For the past 12 years, a community garden in Parramore has helped provide fresh food to residents who struggle with food insecurity and access. Now, that same garden is under new leadership.
“I ended up here on accident — I was a student at FAMU law, and the environmental law society president invited me to help out a little bit," said Reggie Penn, the new president of the garden's board of directors. "So I came, and I just kind of haven't missed a Saturday since."
Even though Penn was born in Florida, his family is from Haiti, where his grandfather owned a farm.
That family history of working with nature is in his blood, he said, and since he's started working with the Parramore garden, he's been able to serve dozens of people every month, including people with low income and low access to transportation.
“It just shows you that anything can grow out of everything out of anywhere," Penn said. "I love it here — many people wouldn’t expect this place to be in the place that it’s in, but I love it here. I wouldn’t have it any other way."
The community garden is just a few blocks away from downtown, right next to the creative village. Yet, it’s in a place considered a food desert, which means nearby residents don’t have easy access to fresh foods.
And that very reason is why Penn remains firmly rooted in the garden. He said it can be a bit daunting, especially because he's succeeding Lynn Nicholson, the co-founder of the community garden and previous president for the past 12 years.
“(I love) sharing fresh vegetables with the elderly and others in the community so they don’t have to scrounge around," Nicholson said. "They know that they can come here and get them."
For the 78-year-old, the garden will always be his biggest passion.
“You gotta have a purpose in life," he said. "This garden gives me a reason to get up every morning."
Where there’s big passion, Penn knows there are big shoes to fill, but he said he's ready to face this monumental challenge.
“I can try my best," he said. "I know that because Mr. Lynn is connected to this place, this place is like his child."
The garden is backed by both the city of Orlando and the Orlando Realtor's Association, both of which have contributed money to expand and beautify it.
The garden is open to the public every Saturday morning or by request.