ECAT’s growing more than ridership

Hope is that the bus system's community garden helps riders, community connect

Usually interested in growing ridership, the Escambia County Area Transit bus service took time on Earth Day to start growing something else: a community garden.

“ECAT leads the way in helping reduce environmental impact in the community every day … by reducing congestion on roadways and decreasing CO2 emissions within the community,” said Marisa Smith, a spokeswoman for ECAT. “For Earth Day, we wanted to implement something that would celebrate this in a visual way for both the riders and our local community.”

The garden is located at the Rosa L. Park Transit Complex on Fairfield Drive. It measures 11 feet by 8 feet by 15 feet by 18 feet.

The garden includes cherry tomatoes, peppers, carrots, eggplant, kale, agave succulents, aloe succulents. lavender, rosemary, basil, mint, oregano, thyme, marigolds and geraniums. Smith said the garden is intended to be sustainable.

Garden3“Many of the plants used are native and will require little maintenance,” she said. “Additionally, we were able to incorporate the planting of vegetables, herbs and spices into the garden. It is our hope that this ‘usable’ aspect will help others in the community have a more sustainable future.”

Most of the plants for the project were donated by Pensacola Seed and Garden on Mobile Highway. Earth Ethics, a local environmental group, helped plan the garden.

Mary Gutierrez, executive director of Earth Ethics, said the garden will serve many purposes, from providing edible items to creating pleasant smells with herbs – some of which are believed to reduce stress.

“The garden is also a conversation piece – a community builder. People will want to know about the garden,” Gutierrez said. “We had numerous people asking questions about the garden – Why we were planting it, what we were planting, and telling us about their gardens. It was a wonderful experience.”

Smith said maintenance of the garden will be a community effort.

“During the planting process we even had many riders pitch in a helping hand,” she said. “Together the staff and those interested – with a green thumb – are committing to keep the garden watered.”

Similarly, the bounty of the garden will be shared by ECAT staff and riders.