The “Garden at Eden,” taking shape off of County Barn Road in Naples, is expected to bear fruit in a variety of ways. The compact farm, a project of Eden Autism Services Florida, will produce organic vegetables and tropical fruits, giving students at Eden’s Eimerman Education Center food, cash and the opportunity to gain experience selling their crops at local farmers’ markets and restaurants.
Volunteers and friends of Eden Florida gathered on Saturday morning to plant some of the final fruit trees in their new grove and enjoy a light lunch. Rainy skies couldn’t dampen the participants’ enthusiasm; planting continued right through several showers.
John Puig, president of the Collier County Fruit Growers Association, directed the volunteer crew putting the mango trees into the ground.
“Now clear the mulch away,” he instructed the helpers. “Mulch has to be on the surface, or it stops the tree from growing.
“Three months ago, this was all just mulch,” said Puig. “I just tilled the field yesterday.”
The volunteers have planted greens and radishes, lettuce, kale, cucumbers and arugula. In addition to an acre of field crops, 46 fruit trees will yield bananas, papayas, mangoes, starfruit, and avacadoes. Unusual tree varieties being planted include red mombin and cranberry hibiscus.
Some of the trees will take years to bear fruit, but bananas should be ready for picking by next summer, and the first greens are expected to be ready for market as early as this November.
“In a few years, we’ll have something to harvest every week,” said Puig. “This is not just a garden – we’re creating a multi-tiered training field, combining crops for a 12-month harvest cycle.”
All the produce grown in the Garden at Eden, he said, will be completely organic. “In many cases, we’re beyond organic, with many eco-friendly self-sustaining techniques.” The farm uses low-water drip irrigation – when the rain doesn’t take care of the watering – and banks landscape waste for future fertilizer.
The funds for creation of the garden, said Eden Florida Director Armando Galella, came from a fishing tournament held last year by the group’s supporters. “I saw an article on urban farming, and I thought, ‘we have this land sitting fallow.’” The plot, behind the Spanbauer house, a residential facility maintained by Eden Florida, seemed ideal for growing crops, and the Garden at Eden was born.
Growing and marketing their produce, said Galella, is a great opportunity for the students at the Eimerman Education Center, Eden Florida’s K-12 school for autistic students. In addition to the food they grow for their own use, he said, they will learn skills and earn cash for their work.
“The net result will be wages,” he said.
Fourteen-year-old Brooklyn Cameron, an eighth grader at Eimerman, was one of the students helping out.
“We got some mulch in a truck and they hauled it away,” he said. Cameron is familiar with planting, he added, as his grandfather grows a lot of produce in Montana.
The volunteers helping to plant also included a group of youths from AMI Big Cypress, “the Swamp Kids,” at-risk youths housed in a residential program in the Everglades.
“We come here two to three times a week,” said Frantz Lindor, shift supervisor for AMI. “This work means a lot to these kids. They learn a lot and try to make a difference.”
Since he has been coming here with the youths, Lindor said, he has been inspired to put in a garden of his own.
Eden Autism Services Florida is headquartered in Bonita Springs, with services including early autism intervention, 12-month education for school age students and residential and employment services for autistic adults.
For more information, call 239-992-4680, or email Eden.firstname.lastname@example.org.