Food shortage has been a growing concern for many Lakeland families as the economic downturn has left families scraping from the bottom of the barrel just to come up with the funds to purchase enough groceries to feed their family. According to the 2010 US Census, 14.9 % of Lakeland families fall below the poverty line.
Jack Kosik, executive director of Noah’s Ark of Central Florida, has recognized a greater concern for developmentally disabled adults. As many supportive services are being cut, community members with disabilities have been left without enough money to live independently, or to purchase healthy and nutritious foods. Noah’s Ark is a home that daily supports the developmentally disabled and assists them by educating them on important issues of guardianship, special needs trusts, and available services. In addition to the weekly array of social and recreational activities that Noah’s Ark hosts, Kosik has plans to begin a community garden.
“One of our primary goals for The Villages at Noah’s Landing is to be sustainable. In order for that to happen, we will need to develop a variety of ways to generate income and to offset operational expenses,” commented Kosik. He explained that a portion of the Community Garden would be developed as a “co-op” whereby Noah’s Ark will sell annual shares of the harvest to members of the community, another portion will go to the individuals working in the garden, and another portion will be donated to local community food banks or feeding programs. “This co-op portion will generate revenue to allow us to replant and expand in the future,” says Kosik.
The community garden involvement will first be offered to the individuals and families of Noah’s Ark and once their interest in participating is determined, if openings still exist, they will open it up to the those within the community.
“Our focus will be on growing vegetables and herbs, however, we have had preliminary discussions with another not-for-profit that sells poinsettia’s at Christmas about purchasing them from Noah’s Ark,” said Kosik. Another potential buyer might be the landscape nursery for the City of Lakeland where Noah’s Ark could grow certain landscape stock for them.
Kosik hopes for the Noah’s Ark Community Garden to be the first step in the realization of the Noah’s Ark Farm. “The Noah’s Ark Community Garden will provide the developmentally disabled adults with the opportunity to discover, support and enhance their contributions to the community through meaningful community engagement opportunities and productive work,” said Kosik. Programs that are planned to revolve around the garden include a produce stand and in the future, an urban farm.
The Noah’s Ark of Central Florida’s Community Garden project will be an urban farm that provides meaningful daytime activities and employment opportunities for developmentally disabled adults in the Greater Lakeland Area.
The Community Garden in well underway as Kosik is taking the appropriate steps to make it happen. “We have applied for start-up funding grants from the Greater Lakeland Community Foundation and the Lakeland Rotary Club.” Kosik says that the funds will most likely be disbursed mid-2012. “Once funding is in place we will start based upon the planting seasons,” said Kosik.
Kosik had the idea for a community garden years ago. “We learned that everyone had different tastes and preferred different foods,” Kosik said. Noah’s Ark tried offering cooking lessons but they didn’t last for long. “We found that they weren’t interested in cooking.”
Because the residents of Noah’s Ark are not interesting in cooking, they often eat unhealthy foods that are not beneficial to a healthy lifestyle. The Community Garden will help to encourage them to make healthy choices.
Eddie Mcleod lives at Noah’s Nest and is excited about the future for the community garden. “I will love to have a garden and it will help us because we spend our money on junk food and we need to be healthy,” he said.
Another resident of Noah’s Nest, De’Shayla Clinton says that she would also like to have a community garden. “It would be fun to learn about a garden and see things grow. Tomato’s, okra, and cucumbers would be good to grow.”
The Villages of Noah’s Landing is the future site for the Noah’s Ark community garden as well as the housing for the Noah’s Ark community. There will be approximately 100 residential units, which will be a blend of one and two-story homes as well as apartments and group homes.
At the back-end of The Villages will be a large recreational area, which will be used for a variety of walking trails and outdoor activities as well as the home for the community garden. Kosik envisions the walking trails to have different plants and flowers labeled. “We want schools to be able to come here and have retreats as well as learn about natural gardening and be able to identify different plants,” Kosik says.
The community garden is going to give The Villages of Noah’s landing the first real initiative to sustainability. “The money will come back in from it and help feed the residence as well as help the co-op,” says Kosik.
As the villages of Noah’s Landing develop with residents and activity the primary focus of the community garden will shift to supplying fresh vegetables (plus chicken and eggs) to the residents.
Some may look at the residents of Noah’s Ark and believe that they have no place and no future, but Kosik has proved that the developmentally disabled have a place and a purpose. The community garden is a way in which they can feel purpose and be able to participate and see the results of their own labor. The greatest part is that it not only benefits themselves, but those in the community as well.
“I have gone from being a dreamer to being a visionary,” Kosik said. “I hated the word dream, because I had a vision.” The vision that Kosik has is becoming a reality… and it is changing people’s life… one by one by one.