Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful, Tampa, FL

The Florida Learning Garden, a project of Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful (KTBB) in partnership with the Florida State Fairgrounds, is a permanent one-acre interactive educational experience. From ‘right-plant, right-place’ to best practices for water conservation, the Florida Learning Garden educates residents on multiple growing techniques and sustainable practices to utilize in their own homes and gardens.

Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful was proud to partner with Lowe’s for a grant assisting with completion of several Phase II projects at the Florida Learning Garden. The garden is unique in that it reaches a wide scope of people through its accessible location and multiple community partnerships. By housing donated plants and starter seedlings in our greenhouse and storing extra tools and supplies at the garden, KTBB will continue to support the efforts of community gardens throughout the area.

So much growth has happened in the garden during the past few months, thanks to the Keep America Beautiful/Lowe’s Community Improvement Grant! The soil on the site lacked nutrients, so funding for mulch, garden soil, and fertilizer has been vital in creating the overall success of edible crops at the garden.

In April 2013, KTBB held a KAB National Day of Action on the site, during which 44 trees were planted. Teams of volunteers from the surrounding community and universities picked up their shovels and set to work digging, planting, mulching and watering the beautiful fruit trees to line the garden. KTBB also partnered with the Home Builder’s Institute (HBI), an organization that teaches construction skills to at-risk or previously incarcerated individuals. Part of the grant funding enabled us to purchase building supplies so that HBI volunteers could build four workbenches for the greenhouse to provide a workspace for educational programs for youth visiting the site. Kids are now able to line the tables in the greenhouse and see, touch and smell the plants, as well as plant their own seedlings to take home.

On Oct. 19, local Lowe’s Heroes volunteers came to the Florida Learning Garden to construct a gazebo and install a butterfly garden on the property. The implementation of this beautiful structure was by far one of the most creative and greatest successes at the garden so far! The addition of a second butterfly garden by another volunteer group has created a new home for a host of butterfly species, and the rainbow of native flower species has created a flourishing, inviting space for both kids and adults.

Finally, Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful is thrilled that our 20 grow beds are now filled to the brim with winter crop vegetables! After re-planting in October, the first batch of produce has been successfully harvested and donated to a local charity to provide nutrition for homeless teens. We are so pleased to be giving back to our community in meaningful ways, and believe this site will help create new individuals stewards for the environment in our community.

Keep Charleston Beautiful, Charleston, South Carolina

The Green Heart Project is a community-based volunteer organization that integrates school farms as outdoor classrooms in an effort to teach students the virtues of hard work, respect and success and reiterate classroom curriculum while connecting students and volunteers to fresh, healthy, locally-grown produce. The City of Charleston’s Keep Charleston Beautiful is dedicated to promoting a cleaner more beautiful Charleston through education, awareness, and community involvement. In 2013, these two groups came together through a Lowe’s grant to improve a school based garden in the heart of Downtown Charleston.
The Green Heart Project was founded in 2009 with its pilot garden built with students and volunteers at Mitchell Elementary School in downtown Charleston. Over the past 5 years, the garden has grown from 5 small raised beds in the schoolyard to encompass over 12,000 ft of garden space, including a 5,500 ft vegetable garden, a native species and herb garden, and a 35 tree fruit orchard including citrus, papaya, figs, pomegranate and blueberries. The garden is utilized by the entire school as outdoor learning laboratory where students, alongside volunteer mentors, partake in every part of the growing cycle, from seed, to harvest, to tasting!
Although the entire garden functions as a an outdoor learning space, one component has been on the wish list for many years, an outdoor classroom – a covered place for our students, teachers and volunteers to gather to discuss the concepts taught between the vegetable rows. Working in conjunction with the Keep Charleston Beautiful, an affiliate of KAB, the Green Heart Project was able to secure funding and volunteers through a Lowe’s Charitable & Education Foundation grant to build and install not only a beautiful outdoor classroom complete with benches and tables, but also a 1500 gallon cistern to harvest all of the rain captured on the roof. The rain-water harvesting system will not only function to help irrigate the surrounding garden beds, but will be a lesson in and of itself teaching sustainable gardening practices and touch on the importance of sustainability in the times of today. Even though the community volunteer day landed on one of the coldest and windiest days this year, a small group of dedicated, hard working volunteers came out to help. Though they could not feel their fingers or faces, a lot of progress was made and the outdoor garden classroom began to take shape.
Our Farm-to-School program at Mitchell, students are ecstatic to begin using the outdoor classroom in the spring season of 2014 and are grateful for the partnership and volunteers at KAB and Lowe’s for their support and help in making our outdoor classroom a reality! Volunteers from Keep Charleston Beautiful and local Lowe’s stores are invited to continue working with the Green Heart team and the school garden throughout the year. This is an ongoing, ever growing, project that brings the students and community together.

Keep Mississippi Beautiful Prepares for National Planting Day, Madison, MS

In the coming days, the work of one of Keep Mississippi Beautiful’s largest beautification projects will blossom, literally.

