The city of Winter Garden has partnered with the UCF College of Medicine and West Orange Healthcare District to renovate the 209-acre Tucker Ranch, which will include a nature park and organic farm.
WINTER GARDEN A $1.7 million grant was the fertilizer the city of Winter Garden needed to make its long-held dream of growing a 12-acre organic farm and accompanying nature park flourish.
Winter Garden leaders have had this vision in mind since it purchased the 209 acres in 2013 from the family who, for many years, owned Tucker Ranch off Avalon Road and used it to grow food and raise cattle.
With just a year remaining before the expected opening of the park and estimated harvest time for the farm, the city has much to do and, now, the money to do it courtesy of the West Orange Healthcare District, which awarded the grant.
But the city has been hard at work preparing the land for the ambitious plans it has in store for its near future.
“We’ve been working out there for over two years,” City Manager Mike Bollhoefer said. “One of the primary things we’ve been doing is putting in infrastructure, such as roads and water and sewer. And we’ve also done a big project of getting rid of all the invasive plants … so we’re restoring it to its natural flora — that’s part of our whole objective.”
The nature park will have hiking trails, a canoe and kayak launch, campground and playground. The city also plans to restore the historic arch and revive the area that once held the West Orange Country Club, which closed down in 1924 after flood damage made it impractical to host a golf course. The Tucker family then purchased the land and named it Tucker and Son Ranch.
“Oh, I think it’s great, and it’ll be very nice and beneficial to the public,” said Mary Burroughs, who grew up on the ranch along with her brothers. “I know my parents would be very pleased about it, because they didn’t want it to be developed, and this way, a lot of people can use it and enjoy the land and everything.”
The farm itself, which could later expand to 15 acres, Bollhoefer said, will be located on the southeast corner of the park. The plan, he added, is to make it a permaculture garden that produces up to one million pounds of food for West Orange County residents and the local farmers market.
“One of the downsides of farmers markets in Central Florida is there’s not a large farm industry in this area, so it’s very difficult for farmers markets to find good, fresh, quality produce,” he said. “So by doing this, we’ll provide that to our farmers market and fill a need for residents who want good, healthy produce.”
Via a partnership with the University of Central Florida’s College of Medicine, the park also will host wellness classes as part of its goal to contribute to the Healthy West Orange initiative that aims to make West Orange County the healthiest county in the country. The classes will range from topics such as health, nutrition and urban gardening and even include tai chi, yoga classes and healthy cooking.
Contact Gabby Baquero at [email protected].