NEW PORT RICHEY — Despite what people may think, vegetables can be grown and enjoyed during all seasons in Florida, especially collard greens.

The Collards Festival & Winter Garden Expo was held for the fourth year on Jan. 26 at Grand Gardens, a community garden at 5752 Grand Blvd., New Port Richey.

It featured cool weather produce, gardening materials, locally grown vegetable seeds, organic soil and more from multiple Pasco County growers and gardeners.

Organic vegetables such as tomatoes, cauliflower, and bell peppers were sold by West Pasco Habitat for Humanity from their garden, along with local honey from Land O’Lakes that is sold through Habitat. The nonprofit is a part of FarmNet, and they had representatives at the event for the first time.

Jim Comer, garden manager for West Pasco Habitat for Humanity, wants to show the importance of gardens providing healthy options for the county.

“We all represent the organic idea to the community,” said Comer.

Former City Councilman Dell deChant is the associate chair of the department of religious studies at University of South Florida and the chair of the environmental committee of the city of New Port Richey. He said providing knowledge to the community is key.

“Everything that we do begins with education. The idea is to educate people about what can be grown in Florida and what they can grow themselves,” said deChant.

He hopes that the event, as well as the garden, emphasize the importance of food sovereignty.

“We are responsible and knowledgeable and committed to growing our own food so that we are not reliant on corporations or people that are outside of our area,” he said.

The garden has 25 beds being utilized, five of which are community gardens that can be enjoyed by anyone. These are the plant beds that everyone involved in the garden works on and where harvests are combined.

“Everyone is welcome to take whatever they want. We only ask that the people in the community are respectful,” said deChant.

They make sure to harvest from the bottom by taking the individual leaves, so the rest of the plant can continue to produce.

The other 20 beds in the garden are maintained by local individuals.

This is one of four seasonal events held by the city’s environmental committee. Along with the collard fest in winter, there is a loquat fest held in March for the spring, Okra Occasion is held in the summer and the Sweet Potato Round Up takes place during the fall. Each event is connected to the seasonal harvest.

Collard greens, a type of kale, was the highlighted winter produce at the event.

“Collards are a wonderful, nutritious, easy to grow food,” said deChant.

He wants people to stop assuming that plants can’t bloom when temperatures drop.

“People think that, well it’s winter time, you can’t grow anything. Wintertime, cold weather, is an excellent time to grow food in Florida. It’s one of the heavy growing seasons in the state and most people don’t know that,” deChant said.

The garden was made possible by the Urban Agricultural Ordinance, which was enacted by the Pasco County Commission that allows for community, market and residential gardens.

An individual bed is 100 square feet for $50. There are also double beds available for $100, but a 100-foot bed must be maintained first.

Anyone that purchases a bed must devote one day a week to help maintain the garden, for at least three hours.

The property is owned by the Creative Institute of Dental Arts and they gave the property to the city. The garden, operated by Friends Farm & Fare, is part of New Port Richey FarmNet, a group of people, businesses and organizations with a goal to create a sustainable community.

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