Our organization partnered with several nonprofits to sow more than 1 million flowering bulbs, the first of which should be blooming as fall nears. This effort was funded by donations by KMB and other groups and it armed 26 communities across the state with boxes of flowering bulbs, including dahlias, gladiolas and peonies.

From the Coast to the Delta to northeast Mississippi, we worked with America Responds with Love, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, Mississippi Beverage Association, Mississippi Municipal League, our affiliates and many other partners to make this possible.

Planting trees, shrubs and flowers has obvious perks. Plants improve aesthetics, help clean air and water, and provide shade and sanctuary.

But the benefits of beautification efforts are bigger. They lead to higher property values and can truly transform a neighborhood.

For example, tree-scaped business districts average 12 percent higher revenue than treeless areas. When a tree is planted within 50 feet of a home, it can increase the home’s value by 9 percent. And homes within a quarter mile of a park boast a 10 percent higher value.

Research shows people prefer natural landscape to hard-scapes, even showing that urban residents dislike treeless, empty spaces. When trees were added, more people took advantage of that urban place. A study also showed that exposure to public green spaces also builds a stronger sense of unity among residents.

It’s pretty amazing what a green thumb can do for a community. And it makes sense why one of our key objectives is community greening.

We’re affiliated with Keep America Beautiful, and like us, our state is home to affiliates that serve cities, counties and even a reservoir. With 30 affiliates and four new ones about to be on the roster, our network has made a big impact across the state.

In September, Keep America Beautiful and its many affiliates will celebrate National Planting Day, an event in which groups like us gather together to beautify communities.

If you live in Mississippi, I encourage you to see if your community has a Keep Mississippi Beautiful affiliate. If it does, join in and see how you can help clean and green your community. If it doesn’t consider joining us for a volunteer project or look into starting an affiliate in your community.

To learn more about our beautification efforts, visit keepmsbeautiful.com or check us out on Facebook or Twitter.

-Sarah Kountouris is executive director of Keep Mississippi Beautiful.

Keep Bakersfield Beautiful – Lowe’s Grant – CA

Keep Bakersfield Beautiful Blog for 2012 Keep America Beautiful/Lowe’s Community Improvement Grant for $5,000

Keep Bakersfield Beautiful (KBB) community garden projects grow hope in the hearts of volunteers who live in neighborhoods known to struggle with crime. KBB is honored to be an instrument to transform nearly a combined 37,000 square feet of space in these blighted neighborhoods plagued with burglaries, gang activity, and graffiti. Armed with an arsenal of contributors, including an invaluable $5,000 Keep America Beautiful/Lowe’s Community Improvement grant leading the way, KBB is empowered to cultivate community leaders through the creation of community gardens. This KAB/Lowe’s grant was the metaphorical seed money to build momentum for the Greenfield Walking Group Garden and A Fresh Start Garden in Southeast Bakersfield.

The Greenfield Walking Group has been a group of concerned families and friends for several years. They started out being a bunch of moms who took strolls together with their children. They first began to make a presence in the news when they took the lead to motivate community improvements around a dilapidated neighborhood park surrounded by gang activity. They spearheaded the change and reclaimed the park as a family-friendly space. Years ago, KBB began working with the Greenfield Walking Group regularly to clean up litter and graffiti in the neighborhood. Our commitment to improving it together expanded into an Adopt A Neighborhood program, which included the potential for community gardening and beautification projects in the future. Well, the future is now. KBB and the Greenfield Walking Group hope this community garden will be a 15,600 square foot safe zone for neighbors to enjoy together for the betterment of their community.

More than 250 pairs of hands from as close as next door to as far as Lincoln, Nebraska have happily gotten dirty to make this garden beautiful. Some volunteers come for a day, others are core members who were there from brainstorming to planning to planting – all are valued, all are necessary. Some of the outstanding volunteers who are not a part of the Greenfield Walking Group are Dora, a Russian immigrant who resides in one of Bakersfield’s most affluent enclaves, has become the unofficial project manager, Dora’s star volunteer is Jason, a 13 year old who lives in a mobile home park several blocks away, and 54 blessed volunteers from Nebraska, some of whom believe divine intervention brought them to Bakersfield to finish building the Greenfield Walking Group Garden.

The Youth of Messiah Lutheran Church of Lincoln, Nebraska travels annually to do mission work, but they weren’t scheduled to do service in Bakersfield. The youth group got a disappointing last minute phone call right before 54 of them were to fly out to help another non-profit in a tiny rural town 98.7 miles North of the Greenfield Walking Group Garden. The caller told them not come because of a terrible intestinal flu outbreak. Since their plane tickets weren’t refundable, the Youth of Messiah Lutheran Church came to California anyway. They went to a Lutheran church in Bakersfield and asked for suggestions for a new missionary project. That’s how they found us. It became a news story and sponsors stepped in to support the mission work, which in turn provided a boost in manpower and funding to finish what we thought would be future phases of our garden project. Thanks to them we have creatively painted block-walls surrounding two sides of the garden; crop rows planted with a variety of food from sweet berries to spicy chilies; spikey flowers along the fence for added security; and raised beds for herbs. When the youth got back home to Nebraska, they emailed us to say they never worked as hard, never had so much fun doing mission work, and believe that God sent them to the right place after all.

