In the lush pine forests of Maine, the seeds of the Gainesville Giving Garden were planted in the mind of a young girl.
Meg Boria-Meyer, 28, is the founder of the Gainesville Giving Garden, 225 NW 12th Ave. She grew up in Maine with the sound of bleating goats, chittering birds and tapping maple. Her parents raised her on their hobby farm, a small-scale farm that is recreational rather than business centered.
“My parents were really big inspirations in terms of living sustainably and harmoniously with the earth and also inspirations in terms of living in a self-sustaining way,” Boria-Meyer said.
Her upbringing inspired her to work on local organic farms and sell produce at farmers’ markets. Through these experiences, she learned the basics of farming. These skills, she hoped, would help her start her own farm one day, she said.
But she also learned that food — high-quality food, food as medicine — was fairly exclusive to a specific income bracket, and she wanted to do something about it, she said.
So Boria-Meyer knocked on doors until she found someone who was willing to donate land to the cause. The collaboration didn’t stop there. Eventually, different organizations across Gainesville began donating time, efforts and resources to the Giving Garden.
The compost came from Beaten Path Compost. A majority of the seeds came from Working Food. The Giving Garden also works with nonprofit organizations like the Equal Access Clinic, Gainesville Free Grocery Store and Family Promise of Gainesville to take the food and even deliver it directly to those who need it.
The collaborative effort of the Giving Garden and its partners has made Boria-Meyer proud of her community and the way everyone is willing to help one another.
“What I love about Gainesville is that this community is willing to say yes,” she said.
Last year, it was able to grow and deliver over 400 pounds of fresh organic produce to those who otherwise couldn’t access it. Boria-Meyer believes that number will grow.
After they harvest each week’s crop yield, their fridge is completely full. In fact, the Giving Garden is working on funding to acquire a larger fridge just because the harvests have been so abundant, Boria-Meyer said.
The harvest is not the only part of the Giving Garden that has been growing.
Every Sunday from 10 a.m. to noon, the Gainesville Giving Garden has its Volunteer Day. They invite anyone and everyone to help them harvest, plant, weed, mulch and maintain the garden. There is no sign up, you just show up.
The Gainesville Giving Garden is approaching its two-year anniversary this spring.Initially, the volunteer pool was small — mostly a few of Boria-Meyer’s friends. Now, she sees up to 50 volunteers each week.
“Ultimately, we’re all getting our hands dirty,” she said. “We play music, we have fun and we really like for this space to feel like the community hub that it is. Sometimes we’ll dance while we’re working.”
Volunteers range from Gainesville locals to UF students: from 2-year-olds to 82-year-olds.
“All different walks of life are coming to the Giving Garden,” Boria-Meyer said.
However, one specific demographic still dominates the scene.
“What’s really amazing is that so much of the collaborative effort that’s made the Giving Garden what it is has been very woman run,” Boria-Meyer said. “We’ve had some amazing male support and have grown that support, but that said most of our leadership team are women.”
One of the women on the team is Lauren Hyden, a licensed dietician and the nutrition and public health lead for the Gainesville Giving Garden.
Like founder Boria-Meyer, Hyden also saw the disparity in terms of access to quality food and sought to remedy it. After seeing a flier about the Giving Garden, she decided it was the perfect way to give back to the community and fulfill her calling.
“As a licensed dietician, my whole approach is how to reconnect people to their body,” Hyden said. “And I think you reconnect your body through food, through feeling good through food.”
Hyden, 31, joined in June 2021, two months after the garden was founded. The first year was a learning curve, not just for her but for the organization as well. Ultimately, what gave the Giving Garden stability and security was the nurturing qualities of women, she said.
“Bringing a woman’s perspective in farming and marketing and creating community has helped shape the garden to what it is today,” Hyden said.
That perspective is appreciated by their interns as well.
Precious Obiagwu, 21, is the nutrition intern for the Gainesville Giving Garden who has seen the impact of the women leadership.
“Meg and Lauren are two powerhouse women that really do shape this garden and create such an environment for people to come and feel welcomed in,” she said.
Another female intern, Samantha Snyder, feels empowered by the representation.
Snyder, 21, is the greenhouse garden management intern. She studied food and resource economics during her undergrad, so she was very familiar with agriculture. One aspect of the field that always bothered her was the fact that it was dominated by mostly men, she said.
However, the Gainesville Giving Garden challenges that.
“It’s really cool to see Meg as the person in charge of the Gainesville Giving Garden, and she’s really the face of it,” Snyder said. “It’s cool to see representation in that way, especially in such a tight knit community like Gainesville.”