Jacksonville community garden torn apart by vandals turns over new leaf thanks to kindness of strangers

White Harvest Farms vandalized 3 times in 1 month with thousands of dollars’ worth of damage

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – An urban farm in Northwest Jacksonville hit hard by vandalism is on the way to flourishing once again, thanks to the kindness of strangers.

White Harvest Farms on Moncrief Road has been around for nearly 100 years. It’s on the property of African American philanthropist Eartha M. M. White.

It is now a community garden that provides fresh produce and opportunities for the nearby neighborhood, bringing nutrition and education to an area classified as a food desert.

The property, run by the nonprofit Clara White Mission, was vandalized at least three times this month. Jacksonville police are still looking for the culprit.

But after News4JAX reported on the thousands of dollars’ worth of damage to the nonprofit urban farm, local businesses stepped up to help.

Dan Banfield had never heard about White Harvest Farms until he saw the news, shocked to learn that vandals smashed pipes, sprinklers and equipment on nearly every acre. He signed up to help volunteers who have had to water the plants by hand due to the lack of a working irrigation system.

“It’s just an opportunity for me to learn how to farm at my house, as well as helping the community,” Banfield said.

Dan Banfield signed up to help volunteers who have had to water the plants by hand due to the lack of a working irrigation system. (Copyright 2022 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.)

When News4JAX visited White Harvest Farms about a week and a half ago, the mood was somber. People were disappointed that vandals were hitting a great garden again and again, ripping out the irrigation system and causing damage to a lot of the tools that make these crops thrive. However, a couple of bad actions have brought together some really good people — people like Rusty Merritt, whose company, Complete Services Water Well Drilling, repaired the pump to the well completely free of charge.

“It’s a wonderful feeling,” Merritt said with a smile. “I’ve been in Jacksonville all my life, and any help we can do in areas like this we’re willing to do.”

The owners of Daniel Todd’s business, Duval Landscape Maintenance, replaced the sprinkler system without charging the charity a penny.

“We’ve been so blessed in our growth that it’s just an honor to help others when we can,” Todd, an assistant branch manager at Duval Landscape Maintenance, said while overseeing the work done.

White Harvest Farms is on the way to flourishing once again, thanks to the kindness of strangers. (Copyright 2022 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.)

The Rotary Club of Northwest Jacksonville is planning to do the rest, working on a better security camera system and fencing around the property.

“Once we heard about what was going on here with the farm, Northwest is our target area, and we just wanted to do, wanted to come and do more than just help but offer some solutions,” said Dale Moe, the club’s assistant governor.

Neighbors coming together to help neighbors — it’s all part of the mission according to Clara White CEO and Jacksonville City Council member Ju’Coby Pittman.

“[I have] smiles from one side to the other that the community is so generous, because of your story, Vic,” Pittman said Wednesday. “It’s a great asset in this community, to grow in an African American community that has been intentional in bringing services because this area had been left behind for so many years.”

RELATED | Fighting food deserts: Urban farming a solution for lack of fresh food

This farm has deep roots in Northwest Jacksonville, and the team hopes it continues to blossom. The charity runs a farmers market many Saturdays and will soon have a grand opening for a new indoor facility.

Leaders say police have picked up patrols in the area to keep vandals from striking again.

For more information, visit clarawhitemission.org/white-harvest-farms.

About the Author:

Lifetime Jacksonville resident anchors the 8 and 9 a.m. weekday newscasts and is part of the News4Jax I-Team.