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  • Writer's pictureRick Burnette

Thank you!

Only a few months after celebrating Thanksgiving holiday we experience another dose of gratitude. At the beginning of each year, we tally up all donations of fruit, vegetables, and herbs from partner farms and gardens in Southwest Florida. Once again, there’s much to be thankful for.

To put our thankfulness into context, every Friday the Misión Peniel team serves hundreds of residents of Immokalee with the best food that we can access. Ironically, this is a community from which millions of pounds of commercial produce are grown and shipped daily and where many local farmworkers and their neighbors deal with ongoing food insecurity.

To improve local food access, our key partner, Misión Peniel receives grocery items from area food banks as well as donations and purchases of rice and beans. Cultivate Abundance supplements this food by growing and collecting donations of fresh food grown by home gardeners and institutions - such as churches and nonprofits - as well as excellent produce purchased from a small family farm near Fort Myers.

Between 2018 and 2021, Cultivate Abundance grew, collected, and shared a total of 76,363 lbs. (218,595 servings) of local produce as preferred by Immokalee’s residents, most of whom from Haiti, Guatemala, and Mexico. Of this running total, almost 42,000 lbs. (125,795 servings) were handled during 2021.

Out of this 42,000 lbs., 11 percent (4,656 lbs.) was grown in Immokalee, mostly by Immokalee residents. The local gardeners include Cultivate Abundance staff (Lupita and Helen) and volunteers (including Maria, Margarita, Cristina, Reina, Valence, and Adela) who manage and tend gardens at Misión Peniel and the FSU Clinic, producing 2,396 lbs. and 1,480 lbs. of food respectively.

Importantly, in 2021, Immokalee home gardeners shared another 780 lbs. of produce with their neighbors. This form of mutual aid is substantial considering the array of gardening challenges in Immokalee, including lack of time (these are hardworking folks), space (mostly renters) and garden-destroying free-range chickens.

So, our hats are off to Cristina V., Reina M., Margarita, Jesus G., Maria V., Liz M. and Felipa for sharing from their own gardens.

Outside of Immokalee, 8,171 lbs. of fruit and veggies (of which 1,510 lbs. were purchased) was purchased were grown and shared by 22 home gardeners. For this food we thank Larry A., Lexi A., Greg B., Janet C., Ruth and Jeff D., Ginni D., Tony D., Lauri F., Kathy K., Sue L., Stephanie M., Linda and Dave N., Diane P., Jay P., DeAnne and Hank S., Anna S., Owen T., Abe and Amanda T., Kara T.-J., and Pam V.

And finally, we are grateful for the 28,837 lbs. of donations and purchases from area institutions and farms. These growers include the Ave Maria University students, Jan and Dave at Cornerstone Methodist in Naples, the Covenant Presbyterian team (Ft. Myers), East Fork Farm (Ft. Myers), ECHO, First Presbyterian Lehigh Acres, HEART (Lake Wales), NOFO Groves (North Ft. Myers) and Iglesia Bautista Primera (LaBelle).

Every pound of quality produce grown and shared by dozens of local partner gardeners matters. Every shared vitamin and nutrient will make a difference.

Despite a blessed year of activity and shared resources, more food and involvement are needed. Please reach out to us if you have extra produce, time, or other contributions.

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