2004 Garden Crusader Awards

Winner: Feeding the Hungry
Frances Coffield, West Palm Beach, Fla.

Frances Coffield
"This garden has become the center of the neighborhood," says Frances Coffield, Garden Crusader. "We have block parties and community gatherings here. The garden gate is never locked. "Even the drug dealers respect this place and protect it."
Frances Coffield was born and raised in West Palm Beach, Fla., and after 79 years, she still lives near the community garden that bears her name. Frances has gardened most of her life, and through trial and error, she has grown her fair share of vegetables and flowers. During World War II she grew a Victory Garden to feed her family. Over the years her love of flowers has overshadowed her love of vegetables, but gardening is still a way of life for her.

A Garden Revives a Community
Frances has always been involved in her community, giving selflessly to others in need. In the 1950s she started a daycare center in town for low-income families. Even in her seventies, she has operated an adult congregate living facility and a daycare to serve disadvantaged working mothers in the neighborhood. But her pride and joy is the community garden she helped start four years ago in an abandoned lot down the street.

"There was a drug house that the city tore down on the site," says Frances. "We turned the half acre lot into a beautiful garden for the community to enjoy," she says. Working with a local non-profit organization called TRUTHS, Incorporated (Truth, Responsibility, Unity, Training, Hope and Success), the lot was leased from Habitat for Humanity for one dollar each year and construction of the Frances Coffield Community Garden began. "We wanted to start a garden where seniors and young people could work together," says Frances. "The older people have so much knowledge about gardening. The young people can learn about growing plants, where their food comes from, and their responsibility to the environment and the community," she says.

Residents of the Tamarind Park community in West Palm Beach built, planted, and maintained the garden; in addition, school groups from across the country have come to help. TRUTHS and the local 4-H group hold a Garden Summer Camp for kids from all over Florida, and other parts of the country, to learn how to plant flowers, fruits, and vegetables.

Frances' Garden

Coffield garden
Frances' garden is in West Palm Beach, Fla.
Frances' service to her community was recognized in 2002 when she received the National Jefferson Award for public service. This national volunteer award was presented to her in Washington, D.C., in recognition of her lifelong work in the local community. Still, Frances is most at home in the garden tending the flowers and teaching the kids. She can be seen daily in the garden, starting at 7:30 a.m., wearing her trademark straw hat. "I start every day in the garden singing gospel songs while the dew is still on the roses," she says. She may be tending flowers, teaching classes, or delivering fruits and vegetables to needy community residents. Frances has an open invitation to anyone who wants to visit or needs food. Since its inception, the garden has provided more than 300 residents with organically raised produce. "We grow collards, tomatoes, okra, peppers, sweet corn, watermelon, yams, pigeon peas, mulberries, pears, apricots, roses, cactus and even cotton in the garden," says Frances. "The cotton is grown to show the kids about how clothing is made," she says.

"This garden has become the center of the neighborhood," she says. "We have block parties and community gatherings here. The garden gate is never locked," she says. "Even the drug dealers respect this place and protect it," says Frances.

Frances' Legacy
The Frances Coffield Community Garden doesn't just nourish bodies, it also feeds souls. "Gardening is a therapy for people," says Frances. "When you're lonely or depressed I just say put your hand in the earth, plant some seeds, and see what happens," she says.

Through a lifetime of commitment and love of her neighbors and community, Frances has made a difference bringing food, beauty, and hope to the neighborhood she has known her whole life. Before every event in the garden, Frances sings her favorite gospel song, "In the Garden". This lyric encapsulates what the garden means to her:

I come to the garden alone
While the dew is still on the roses
And the voice I hear
Falling on my ear
The Son of God discloses

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