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  • Writer's pictureRick Burnette

Everyone Gets a Fish

My Facebook friend, Greg, recently reflected on the old phrase, “Give a man a fish, he’ll eat for day. Teach a man to fish, and you’ll feed him for a lifetime.”

This saying is certainly inspiring and practical. Wouldn’t it be marvelous to impart a skill that brings someone sustaining change?

Greg spent years as a U.S. Peace Corps worker in Panama. He appreciates and understands technical assistance, but he observes that it’s sometimes not enough to merely teach a man to fish.

He recently asked, “What if this man has no means to fish? What if he has no line or hook or doesn’t live near a viable body of water? “

Fishing lessons are starting to sound complicated.

What if the hungry man is incapable of learning to fish? After all, not everyone is gifted with the same capacity to learn a particular skill.

Greg adds that sometimes a man is just starving and needs a fish to eat. Under those circumstances, it would be inappropriate to offer a vocational program to improve his angling skills.

Occasionally, I sense that some who are familiar with the work of Cultivate Abundance are quite concerned as to whether we’re teaching farmworkers to “fish” or garden or at least something.

After all, our mission is to alleviate food insecurity in the Immokalee food desert. To meet that objective, we grow, collect, and share nutritious garden products of farmworker preference while inspiring and equipping others to do the same. We must also be sure that none of this food was grown in a way that hurts or demeans people, in contrast to some of the large farms that employ many of these workers.

Monitoring our results, we weigh and record the produce grown, collected, and shared from other gardens and small farms. Since the final months of 2018 through September 2020, the tally thus far is 26,970 lbs. with 20,446 lbs. handled this year.

This is food aid. And we make no apologies for sharing local, nutritious produce in a food desert.

Of 26,970 lbs., the lion’s share of food (15,980 lbs.) came from partner gardens and small farms in and around Southwest Florida, such as Covenant Presbyterian, ECHO, HEART and 12 Seasons Farm. And another 7,614 lbs. were donated by dozens of home gardeners.

Some of this shared food comes from Immokalee gardens.

3,376 lbs. were grown in the Misión Peniel garden with many of our Immokalee neighbors, perhaps 30, having been involved with some of the garden activities.

Additionally, over the past few months, 105 lbs. of food were donated by a few Immokalee gardeners.

Before dismissing 105 lbs. of food, are you familiar with the story of the Widow’s Mite (Mark 12:41-44)?

Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.
Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”

I’m not claiming that the 105 lbs. donated by four Immokalee gardeners was everything that they had to live on. But given Immokalee home gardening challenges, including limited space, budget, water, and/or time, 105 lbs. is a significant start.

By the way, our 2021 donation target from Immokalee gardeners is 1,500 lbs.

These four gardeners are among 30 who, in response to the Covid-19 situation, received container gardens from Cultivate Abundance between March and June of this year. Seedlings and soluble fertilizer were also provided. Together, we’re figuring out the Immokalee way of gardening in order to grow supplemental, culturally-appropriate food in small spaces.

For some with a little more space, water, and other resources, we have provided garden soil for raised beds as well as irrigation timers, tubing, and micro-sprinklers to enable adequate automatic watering with minimal waste. We look forward to improved home garden production with a little spare produce to share.

To be perfectly clear, we do not expect any of our Immokalee partner gardeners to be able to completely feed themselves from containers and small patches. What we anticipate is improved accessed to supplemental nutrition as well as food pride and generosity.

We not only celebrate the pride of gardening accomplishment but also pride in one’s own food culture. We hope to connect the dots between growing ethnic garden crops and applying related cooking skills towards promoting healthy heritage foods for improved community-wide nutrition.

For example, with technical information from two other local nonprofits (Miracles in Action and ECHO), Lupita Vazquez, the Cultivate Abundance Community Garden and Outreach Specialist, is promoting chaya – an easy-to-grow perennial vegetable that originates in the Yucatan of Mexico – to boost the nutritional value of tortillas, gorditas and other dishes.

Regarding generosity, we are often blessed with food delights – including tamales, salsa and queso - shared from the kitchens of our Immokalee neighbors. We trust that such community-wide generosity will ignite a growing network of those willing to share garden and kitchen skills as well as produce and nutritious meals.

Ultimately, it’s not all about teaching folks how to “fish”.

Instead, it’s an invitation to live into the Biblical story of the loaves and fishes by nurturing the spirit of those who are willing and able to share whatever they might have, and trusting God to create the abundance.

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