Grace Garden

Grace Garden Celebrates its 5th Birthday!

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This April marks five years since the inception of our beloved Grace Garden. What was once an overgrown and untamed backyard to BEAM’s headquarters, is now a serene and peaceful neighborhood gem providing thousands of pounds of produce to families in the beaches area.

Grace Garden exists for three main reasons:
• To provide fresh produce to BEAM’s two client-choice food pantries (Jacksonville Beach and Mayport)
• To create a peaceful place for clients to visit
• To add beauty to the neighborhood
Since 2013, Grace Garden has produce more than 27,500 pounds of produce for hardworking families in our beaches community.

Getting the garden to where it is today was no easy task. It took vision, persistence and lots of community help. Integral partners from idea to execution include the City of Jacksonville Beach, UF/IFAS Duval County Extension Office, Home Depot-Jacksonville Beach, landscape architect Kelly Elmore and numerous skilled volunteers and financial supporters.

Food Pantry and Garden Manager Mary Ellen Waugh shared, “I am most proud that it is a place of its own. The garden is something unique that this community didn’t have before, and our neighborhood and our clients are better because of it.”

People from all walks of life have touched Grace Garden and been affected by its beauty and character. We welcome our regular weekly volunteers (including two retired master gardeners), church life groups and their children, community and corporate groups. All have had a hand in creating a lively and sustainable garden year-round.

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Aside from the nutritious food that fills our pantries, the garden also provides a learning opportunity for clients and their children. BEAM’s Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Rachel McCandless uses produce from the garden to prepare food tastings and cooking demonstrations for clients. She also works closely with those who have been diagnosed with Diabetes or Hypertension to teach them how to incorporate positive lifestyle changes in an effort to manage and relief their chronic disease symptoms.

Lastly, Grace Garden serves as a peaceful space for clients and beaches residents alike to relax, decompress and enjoy nature’s beauty.

How can you help? Please consider sponsoring a Grace Garden raised bed for $250 a year or aeroponic tower for $350 a year, which provides BEAM’s pantries four seasons of fresh fruits and vegetables. It’s a perfect gift for Mother’s Day!

Food Assistance Program

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Our efforts to feed the hungry are ever expanding, and one way we are providing nutrition to our neighbors in need is through our Beaches Community Food Bank. Established in 2016 in partnership with Feeding Northeast Florida, the food bank functions as a grocery recovery distribution center located behind our 7north thrift store in Jacksonville Beach. It is the only one of its kind within a 30 miles radius of our beaches area, which is significant for food recovery with a very short shelf life.

Last year alone we collected, inspected and redistributed more than 749,000 pounds of food from grocery stores and food drives to our clients’ dinner tables. Over 400,000 pounds alone went to our two client-choice food pantries, which served more than 2,600 beaches residents last year. The remaining went to agencies such as Alimancani Elementary School’s PTA weekend backpack program, senior housing sites, the Rhoda Martin Headstart program and numerous mobile food pantry sites.

In 2017 we introduced “mobile pantry sites” to get food into the hands of individuals who need it most. This approach requires staff and volunteers to bundle, transport and drop off pallets of food at partner locations on a regular basis, including Pablo Towers, Pablo Hamlet, St John the Baptist Catholic Church and Mayport Elementary School.

Last August, media outlet CNN.com filmed BEAM staff and our 7,200 square foot Grace Garden for a video featuring our unique “garden to food pantry” approach. They highlighted our ability to grow and to provide healthy food to people on a limited income, which both gratified and reinforced the important work we are doing to assist our food insecure neighbors.

Grace Garden Update

The Grace Garden is recovering nicely from a series of weather events. Though Irma left a mess, most of the damaged plants were summer crops that we going to remove.  However, we will miss our pepper plants.  Fall and winter are our best growing seasons. We are currently planting broccoli, kale, beets, carrots, collards and cabbage. These, in addition, to our tomato and asparagus plants already in the ground are exciting to watch grow!

We disassembled the towers and stored them in the greenhouse during the storm.  We also removed our shade clothes and sun screens. We spent a weekend cleaning and putting everything back together, what a job!! I do not know what we would do without our wonderful volunteers. Now they are fully planted with an expanded nutrient system, so let’s watch them grow. They are planted with baby kale, lettuce, parsley and cilantro.

There are many exciting events planned for the garden; dinners, welcoming ceremonies and The Tour de Farm. Mark your calendars for November 19 and check the website for other volunteer opportunities.  

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