The green thumb of St. Augustine Beach

By Sarah Williamson |  

Photos by Sarah Williamson

A man screamed, arms waving frantically as a woman added two plants to her garden plot. The gardeners at the St. Augustine Beach Community Garden have endured weeks of protest weeks by neighbors in opposition.

Nana Royer, 68, sat watching, wearing a bright green shirt complementing the many garden beds. She is the president of the St. Augustine Beach Community Garden Association. Her vision is simple: to create a place where organic gardeners can share knowledge and “enhance their sense of community.” Instead, neighbors view it as a “private club” and a smelly nuisance.

Neighbor Chris Pennington told The Florida Times-Union, “Before the garden was here, kids in the neighborhood could come to the plaza and play. There was kickball and Easter egg hunts. Now the entire neighborhood has been locked out of their plaza.”

“The cops have visited the site 31 times,” Royer said. As the angry neighbor continued to yell, Royer smiled. “Seems like since I retired, I just keep getting in trouble.”

This isn’t the first time she’s caused conflict. She previously fought the ordinance on raising chickens on the beach. It never passed after her neighbor created a petition against it.

“She is tireless,” said Dennis Collins, the community garden treasurer.

Not all of Royer’s projects are controversial.

She has been to Cuba twice with St. Augustine-Baracoa Friendship Association. There she visited urban farmers who had been growing since the Russians left them stranded years ago. They had no choice but to localize. She was amazed by their gardens and said the majority are organic.

“One thing I am very passionate about [is as] a nation, a community, we have to become localized and stop depending on the outside … people aren’t aware of the environmental situation, not aware of the problem of fuel accessibility … [they] think it’s going to be limitless,” she said.

Besides promoting sustainability, Royer has many other titles: former Peace Corps volunteer, mental health counselor of 14 years, nurse at Flagler Hospital and a leader of the Unitarian Universalist Green Team.

Royer has been part of the Unitarian community since she was 7 years old. You can sense her spiritual grounding while speaking with her. To Royer, revelation is ongoing and different for every person. One experience that has changed her is the loss of her life partner and son, both from motorcycle accidents. Her son was hit in Santa Fe, NM, by a 16-year-old under the influence of drugs. Her partner, that same year, was in an accident on their move from New Hampshire to Florida.

“One of the ways I’ve coped,” she described calmly, “is living life for the three of us.”

Royer continues to share her ideas of conservation, even in an increasingly hostile environment.

“Liberal … it’s a swear word here,” she said laughing.

As we sat at the garden, the man’s screams finally stopped. When asked if she considered herself an environmental activist, she seemed surprised.

“Wow, I’ve never thought of myself as that,” she said, looking out at the garden beds that will be removed at the end of December to a new location.

For information involving the community garden and its new location, visit:

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