The Greenfield Walking Group Garden is building a sense of community that stretches beyond its immediate neighborhood. Their love for their community and passion for a healthier lifestyle attracts an outpouring of support from the Lowe’s two miles away from the garden. Lowe’s and its vendors like Bonnie Plants and Duarte Trees and Vines are vital to the sustainability of the Greenfield Walking Group Garden, because they offer their expertise in growing with invaluable onsite visits, as well as needed products.

The Greenfield Walking Group Garden is about six miles away from A Fresh Start Garden. Both neighborhoods were pleasantly surprised to see a beautification project happen in an area where residents often feel overlooked or undervalued. A Fresh Start garden is proud to be led by African-Americans in a predominately African-American neighborhood. A Fresh Start Garden has more than 21,000 square feet available to grow and to host community events organized by the neighboring anti-gang organization called Stop the Violence.

The harvest festival and ribbon cutting ceremony was a Halloween alternative block party for families and neighbors. Thanks to this KAB/Lowe’s grant, Keep Bakersfield Beautiful was able to buy the necessary garden tools and lumber to finish 16 adoptable plots and the fence in time for the garden to open. The garden manager, Isaiah, is a former Keep Bakersfield Beautiful board member who has experience with community gardens. A Fresh Start Garden’s neighbors are key partners in the sustainability of this project too. St. Paul Church next door provides electricity and water. Plus, Stop the Violence across the street helps to raise funds and organizes the community.

Together our groups empower more than 100 volunteers for A Fresh Start Garden, litter cleanups, and outreach. A Fresh Start Garden is in the center of a walkable neighborhood with a severe litter problem – the worst in Bakersfield. Volunteers often have to clean up litter when tending the garden. The litter is a constant battle because it blows in past the fence. But the greatest challenge A Fresh Start Garden faces is earning the trust of the neighborhood in order to engage them. Stop the Violence and the Neighborhood Watch Program agree that working with a suppressed population that has lost hope in the goodness of others while dealing with substance abuse, gang and gun violence, and a lack of education makes it very difficult to draw the community to take part in the garden. Community events are a way to raise awareness to build that trust. Stop the Violence also says that many in the neighborhood lack motivation to use resources like A Fresh Start Garden rather than just rely on public assistance.

Trust is being earned though. Neighbors who have been introduced to the garden are very thankful for it. Stop the Violence and Isaiah’s Sober Living clients were working in the garden on a rainy day pulling weeds when children passing by noticed them. The children were curious and asked a lot of questions of what was going on there. The kids smiled when they learned it was a community garden. The kids asked if they could come and garden too. Of course Stop the Violence invited the children to come back with their parents. Since then, several plots have been adopted. There’s been a 12.5% increase in neighborhood participation since 2012, according to Stop the Violence

This Keep America Beautiful/Lowes grant opportunity blazed the trail for Keep Bakersfield Beautiful, Stop the Violence, and the Greenfield Walking Group to uplift two communities in need of help. This grant was the kindling to a grass roots fire. Now both gardens have the support of several administrators, volunteers, technical advisors, other grants and sponsors, and the City of Bakersfield. Together we strive to make a safer and more beautiful Bakersfield. We have much gratitude for Keep America Beautiful and Lowe’s for being there in the beginning to make these thriving community gardens possible. Thank you.

Keep Phoenix Beautiful – Phoenix, AZ

On Saturday, May 18, volunteers came out to the largest vacant lot transformation in the country – PHX Renews! Volunteers assisted in creating cover crops in the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension garden to improve the health of the soil. Volunteers also assisted in installing parts of a 160-piece public art collection on site. The art was created by various artists and the public under the direction of Hugo Medina.

PHX Renews is a project envisioned by Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton and implemented by local nonprofit Keep Phoenix Beautiful. The basis behind this project is to document and find temporary uses of vacant urban land, which is scattered all across Phoenix.

PHX Renews is centered on a 15-acre parcel at the intersection of Central & Indian School Roads in central Phoenix. This property is privately held by the Barron Collier Company of Naples, Fla., and has been vacant for over 20 years.

Keep Phoenix Beautiful is a 501(c)3 organization and an affiliate of Keep America Beautiful. Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, a past partner of KAB, has converted over 6,000 vacant lots in Philadelphia into green space. While green space is difficult to achieve in our arid desert climate, the achievements of the Philadelphia program are hard to ignore. Several KPB staff members have spent time at PHS projects learning best practices and witnessing their accomplishments.

For more information, visit PHXRenews.org or KeepPhxBeautiful.org.