By Master Sgt. Thomas Kielbasa
Florida National Guard Public Affairs
BRADENTON, Fla. (Oct. 9, 2014) – If Sgt. 1st Class Shaun Ausborn has his way, the small, unused grassy area behind the National Guard armory in Bradenton will one day be a source of fresh food and pride for local children.
Ausborn, readiness NCO for the Florida Army National Guard’s D Battery, 3rd Battalion, 265th Air Defense Artillery Regiment, is hoping to create a sustainable community fruit and vegetable garden on the acre of land adjacent to his unit’s motor pool on 13th Avenue East.
Earlier this year Ausborn saw an article in the back of a magazine about a non-profit organization called The Giving Grove that provides self-help and educational assistance to low-income areas and community groups in Kansas City. Ausborn was drawn to the fact that The Giving Grove helped community members start and maintain gardens in backyards, vacant lots, and school yards, with the intention of providing fresh, healthy foods to children and families at little cost.
He put down the magazine and decided to contact organizers of the Kansas City project in hopes of copying their model. He figured he could start a community garden in Bradenton on the land owned by the city and county next to the armory.
“As soon as I was done reading it I pictured (a garden) in the spot where I’m looking at doing our first one,” Ausborn explained of his vision. “I saw it there in this neighborhood. I know the area – I’ve lived here most of my life.
Ausborn said the area around D Battery’s armory is a lower-income area that could truly benefit by a community fruit or vegetable garden. Not only will the produce offer a healthy addition to local children’s diets, but the community itself will benefit by reconnecting with sustainable agriculture.
“Any time you do something for yourself you take a lot more pride in it,” Ausborn explained. “You tend to learn better and you tend to feel better about yourself.”
Currently Ausborn is in contact with the City of Bradenton and Manatee County to secure approval for a garden on the land. Once that is approved, he said he has interest from the University of Florida and local farmers to donate seeds, plants and gardening supplies for the initiative. When the garden is up and running he hopes the patch of land will produce a variety of food including citrus, squash, beans, mangoes, blueberries and even melons.
The forward-thinking Guardsman already works closely with community groups and educational centers near the armory, and he feels they will be perfect recipients of the “fruits” of this urban-agriculture experiment.
Ausborn, a 17-year-veteran of military service, pointed out that the garden project is also another opportunity for D Battery to show that the Florida Army National Guard is an active part of the local community. He said he feels strongly about the citizen-Soldiers’ responsibility to be active members of their communities, and although the proposed area for the garden is not on state property he can still spearhead the effort. He also praised other members of his unit – including full-time Guardsmen – who have lent their support to the endeavor.
“We are a phenomenal team,” Ausborn said.