A challenge many face with starting a community garden is acquiring a space for it. And once that space is acquired, dealing with the limitations of that space...be it soil fertility, irrigation, security, etc.
The LeHigh Acres Edible Garden Exchange has bypassed that hurdle all together. They do not have a Community Garden, but they are a community gardening. Some great things are happening with this welcoming group who foster community and encourage eachother in growing food. Not only do they meet regularly to learn from guest speakers and eachother, but they also are bringing up another generation of gardeners by teaching a 4-H club. Karen Harty, who founded the Exchange also hosts a "Crash Course in Gardening" where she welcomes anyone who is interested to come and learn. We asked Karen to share about the Edible Garden Exchange...
"While we are NOT a community garden, we ARE a community gardening group educating ourselves on how to grow our own food. The Lehigh Acres Edible Gardening Exchange (LAEGE) was started when a northern transplant was discouraged while trying to grow food in extreme heat and humidity, frost, sand, and WEIRD bugs.
Our very first speakers, Mr. Russ Luther and Ms. Katie Johnson of ECHO, helped us set the standard for our education-based meetings. Ms. Katie continued guiding our group in building an edible garden at our local food pantry on Homestead Road in Lehigh as well as helped us out with meetings and events. A year later, Ms. Rebecca Garofano stepped invisibly into Ms. Katie's shoes supporting our group as our guest speaker and mentor. Yet another year later, Ms. Marie Shelli has seamlessly melded with our group to replace Ms. Rebecca attending meetings and offering assistance at our programs.
These exceptional educators have helped us understand our environment and gently moved us to a more informed place. There is no price we can put on how ECHO has provided their love and support of our edible gardening groups.
Our groups include the Lehigh Acres Edible Gardening Exchange which meets at 7:00pm on the third Thursday of the month in the Veterans Park Recreational Building, 55 Homestead Road South, Lehigh Acres, Florida and the 4-H Lehigh Acres Edible Gardening Exchange which meets from 5:30pm to 6:30pm just before our regular meeting.
Our groups' activities include "Grow A Gardener" which is an 8-session workshop for youth. This is currently in its second round with a third round being planned for the summer of 2013. On the adult side, we offer a "Crash Course in Veggie Gardening". This 2-hour condensed class goes over issues with growing in sand, heat, humidity, and frost. The next round of this will be April 27th at the East County Regional Library in Lehigh Acres, Florida at 9:30am. Programs costs, when applicable, are Veterans Park membership ($10 for a lifetime) and 4-H fees (varies). LAEGE does not charge for our programs.
Join us on Facebook, ask to be added to our email (ilovelehighacres.com), and/or subscribe to our blog (http://lehighacresediblegardeningexchange.blogspot.com). "
If you are in the area, come join in! Not only are the people warm and welcoming, but they also bring some great dishes to share from their gardens. If you are not nearby, consider this format to encourage gardens within your community as an alternative to a community garden.
Have you eaten lunch today? Do you know where the ingredients from your lunch came from? If you have a meal at CCMI Soup Kitchen chances are you will be eating food that came from local community and school gardens.
This week's menu is especially exciting.... Fresh Tilapia served with Spicy Mango Papaya, Raspberry Ginger Mandarin and Rosemary Lemon sauces. The Herbs came from Lakes Park Community Garden in downtown Ft. Meyers, and the Citrus and Papaya were lovingly grown right here at ECHO. And the Tilapia? Students at Island Coast High School in Cape Coral raised and harvested the fish themselves!
Through the school's Academy of Natural Resources, students learn sustainability through carreer oriented education in aquaponics, hydroponics and environmental projects. They grow mangroves for restoration projects, vegetables, sprouts, herbs, and tilapia in a commercial level aquaponics facility.
One of the senior students gave us a tour of a not-so-normal classroom...rows of hatching tanks to raise tilapia, beds of sprouts under grow-lights, herbs growing hydroponically and aeroponically. Outdoors there were larger tanks for the fish where the waste is recycled to grow mangroves and vegetables.
