A Fort Myers man is hoping to take a former eyesore and turn it into a garden full of fresh fruit and vegetables in a low income community often times known for crime, with no grocery stores nearby.
The project is happening in a vacant lot in the Harlem Lakes community, which is miles away from a grocery store.
Dr. Jesse Bryson grew up miles away from the area. He’s the founder of the I Will Mentorship Foundation and plans to turn the lot into a community garden and outdoor fitness center.
“It used to be a nightclub that had lots of issues and problems. It was abandoned and became an eyesore to the community,” Dr. Bryson said.
The lot is strewn with garbage, green grass, and an old parking lot.
“To everyone else, it’s an empty lot. To me, I look at it as a next generation and a new beginning for the community,” he said. “Three green houses will house the aquaponics and hydroponics that will allow us to have year-round vegetables and fruit.”
He said a running track will also surround the entire garden.
He said the garden is particularly important because grocery options in the area are scarce.
“In this immediate vicinity, there is no local grocery store that has organic foods,” he said.
He said the grocery store just a few blocks away shut down more than a decade ago, meaning people living in the low-income neighborhood — often without a means of transportation — have to travel miles to the nearest supermarket.
He said one hurdle the project has run into is it’s location.
“Because it’s in the Dunbar community,” he said. “Having people feel safe, knowing this is a safe place, a healthy place you can bring your children.”
The Harlem Lakes community is often known for heavy police presence and crime. Most recently, officer Adam Jobbers-Miller was shot and killed just feet away from where the garden is planned. But Dr. Bryson said he hopes the garden will serve as a bright spot.
“Shine a light onto a community that needs a lot of light,” he said.
Dr. Bryson said the garden will also teach people in the neighborhood the skills they need to make a career out of it. It will also feature a reflection wall honoring current and fallen first responders.
“Good can come out of the Dunbar community. The Dunbar community is good,” Dr. Bryson said.
He said the project will be finished within the next four years, and hopes work will start before the end of this year.
Dr. Bryson won a $25,000 grant from State Farm to help pay for this project. The food grown in this garden will be free for the community.