Article and photos by Don Kendrick

We’d Like the Garden View…

On a recent Saturday morning, I visited with several members of VISTA Gardens, a sustainable community garden in the Carrollwood area.  As a former member, I knew a good bit about the garden as a project but wanted to dig a little deeper on its origins, membership and highlight the vision of what this community garden represents. As it turned out, not only did I get the chance to speak with three of its key founding members, Bill West, Ann Wallace, and Corinna Edwards, but there was also a small work party underway, so I could observe and photograph some of their activities.

The acronym VISTA stands for “Village Institute for Sustainable Technologies and Agriculture.” That’s a mouthful, but it represents the vision of the group on their community-based approach to the garden. It’s located on South Village Drive, just west of the Carrollwood Cultural Center in Tampa.

As Bill West noted, “Originally, we planned this thing to be hydroponic.  The soil wasn’t good.  There was nothing here.  So we had a hydroponic Community Supported Agriculture going on in my backyard and some other backyards.  We were just learning ourselves.  And then we met David Whitwam (an organic farmer and owner of Whitwam Organics).  Meanwhile, Corinna and I had done a fundraiser at Whole Foods, which helped us to get Whitwam, plus County money, and the HoA also contributed.  It’s kind of a long story!  But when Whitwam came to us, we decided to do the Victorian Garden-type thing, where we’d sell plots.  It gets people much more involved.”

This kernel of an idea began in 2005 and bloomed when Bill, Ann and Corinna came together in 2008 to approach the Carrollwood Homeowner’s Association for use of an undeveloped parcel, which the HOA gladly supported, and then led them to the County Commissioners and eventually to Hillsborough Parks and Recreation to obtain the rights and funding necessary to begin the garden. In 2008, their dream became reality and VISTA formed. Initially consisting of between 15 to 20 people, it has now grown to over 75 people cultivating 45 4’x18’ cedar beds, and another 7 log beds measuring 4’x 20’.

In the past year alone, VISTA has added a composting process, a beehive to help pollinate the plants, a small water tower, and a butterfly and herb garden.  VISTA has a greenhouse under construction to grow seedlings, and will eventually add a pavilion as a gathering place. They plan to continue expanding with another 15 plots, and hope to add chicken and rabbits to add to their sustainable approach to gardening.  Bill pointed out “It’s hard to do creative things out in the world, but you can come here and be creative, work together on projects, and it’s rewarding.“

Additionally, VISTA conducts community outreach through participation in the monthly Farmer’s Market at the Carrollwood Cultural Center (third Saturday of every month), they work with schools, like USF, with volunteers from Sickles High School, Walker Middle School, and Ben Hill Middle School is starting a whole program to partner with us. VISTA is open to the public, they sponsor monthly open houses for the public and welcome everyone to come out to their events, which are advertised on the VISTA website and Facebook page.  Additionally, David Whitwam will provide lectures several times a month to VISTA members – and really to anyone who shows up -  about various aspects of organic gardening.

As Corinna Edwards commented, “I can’t stress enough the sense of community that has developed here.  The friendships, the camaraderie, the various skill sets and whatever the people bring.  We’ve got engineers, we’ve got nurses, we’ve got people from all walks of life, and everybody brings something to the table.”