Thursday, May 16, 2013

Community garden grows tomorrows for a Fort Lauderdale neighborhood

Kantner and Smith
Community Garden at
Church of the Intercession
501 NW 17th Street
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33311

By Jane Feehan

A community garden grows in Fort Lauderdale, transforming what was once an eyesore of abandoned cars and dumped garbage into a green area of repose and productivity. Located on land owned by the Church of the Intercession, the garden is carefully tended by church-appointed co-gardeners Steve Kantner and JoAnn Smith.

Built in the 1950s, the church was once the center of a thriving mixed-race community. It was first in the Episcopal Diocese of Southeast Florida to be integrated. Over the years, the neighborhood entered into decline, with rival gangs and drugs dominating daily life. People moved away. Church membership dropped. Few cared about garbage accumulating in the vacant church-owned lot.

One civic group decided to do something.

 “The South Middle River Civic Association (SMRCA), under the aegis of Donna Collins, was the prime mover,” said Kantner, better known for his fishing exploits in South Florida and beyond. “They approached the church and offered volunteers to clear the site. The offer was gladly accepted.”

Garden of Mark Adler & Mason Wagner

The cleanup occurred more than 12 years ago.

Today, former SMRCA board member Kantner is a church member. He spends between 20 and 30 hours a week on the lot-turned-garden cultivating ornamentals - of interest to his wife,Vicki - and an array of vegetables they donate or bring home to cook.
“It’s taken that long to develop this soil into a viable environment for cultivating vegetables and fruits,” Kantner said as he showed off cucumbers, onions, carrots, collard greens, eggplants and melons.  “Some might call me an organic grower because I don’t use commercial  products; I have a source for horse manure to use as fertilizer.”

Smith also has a green thumb. Currently president of the Fort Lauderdale Woman’s Club, Inc., she brings her expertise as Master Gardener to this peaceful neighborhood plot. “I grow herbs, flowers, and heirloom tomatoes,” said Smith. “I also use what I grow to make floral arrangements for the Woman’s Club.”

Others participate in the acre-and-a-half-community garden; church affiliation is not required, Kantner emphasizes.  Neighborhood residents and partners Mark Adler and Mason Wagner cleared out a space in the undergrowth and put up a fence. They planted tomatoes, broccoli, sweet potatoes and other vegetables in and around a picturesque raised garden.

Adler serves as executive director of Meals on Wheels Broward. He appreciates the benefits of fresh produce. “We [Meals on Wheels] plan to include locally-grown food on particular days of meal deliveries.”

He also understands the problems neighborhood gardens confront. “It’s difficult to sustain a community garden unless a paid person is assigned to the project.”

That of course, requires money and this community garden gets very little of that kind of support. A recent – and to date the only – contribution of $3,000 paid for fertilizer, tools, mulch, fencing and a well pump. A well sits on church property but gardeners need two pumps to deliver water to the garden. Other than an additional pump, they need a soil tiller, fertilizer and fencing.

The gardeners have dug deep into their own pockets to keep the community garden going. Additionally, the Kantners paid for the neutering of eight cats living there. Vicki Kantner stops by twice a day – on the way to and from her job as case manager for a Broward judge and two magistrates – to feed them.

There are more creatures … Smith feeds Guinea fowl that live harmoniously with the well-fed cats. Adler and Wagner oversee a friendly peacock. Steve Kantner hopes the controlled population of animal residents will add to the nature-focused mission of the community garden. It underscores good stewardship.

Vicki Kantner tames feral cat with love
Other than money shortages, gardeners are facing a chance the church property could be sold. On the bright side, an ordinance was passed to zone the four-and-a-half-acre church property for farming. According to Kantner, negotiations with a developer to establish a farm to grow restaurant produce with proceeds going to the church stalled months ago.

Currently 10 gardeners till the soil. “More diggers – preferably those who are solidly committed to seeing this
work – are welcome,” Kantner said.  “It’s not only a commitment to gardening that’s important. This garden is about revitalizing, strengthening the community. Neighborhood students and at-risk teens learn about gardening from us. People can grow food. Since we’ve been here, things have improved, the neighborhood is coming back. People are proud to live here.”

A sign at the restored lot greets visitors with this: To grow a garden is to believe in tomorrow. Residents now know there will be many more tomorrows for this once-neglected community.
Contact Steve Kantner or JoAnn Smith about plots and donations, which are tax deductable, to sustain this community garden. Email Steve Kantner: or JoAnn Smith at

Tags: neighborhood green initiatives, community gardens, Fort Lauderdale community gardens, farm to table produce, sustainable planting, neighborhood stewardship, Fort Lauderdale inner city farms

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What a great way to bring an area of the city back!
Steve, Vicki and Joann work very hard to "keep it going". Their commitment is great! God bless!
Linda T.