In March, Rebecca Hooper from Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful joined the FBEN after coming across the Network in her search for new food, farm and garden-based lesson plans. At Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful, where Rebecca is the Education & Environmental Coordinator, they provide regional residents with opportunities for meaningful service and education, while building a culture of environmental stewardship. One of their tools for reaching this mission is The Florida Learning Garden, a 14-year-old garden visited by thousands of tourists and residents each year during the Florida State Fair, that offers volunteer opportunities to corporate and college groups, but is hoping to broaden its reach within the community to younger students and visitors.
The Learning Garden is located in a community with a rich agricultural history. “There is a unique ecological and cultural zone here,” Rebecca says. “It’s a place where Native American influence from Tocobaga and Seminole tribes mixed with colonial-era English and American pioneer settlers.” Today, the rural region is known for growing strawberries and tomatoes, and for hybridized plant research. The small, efficient garden that Rebecca uses for teaching shows a different kind of agriculture – one that is transferable to people’s backyards. Through volunteer groups, monthly visits from middle schoolers, and classes led by Extension officers, The Florida Learning Garden engages kids in hands-on work in the garden, connects their learning to STEM principles, and illustrates many choices kids can make to keep their communities cleaner, greener and more livable.
With a degree in Environmental Studies, and several months working as a Plant Science Intern at Epcot’s Land Pavilion, experiential education is not new to Rebecca. At The Florida Learning Garden, she’s right at home communicating strategies for growing food in small spaces, trellising, composting, water conservation, and constructing DIY greenhouses made from re-purposed pallets.
“My most rewarding days at the Florida Learning Garden aren’t ones where I harvest the most produce or necessarily get the most physical work done; my best days are the ones where students ask if they can take fresh kale home for their siblings or sing impromptu songs about compost. I know I’ve inspired change within my community when volunteers tell me, 'You have my dream job.' Four years ago, I was volunteering in community gardens, telling coordinators the same exact thing. The power of inspiration is overwhelming and I feel very grateful to have it.”
The Florida Learning Garden is excited to share lessons on gardening, nutrition, litter, climate change and more that have been successful for them through their Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful site. Please visit, and if you have questions about warm-climate gardening, trellis building, and organizing group community service projects, don’t hesitate to get in touch with Rebecca! (email@example.com)