2022 – Challenges Aplenty, Blessings Abundant
In food insecure communities every year is a challenge.
Long-term barriers to adequate food access don't happen by accident. This is especially true in Immokalee, a food insecure farm town of approximately 25,000 where, ironically, 15 million pounds of food are produced and distributed every day during the winter growing season. For Immokalee's farmworker community, food concerns are exacerbated by chronic issues such as low wages, high rent, and America's broken immigration system.
The role of Cultivate Abundance is to address Immokalee's food insecurity through community-supported, small-scale food production. With scores of local partner gardeners, churches, nonprofits, and small farms, we grow, collect, and share nutritious food of cultural preference with the Haitian, Guatemalan and Mexican farmworker clients of our key partner, Misión Peniel where we serve approximately 300 to 500 individuals each Friday.
This isn’t an easy task, and our work has been made more difficult over the past year. The unique 2022 challenges we faced while addressing food insecurity in Immokalee included:
A late January freeze (a somewhat rare occurrence along Southwest Florida’s tropical fringe) that damaged crops - including young fruit trees - in LaBelle and Immokalee
Inflation, with effects on our operating budget that put a squeeze on many plans and activities
Ian, the September 28 Cat 4 hurricane (and third most destructive storm on record) that devastated much of southwest Florida, destroying many productive fruit trees and gardens that had supplied tons of fresh food for the farmworker community. We estimate that the storm reduced our local food access by 75%.
The overall impact was that for the first time since 2018, we fell short of the previous year’s total amount of food that was grown, collected, and shared in Immokalee. Compared to 2021 when the total was 46,126 lbs., amounting to 125,795 food servings, the 2022 total was reduced to 36,834 lbs., resulting in 108,072 food servings; 86% of the previous year’s nutritional value.
Simply stated, in 2022 we were not able to supply enough nutritious food for our Immokalee farmworker neighbors.
Considering all, things could have been worse. We are grateful that the inland Immokalee farmworker community was spared the brunt of Ian as the storm’s worst impacts were closer to the Southwest Florida coastline. And there were additional blessings, including:
With added experience, we are better prepared to provide necessary freeze protection during severe infrequent cold spells.
Cultivate Abundance’s network of supporters increased their giving, enabling Ellen, Lupita, Ariana, and Maria to continue to engage as much as needed (FYI, Rick is seconded from CBF Global Missions) and allowing us to make much needed purchases (e.g., fuel, soil, compost, seeds, containers) so as to maintain necessary activities despite continued high costs.
In 2022 our running total of food grown, collected and shared surpassed 100,000 lbs. with a year-end total of 117,327 lbs., translating to 327,032 food servings provided since 2018 (by the way, nutrition experts recommend that each person should consume five servings of fruit and vegetables per day).
The number of local food-producing sources, spread between Immokalee, Naples, Fort Myers, Cape Coral, and LaBelle (with some Lake Wales contributions), grew to 58, compared to a goal of 47. This includes 16 gardens in our focus community of Immokalee that provided 8,265 lbs. of food for their neighbors, approaching 1/4th of the total amount of food handled by Cultivate abundance during 2022.
Hurricane Ian recovery efforts continue with direct assistance provided by Cultivate Abundance (with major support from CBF Florida and the Caribbean Islands as well as CBF Disaster Response) to at least eight of the local gardens and farms most severely impacted by the storm. Overall activities include debris cleanup, distribution of 120 CBF Bucket Cleanup Kits, facilitation to replace damaged property, the provision of seedlings to replace destroyed fruit trees, and assistance with harvesting/redeeming undamaged produce. Additionally, more volunteers are preparing to assist with long-term recovery efforts during 2023 with at least one additional garden plot to be established by Cultivate Abundance and a local partner to help overcome the loss of food access. Dozens of extra fruit tree seedlings will be shared with others in our local food-producing network.
Father Richard Rohr points out that God’s absolute love “protects us from nothing even as it sustains us in all things” which enables us to “face all things with courage and tenderness and touch the hurting places in others and in ourselves with love.”
This reflects our prayer for 2023 as receivers and agents of such sustaining love. We are grateful for so many who have been part of God’s sustenance over this past challenging year. And we look forward to more loving collaboration to address those places of hurt.