Growth spurt: Marco Y, Optimist Club collaborate in youngster’s fruit ‘n veg project


It’s a grassroots thing, but the pickings are going to be bell peppers, rosemary, tomatoes, eggplants, citrus and flowers, among others.

Over at the Greater Marco Family YMCA, a small open section of land bordering the airnasium and the Youth Development Center is busy being transformed into a veritable Garden of Eden by a team of youngsters between the ages of 5 and 14.

The garden, first established about a year ago by the Y’s grants coordinator Donna Johnston for the organization’s after-school students, has found new life.

Agriculturalist Mike Dorris supervises soil preparation before the actual plantings began.

The ranks of junior Y gardeners have been swelled by the addition of youngsters from the Optimist Club of Marco Island, whose board recently decided to broaden their traditional “sports only” mission to community involvement.

“It involves nutrition and healthy eating as well,” said Jayme Lowe, who at the moment wears the appropriate hats of president elect of the Marco Y Board as well as board member of the Optimist Club.

“That fits with the Y’s healthy living (approach), and the idea is for them (the young participants) to grow relatively easy plants that they can nurture and see their progress,” Lowe said.

At an inaugural joint session that preceded last Saturday’s Earth Day, volunteer agriculturalist Mike Dorris was on hand to supervise.

“My overall goal is to demonstrate that it’s not really that difficult to grow food that you can eat in a really small space,” he told the two dozen or so youngsters and their parents.

“It’s not really any different from taking care of your lawn or bushes at home. We’ll be doing summer crops and then seasonal gardening. It’s going to be everyone’s garden, and everyone can take stuff out,” Dorris said.

Soil prepping and assorted plantings followed, and it was quite clear the children were both absorbed and fascinated by what they were doing and learning.

After smoothing out a bed with an oversize plastic rake, Makenzie Falls announced that she wanted to grow bell peppers.

“And basil,” she said. “It’s nice in soups.”

Young Calvin Grifoni looked intensely at a pepper plant he’d just put in the ground, and then declared: “I just thought I saw it growing.”

Jayme Lowe (wearing her Optimist Club hat) said president Meg Bonos had “breathed new life” into the club with the establishment of a young leadership program. They were out in force in the garden that day.

“It’s about implementing and growing,” said Optimist Club board member Kara Drott.

“We’re trying to expand into education as well. It’s not just about sports anymore,” said fellow board member Jerra Minning.

Club president Bonos stood watching all the dedicated activity, and stopped short of becoming emotional.

“The richness that comes out of all this is amazing,” Bonos said.

For information on this program as well as the wide variety of other programs and activities for youth and adults at the Greater Marco Family YMCA, visit, or call 394-YMCA (9622).