A group of students then began harvesting the large tilapia and processing them for CCMI to take back and prepare. The Academy's goal is for 1/3 of the produce to go to the students, 1/3 to be sold, and 1/3 to be given to the food bank.
Shelly, the food program manager at CCMI has a great vision to partner with local growers and to get as much nutirents into the meals they prepare as possible. Fresh food makes a difference in the community's health, she says, and these meals are a break from those of the old world soup kitchens where nutrition was not at the forefront.
ECHO interns got to see their produce go from tree to table as they visited CCMI's United Way House Everyday Cafe for lunch. The Soup Kitchen there, set up in the structure of a cafe, is a bright and cheerful place that offers a computer lab, a pantry, and a welcoming atmosphere for folks to be nourished by good local food. It was an exciting day to see different local projects partner together to create a delicious and healthy meal that fed the community.
This fall, some of the ECHO interns had the opportunity to visit The Fruitful Field, a garden project on the Eastern side of Florida, in Pompano Beach. Our time together there was quite rich. ECHO interns walked around the property with garden staff, volunteers, and interns - listening to stories of how the project developed, how participants have sought to be faithful with the resources available, and how they have grown.
Their mission statement reads: "The Fruitful Field seeks God’s peace and wholeness by caring for the earth, sharing with those in need, and fostering spiritual health. We model creative and sustainable use of land, provide dynamic hands-on learning opportunities for all ages, and build healthy relationships with the local community and beyond. The Garden exists to re-connect people and creation with each other and with God."
The Fruitful Field is a unique project, both in how it gardens and in how those involved care for one another. Flavio Sloat, founding member and the current Executive Director, pointed out trees in the food forest and explained how they try to practice hospitality at the garden.
The Fruitful Field runs along a highway. It was once a compact stone area used to store construction vehicles, but the team has thoughtfully encouraged plants to reclaim the space. Today, native plants thrive, fruit trees are plentiful, garden beds host a bounty of produce, and pine trees slowly breakthrough rock, building a welcoming space for returning butterflies, bees, and nesting birds. It's quite the sight to behold.
Between garden vegetables and garden potlucks, it's evident that the people at The Fruitful Field just really care. Flavio will be presenting at ECHO's upcoming Agriculture Conference here in Florida. The Community Gardens program is grateful for the work they do and for their continued partnership.
Our continued review of ECHO's community garden workshop brings us to a discussion on Perennial Vegetables. ECHO intern Brock Mashburn presented some key perennials that are high in nutrition and a beneficial addition to school yard or community gardens - internationally as well as here in Southwest Florida. > Read More
We continue to highlight the workshops from ECHO's Community Garden Training held at ECHO
last month. Brian Lawrence, an ECHO intern, taught us about Companion Planting. This topic fits in well with The ECHO Community Gardens Program
, as it makes use of plants working in community to help eachother grow. Just what we want to help facilitate through local community gardens - people working together to grow food and helping their communities grow at the same time. > Read More
This past month ECHO hosted a Community Gardens Training workshop. Attendees included church groups and non-profits, teachers, educators and parents representing schools and universities, and individuals wanting to expand their gardening knowledge. Inspiration for gardens among this group varied from producing food for soup kitchens, fostering a sense of community, creating outdoor classrooms, and being able to grow food in one's backyard. > Read More
This week's garden featured as a part of the "Telling Our Stories, Celebrating Our Place" series is the garden at Saint Francis Xavier Church. ECHO first came across this garden when a volunteer at Saint Francis Xavier contacted the Community Gardens Program. After winding through downtown Fort Myers, circling around the church, and wandering into a dirt parking lot showered in ripe mangoes, we found the garden. There it was, a hidden gem in the heart of the city. This garden is absolutely beautiful. > Read More
from Patti Thurston, a teacher and one of Avalon Elementary's Global Garden coordinators, describes the space perfectly: “The Global Garden is an extraordinary place that serves as not only a living and breathing classroom, but that holds the footprints of former students, mentors and supporters of its vision. The garden has provided an education that is priceless to the students and families of this community." > Read More
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