A local garden club is using their green thumbs to help the cities of Wilton Manors and Oakland Park turn their parks organic.

The Equality Garden Club, with help from Beyond Pesticides in D.C., is working with both cities on a pilot program to stop the use of harmful pesticides. They are currently studying the soil in four parks before making the switch, and the club is paying for more than half of the cost of the project.

“We wanted to put our money where our mouth was,” said Gary Petonke, chairman of the club’s Green Initiative. “We want to get that ground back to its natural state. Its natural state will take care of itself.” 

Beyond Pesticides has been training staff on making the switch from synthetic pesticides to organic means, and the club is analyzing the biology of the soil at Mickel Park and Colohatchee Park in Wilton Manors, and Wimberly Fields Park and Stevens Field Park in Oakland Park. Prior to the pandemic, the parks were used by families, athletes and pets — for dogs and small children in particular, they receive the most exposure to the pesticides since they are lower to the ground.

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Mickel Park. Photo courtesy of City of Wilton Manors.

“You see these people putting the chemicals down on the ground and they’re in all this protective gear and face masks and everything else, and then in three hours it’s ok to go use it? I don’t think so,” Petonke said.

Petonke said when the club reached out to both cities, they were met with enthusiasm and excitement for the project. The project to study the soil and switch all the parks from synthetic to organic could take up to five years.

“This is an impactful way to continue the successful implementation of our Climate Action Plan with our neighbors in Wilton Manors. A win-win for our residents and our planet,” Oakland Park Vice Mayor Jane Bolin said in a release.

In the same release, Wilton Manors Vice Mayor Tom Green noted that the project complements the city’s goals for “environmental resiliency and energy.”

The Equality Garden Club has about 150 members, and prior to the pandemic, had about 80 people attend their monthly meetings. The club plays host to nursery rambles, potlucks, its annual Tropical Plant Fair, and also partners with local charities. 

For one, they planted a vegetable garden with Kids in Distress so kids could watch the growth cycle from seed to vegetable, then eat the food they harvest. The club is also working with Fairchild Tropical Gardens in Miami for the Million Orchid Project, a plan to repopulate Southeast Florida with 1 million orchids in five years. 


For more information about the Equality Garden Club in Wilton Manors, visit equalitygardenclub.com.