaheri, startupGNV.com

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