The Village Institute for Sustainable Technologies and Agriculture, known as VISTA Gardens, was founded as a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit corporation in 2008 as a result of a joint project of the three Carrollwood Village Home Owners Associations and partnership with the Hillsborough County Parks and Recreation Department.
Through the support of our Hillsborough County Commissioners and the considerable dedication and true grit of Carrollwood Village residents, this county-owned property has been transformed from an abandoned, overgrown water treatment facility into the beautiful, thriving and sustainable community 3.31-acre garden park we enjoy today.
VISTA Gardens opened to community memberships in Fall 2014 with 6 plots and 10 active members guided by Whitwam Organics, one of our community partners. Today we have 52, 4 foot x16 foot raised cedar garden plots with 73 active members. We are in the process of adding 7 new plots that will be made from reclaimed plastic. All VISTA plots are gardened organically by members who pay semi-annual or annual dues. No herbicides or pesticides are used. Many members share their harvest with other gardeners at VISTA and some donate harvested vegetables to the local food pantry.
In addition to individual member plots, we have a wide variety of volunteer led gardens.
An experimental garden, sponsored by a community partner, Urban Roots, tests and introduces new varieties of vegetables and flowers, as well as various gardening techniques.
Culinary and medicinal herb container garden is available to and shared by all our members.
Florida fruit trees
Our garden also includes avocado, loquat, cherry, mulberry, fig, mango, elderberry and even two lemon and lime trees started from seed by one of our members.
VISTA members maintain a registered Monarch Waystation, that consist of a series of six native plant gardens to support bees, birds, and the migration of butterflies.
Knowledge Sharing & Fun
Little Free Library®
VISTA’s library, was funded by a grant from Forever Friends. The donated books focus on gardening, nature, and intergenerational relationships.
Vista sponsors learning activities on nutrition, Florida birds, taking care of your garden, Yoga, Tai Chi, and other interesting topics.
Our members are active in events such as potluck and restaurant gatherings, bike rides, and “Happy Hours.”
Site of special projects
Educational and scouting groups, including University of Tampa’s PEACE Center, University of South Florida’s Center for Leadership and Civic Engagement, Boys Scouts, and Girl Scouts collaborate with VISTA on special projects. Recent Eagle Scout projects improved the entrance to VISTA Gardens, created a pergola and bench setting for our Little Free Library®, and naturalized our pond.
All residents of Hillsborough County are welcome to join VISTA Gardens and learn about organic gardening methods and associated technologies. Borrowing a phrase from the Hillsborough County Parks Mission, VISTA Gardens is a place to“Leave life’s daily pressures behind and reconnect with nature, your family, and friends at a nearby County park.”
How We Do It
Off the grid
VISTA Gardens is not connected to the local power company nor the county water system. Water is pumped by solar power from a 230' deep well. The pump in the well is about 42' deep, allowing flow sufficient to pump 20 gallons per minute to four tanks that each holds 125 gallons. Our water tower holds up to 500 gallons of water that is gravity fed for irrigation throughout the gardens.
VISTA Gardens has no paid employees. Membership includes a commitment to volunteer a minimum of 2 hours monthly, although many donate more time. We contribute to committee work as well as garden upkeep. For example, committee members help with website and social media, write grants, and coordinate volunteers. Members volunteer to tend our shared herb and pollinator gardens, weed and mulch common areas.
Vegetables, fruits, and flowers are grown organically, guided by the research and resources of the University of Florida Institute for Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS). Seeds and garden products are carefully sourced, using Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) listed products to manage plant disease and practice Integrated Pest Management.
Fertile soil through composting
Members and neighboring residents contribute kitchen scraps for composting. In addition, our compost team works closely with a local food pantry to eliminate food waste by processing thousands of pounds of donated produce that has passed its expiration date.
Starting and tending new plants
In VISTA’s seed house, called the House of the Rising Seeds, we sow seeds and tend to seedlings for transplant into member garden plots.
A 180-foot path through our woodland is surrounded by a canopy of native trees, shrubs, and plants, with a screech and saw-whet owl house high above as you enter the trail.
Bee hive, bird houses and feeders
With the help of our community partner, Wild Birds Unlimited at Carrollwood Village Center, many species of birds are housed and fed. They also maintain a bee hive to help pollinate our gardens.
A 2,000 gallon freshwater pond is an educational center where we experiment with aquatic plants, solar powered filtration system, aquatic life and even growing food to support community retention ponds in becoming healthier and more sustainable.