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  • Writer's pictureRick Burnette

Gardening Without a Garden

Cultivate Abundance aims to saturate the farmworker town of Immokalee, and eventually other food desert communities, with locally-grown, nutritious food of cultural preference.

To achieve this objective, we grow and collect food that is shared each Friday afternoon at Misión Peniel, our Immokalee-based food pantry partner.

This collected food comes from many sites, mostly donations from local church and organizational gardens as well as from home gardeners. We are fortunate to live in a region where tropical crops are grown, particularly the varieties that complement the food heritage of our Guatemalan, Mexican and Haitian farmworker neighbors.

To keep up with the heightened food demand related to the current COVID-19 crisis, with a special grant from the Dunkin’ Joy in Childhood Foundation (related to Dunkin’ restaurants), we’ve expanded our food collection approach to include limited amounts of purchased produce, and fresh eggs, from a few small-scale growers in our region.

With very few volunteers able to assist us due to the current COVID-19 situation, we log considerable mileage each week to pick up the fresh produce donations and purchases in Collier and Lee Counties of Southwest Florida, as well as Polk County in Central Florida.

But besides picking up this food (and often helping to harvest), we are also involved in growing and harvesting food in four gardens.

The first site is the Misión Peniel garden located in the middle of the Immokalee food desert where quality, affordable food is a challenge to access. Since 2018, this garden has produced over 3,000 pounds of dozens of types of vegetables, fruit, and herbs.

This community garden also serves as the base of our Immokalee outreach program where sets of container gardens have been prepared and distributed to dozens of local households.

The Misión Peniel garden is also where seeds of several rare crops, such as Guatemalan maize, tropical mustard, select amaranth greens, chipilín (a Central American perennial vegetable), and cowpeas are grown, saved and


Container gardens are prepared at the Misión Peniel garden to share with local households.

Besides the Misión Peniel garden, we have our hands in the soil of at least four other garden sites. One is at the Covenant Presbyterian Church Together We Grow garden in Fort Myers, also established in 2018. The Covenant garden is where tropical root crops such as cassava, sweet potato and taro are grown along with fruit such as papaya, mango, and carambola.

Fruit trees are grown at the Covenant garden.

In many ways, the Covenant garden helped to launch Cultivate Abundance. As a result, we assist other Covenant members with the maintenance of the garden on a weekly basis. This arrangement has resulted in almost 3,000 lbs. of produce donated to Misión Peniel.

In early 2020, the Collier County Parks and Recreation Department provided Cultivate Abundance with nine vacant beds in the community garden located at the Golden Gate Community Center in Naples, Florida. At Golden Gate, we are currently growing cassava, malanga, taro, and cowpea with sweet potatoes having already been harvested from the site.

Garden space at the Golden Gate Community Center

Another Cultivate Abundance gardening effort takes place at the Florida State University College of Medicine – Immokalee Health Education Site. This facility’s garden, comprised of four spacious raised beds and several fruit trees, was established by another nonprofit with involvement by the Collier County Master Gardeners.

However, as the COVID-19 situation has resulted in these volunteers being unable to engage, Cultivate Abundance was invited to make use of the garden. Our team has spent several weeks cleaning out weeds and crop residues, adding new garden soil, installing an automatic irrigation system, and planting several varieties of sweet potato, papaya, pigeon pea and cowpea.

Even with a growing number of produce suppliers, Cultivate Abundance will continue to be directly involved in food production for the following reasons:

  • To be engaged in food solidarity efforts, by which we grow food for – and with – the farmworker community that harvests much of America’s food

  • To boost our own gardening credibility

  • To encourage others to also grow and share food

It is doubtful that Cultivate Abundance will ever own property on which to garden. Instead, we prefer a “lean and mean” approach that is unencumbered with the expense and hassles of property ownership.

Since our gardening efforts began in 2018, even without our own garden, Cultivate Abundance has grown, collected and shared over 22,000 pounds of food from over 90 crop varieties, amounting to over 61,000 servings with a combined value of more than $36,000.

Going forward, our strategy is simple: To join forces with more small-scale food producers to honor our farmworker neighbors.

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