Dania Beach PATCH (People’s Access to Community Horticulture) provides fresh, healthful produce to local, under-served residents and to seven restaurants. / Contributed

 

Market 17, in Fort Lauderdale, a farm-to-table restaurant at the 17th Street Bridge near Port Everglades, was the first commercial customer of Dania Beach PATCH (People’s Access to Community Horticulture). Market 17 pays for PATCH to grow 400 bags of fresh, organic produce to order; that’s what the restaurant uses in its salads.

Right now, seven local restaurants, including the Day Market Kitchen, Green Bar Kitchen and Jimbo’s, regularly purchase from Dania Beach PATCH (DBP). These customers are moving DBP toward its goal of self-sufficiency and sustainability.

People’s Access to Community Horticulture is a network of growing areas in Broward County. Then-Dania Beach Community Redevelopment Authority Executive Director Jeremy Earle was looking for a creative way to use CRA-owned vacant land and to provide healthy food to an under-served community.

PATCH Concept catches on

He helped to push this concept forward and developed Dania Beach PATCH (DBP) three years ago. Now there are three members in the PATCH network:

  1. Pompano Beach PATCH, owned by the Pompano Beach CRA and behind Blanche Ely High School, will consist of .6 acres, with 3,600 grow bags;
  2. Northwest Gardens PATCH, owned by the Housing Authority of Fort Lauderdale, is a one-quarter-acre plot with 2,400 grow bags, in the middle of a low-income apartment complex in a food desert; and
  3. Dania Beach PATCH.

Eventually, the PATCHes will be able to share produce among themselves when needed. All are designed to feed the community at reduced prices, including SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and EBT (Electronic Benefit Transfer) recipients, who receive 50 percent off market rates.

The network is developing nicely.

A close-up look of PATCH

But let’s focus on Dania Beach PATCH, as it is a shining example of what can happen when a municipal government and a community get behind a project. Local partners that help support PATCH provide everything from volunteers to agricultural expertise, soil testing and disease prevention.

These partners include the Health Foundation of South Florida, HandsOn Broward, YMCA, Broward Health Services, Broward Sheriff’s Office, University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, and the Florida Department of Agriculture.

Funding comes from the Dania Beach CRA and the Broward Regional Health Planning Council.

DBP is on 1.6 acres of land in the middle of an under-developed neighborhood. The nonprofit uses grow bags – 4,000 of them – which protect the organic plants against contamination in the soil and from diseases that otherwise might enter through the roots. In addition, the bags make moving the plants easier, if that becomes necessary.

Healthful produce

Plants are grown with certified organic and heirloom seeds, which are not genetically modified. DBP grows about 10,500 lbs. of food per year, including five types of lettuce, two varieties of eggplant, four varieties (two heirloom) of tomatoes, two varieties of kale, four types of carrots, and okra. The produce is sold at farmers market, held every weekend.

So far, Dania Beach PATCH has hired two full-time members of the community to tend the farm.

DBP also has an 80-by-80-foot open-air pavilion, built by the Dania Beach CRA and the city’s Parks & Recreation Department. Cooking demonstrations are held on the third Saturday of each month; and workshops on topics such as beekeeping and summer planting strategies meet once a month.

Also, there’s a nursery that sells seedlings, as well as gardening materials such as fertilizer and starter soil. For more information about Dania Beach PATCH, visit http://thepatchgarden.com.

Mikki Royce is a writer and publicist. A “foodie,” she is a member of Slow Food, a local CSA; and is learning about food and nutrition, gearing up to complete a natural-style cookbook. Royce is a graduate of the University of Miami’s School of Communications.