Even though our full-time efforts with Cultivate Abundance only recently began (January 2018), for the past few months we’ve been preparing to assist farmworker households in Immokalee, as well as other local partners, to establish gardens. Some of the gardens will consist of container plantings while others will be raised beds or stands of perennial vegetables. Each garden will provide types of produce that farmworker families from Guatemala, Mexico and Haiti appreciate, although some of these crops are somewhat difficult to locate in Southwest Florida.
So far, much of the preparation has been to produce seeds, seedlings, cuttings and other plant propagation materials that will planted in dozens of household, church, community and non-profit gardens in 2018. The goal is that hundreds of Immokalee families will be nourished by such culturally appropriate produce.
Currently, the following crops are being propagated:
Sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas) – In demand by all of Immokalee’s farmworker ethnic groups, the orange-fleshed American variety, Porto Rico [sic], is being grown.
Haitian basket vine (Trichostigma octandrum) – A Haitian perennial vegetable with edible leaf shoots.
Chaya (Cnidoscolus aconitifolius) – A perennial vegetable from Central America, chaya is grown by gardeners of all ethnic groups for its delicious leaves. The leaves should be boiled for 15-20 minutes to be rid of toxic hydrocyanic acid.
Cassava/yuca (Manihot esculenta) - With edible roots and leaves, cassava is consumed by all ethnic groups. Roots and leaves should be boiled to release hydrocyanic compounds.
Malanga (Xanthosoma sagittifolium) – A root crop particularly favored by the Haitians.
Spiny chayote (Sechium edule) – In addition to its shoots and roots, the fleshy fruit of chayote squash is appreciated by people around the world. Our Guatemalan friends requested a particularly spiny variety that we found in a grocery store in Rome, Georgia.
Chipilin (Crotalaria longirostrata) - A plant native to Central America and Mexico, chipilin is grown for its edible leaves.
Papaya (Carica papaya) – Enjoyed by all ethnic groups, seeds of the Red Lady variety are being harvested and replanted for seedling production.
Pigeonpea (Cajanus cajan) - A bushy legume, the peas are particularly appreciated by Haitians.
Banana/plantain (Musa spp.) – Both dessert and starch types are being propagated from suckers emerging from clumps in our garden.
Longevity spinach (Gynura procumbens) – A low-growing Asian perennial vegetable with leaves that can be eaten raw or cooked, the plant is virtually unknown in Central America and the Caribbean. However, taste tests among Haitians and Central Americans have been favorable. Also, the crop grows well in container gardens and will be promoted in Immokalee and beyond.
Seminole pumpkin (Cucurbita moschata) – Tropical squash are appreciated across the Caribbean and Central America.
The winter of 2018 has been colder than usual in Southwest Florida with a few frosts and a light freeze. This has required extra efforts to keep these tender plants protected until the normal hot weather returns and planting can begin.
Seeds of various other garden crops of interest are being sought including Central American chili pepper varieties as well as a brassica (kale) from the same region. One local gardener from Guatemala has been generous with seeds from her patch. To increase the availability of such crops, Cultivate Abundance plans to promote household and community-based seed saving and sharing.