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  • Writer's pictureRick Burnette

Oh, the Food You'll Grow! (with apologies to Dr. Seuss)

Cultivate Abundance has many local partners that join with us in food solidarity. Some were born and raised in Southwest Florida. But most of us come from other places with names such as Minnesota, Guatemala, Michigan, Mexico, Ohio or Haiti. Some know how to grow their favorite garden crops back home. But most of us have had to adjust to the gardening challenges of Southwest Florida, including poor drainage, the dry months, insects, excessive heat and the occasional frosty winter night.

But in solidarity with the local farmworker community, we are committed to growing and sharing the types of food that Mexican, Guatemalan, Haitian, as well as other households appreciate. That means growing and harvesting root crops, vegetables and fruits that some of us know, although many from colder climates may have never seen or eaten such food.

Whether at Misión Peniel, a farmworker ministry of the Peace River Presbytery and our number-one Immokalee partner, or in partner church and home gardens, we are planting, growing, harvesting and sharing dozens of types of food. Here are some of the crops that we’ve handled so far.

Among root crops, there’s sweet potato, cassava, Irish potato, malanga, tropical yam and taro. Each type provides the energy that hardworking people need. We’ve also grown and shared turnips, onions and carrots.

Leafy vegetables include lots of lettuce, collards and mustard greens as well as Swiss chard, Chinese cabbage and cilantro. There’s also chipilín, a bushy Central American perennial vegetable.

Among viny crops, pumpkins (actually tropical squash) and chayote have been grown and shared.

Fruiting vegetables include eggplant as well as four types of peppers: sweet, jalapeno, habanero and Thai chile. Incidentally, we haven’t promoted tomatoes very much because Immokalee is awash with them, particularly during the winter months.

Legumes have included pigeon pea (harvested dry) and cowpea (harvested fresh).

And there’s okra.

Abundant fruit includes bananas and plantains as well as papaya. Starfruit (carambola) is very popular as is citrus (oranges, lemons and limes). There’s also been a lot of seasonal mango and avocado with demand for local coconut too.

Some Immokalee folks are interested in corn leaves growing in the Misión Peniel garden, as well as plantain leaves, with which to wrap their tamales, and avocado leaves to flavor certain dishes.

So far, at least 30 crops are being grown and shared by Southwest Florida gardeners in the interest of farmworker food solidarity.

By the way, it’s not just about fruit and veggies. Christian Life Fellowship (Cape Coral) and HEART, an agricultural institution based in Lake Wales, Florida, have shared farm-fresh eggs.

How much Cultivate Abundance-catalyzed food does this add up to? Between January and June 2019, together we have grown, collected and shared 1,812 lbs. of produce. This, with the eggs, adds up to 7,013 servings at a value of $3,665.

Obviously, this amount of food was insufficient to solve the issue of farmworker nutrient insecurity over the past six months. And if we had generated and shared 18,120 lbs. of food, it still wouldn’t have been enough.

Instead, we have seen the emergence of a small food hub centered on Misión Peniel with the involvement of six contributing churches and organizations (and counting) as well as a growing number of partner gardeners in Immokalee and vicinity. Together, we have focused on growing and sharing food that is local, participatory and nutrient dense that reflects cultural preferences.

This effort is barely a year old; and so much more lies ahead.

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