PENSACOLA, Fla. (AP) — At 11 years old, Dantesia McIntosh has, of course, eaten fresh strawberries before.
Somehow, though, they just weren't as good as the ones she helped grow in the Pathways for Change urban garden at the Morris Court Community Center on Lloyd Street.
"These are better," she said. "The other ones? They weren't really that juicy, I don't think."
Dantesia, who will be a fifth-grader at C.A. Weis Elementary School this fall, is one of 30 children in the Morris Court public housing complex who are participating in the Pathways for Change summer camp program. Many of the same children participate in Pathways' after-school program during the school year.
The spring bounty has included potatoes, strawberries, peas, pineapples, broccoli, collards and tomatoes, as well as herbs like mint, dill and lemon grass. The garden also includes a fledgling "fruit forest" of peach, satsuma, lemon and other productive trees.
Pathways for Change is a nonprofit group dedicated to reducing poverty. Its after-school and summer programs have been around for three years. The garden was born this spring, beginning with rehabilitated wooden pallets turned into containers in the community center's asphalt-covered backyard.
"For people who have been through trauma or are living in poverty, psychologically, seeing things grow is very powerful and very healing," said Connie Bookman, executive director of Pathways for Change. "We want our children to expand their horizons."
Led by volunteers from the Ever'man Natural Foods co-operative grocery store, the children are involved at every step of the gardening process: choosing what plants to grow, planting the seeds and seedlings, watering the plants, harvesting and, of course, eating the produce.
The garden is aimed at teaching leadership and responsibility, as well as battling the impulse of instant gratification. Some of the trees planted this year won't begin producing meaningful amounts of fruit for several years to come.
"We told the kids that by the time they have their driver licenses, there's going to be 200 lemons on a tree," Ever'man volunteer Rachel DeToro said. "When you have a party here, you can be making fresh lemonade with these Meyer lemons."
The garden is also geared at natural food production, using no pesticides or petroleum products.
The program is free for the children. In addition to Ever'man's support, Air Force members helped construct the initial pallet containers. A grant from Home Depot helped cover some of the cost.
Pathways for Change is also supported by organizations like the Studer Group, Gulf Power Co., Gulf Breeze United Methodist Church and the Destin Charity Wine Auction.
The project is in need of other supporters, according to Kate Scanlan, marketing manager for Ever'man.
"The next step of the program is to show the kids that, yes, we have a summer bounty and it's wonderful, but you can plant all year round and it's sustainable," Scanlan said. "Each season requires a little bit more resources to make the transition from a summer garden to a winter garden."
In its first few months of operation, the garden has had a lasting impression on Dantesia, who had never planted anything before.
"It was fun planting all these plants," she said. "When I grow up, me and my kids are going to plant a lot of stuff in our yard — strawberries, pineapples, broccoli and carrots. Things like that."