'Getting down to nature': Destin gets grant for kids to plant

Savannah Vasquez
Volunteers with The United Way recently cleaned up the area where the new raised garden will be placed at the Destin Community Center.

The children that attend the Destin Community Center’s afterschool program will soon be planting thanks to a grant from Florida Business Watch and the Florida League of Mayors.

“We got awarded a $900 grant to purchase a raised planting bed for the garden,” said City Parks and Recreation Director Lance Johnson. “The kids afterschool club will use it during the school year and then the summer kids club will use it during the summer.”

Mayor Mel Ponder, who was instrumental in securing the grant, said Destin was one of the few cities to receive funding this year.

"We were one of the five grants that was received out of 70," said Ponder.

In the application letter for the City Catalyst Grant, Ponder detailed that the current state of the Community Center Children’s Garden is not the most ideal for flourishing plant life.

“Currently the garden is planted directly in the earth,” the letter reads. “A bit too sandy in Destin for optimum results. The city would like to house its children’s garden in an eight by eight raised cedar garden box filled with good soil.”

"They are grants that are to be used for community involvement, community betterment and community support," John Thomas, executive director of the Florida League of Mayors said during Monday night's City Council meeting.

Destin was chosen above other cities due to its creativity.

“Destin has come up with a creative way to keep children learning while having fun outside of school,” Florida League of Mayors President Randy Henderson said in a press release. “My fellow mayors around the state can’t wait to see how our grant will contribute to this project.”

The idea for the children’s garden sprung from an activity the community center initiated this past year.

“We had a gardening camp this summer and children planted and took care of flowers, peppers and tomato plants,” said Deputy Recreation and Parks Director Lisa Firth. “They made some salsa with the tomatoes, and we are hoping to have this ongoing with our kids club camps.”

In a few short weeks, the raised plant bed will come in and Firth said it should be up and running for the winter and spring planting season.

“Living in Florida you can grow something all year,” said Firth. “When it gets cold they will learn how to weatherproof it. They will be getting down to nature.”

Firth added that the local community has been supportive of the garden with volunteers from The United Way cleaning out the site of the new garden, and Mayor Mel Ponder really championing the way for this project.

“When we get this grant it will really help us expand what we’ve been trying to do with the kids,” said Firth. “They will be reaping the benefits of growing their own vegetables and smelling their own flowers.”