Updated: Jan 16
On nearly any day of the week VISTA Gardens is teeming with volunteer gardeners who do everything from plucking weeds to planning and planting, building garden structures and turning compost. So who are these intrepid souls who brave the summer sun and delight in Florida’s winter gardening? VISTA volunteers are a diverse bunch, hailing from various states and countries and a rainbow of assorted careers including business, education, horticulture, medicine and restauranteering.
A hallmark of the VISTA volunteer culture is generational diversity. It is commonplace to see experienced 70- and 80-something gardeners working alongside teenagers and young adults. Families bring young children to lend a hand. More than 500 volunteers helped with projects at the garden in 2021. It begs the question, why do all of these volunteers invest so much of their time and energy?
Lauren C. first volunteered at VISTA when she was in high school—her initial step inside a garden. She volunteered again while studying at USF. After graduating, she took a gap year and joined the garden to try her hand at her own gardening plot. “I learned so much and just loved being at the garden,” Lauren said. “I started teaching yoga classes there and also used the garden as a place to meditate.” Lauren described the garden as an oasis, a place to destress and recharge. “And I grew some gigantic tomato plants! I was able to share fresh vegetables with friends and family.” When Lauren started teaching at a school in an underprivileged area, she noticed the lack of access to fresh produce. “I began to realize the importance of fresh food to daily health,” she said.
Lauren has become a proponent of community gardening in schools and takes that message with her wherever she goes. This year, she will teach English in Japan and plans to take her love of community gardens across the seas. When she returns, she will apply for medical school and says her time at VISTA Gardens influenced this decision. “The garden not only fed my stomach, it also fed my soul.”
To learn more about VISTA volunteer opportunities, please visit the VISTA Garden website at https://www.vistagardentampa.org/volunteer
Byline: Mary Bryant