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Islanders enjoy living healthy, eating the fruit and veggies of the land

By Staff | May 28, 2009

These days it’s not to hard to tell that eating and living healthy is what’s on the menu.

It’s in publications, on TV news and shows and heard in frank discussions with doctors and patients – eat healthier.

Though the benefits of eating healthy and organic are touted nationwide, the movement towards green and fresh can be seen on a local level. Look around the islands and notice more gardens, some even organic, are sprouting up in residents’ yards.

The Sanibel History Museum & Historical Village has a garden filled with fruits and veggies showing what early settlers ate and shipped, said History Museum president Alex Werner. When the garden is full, residents and visitors are able to come enjoy the citrus. The rest of the produce, including eggplant, tomatoes and kale will be going to the non-profit agency Friends in Service Here (FISH) next week when the garden will be harvested. History museum volunteers led by Ray Buck grew the garden. No chemically-based fertilizer is used in the garden; manure and coffee grinds help nourish the garden, Werner said.

Fish bones and other natural organic matter was used in the gardens a century ago to yield a crop of relatively healthy folks on the islands. “All of these products helped keep the homesteaders healthy,” Werner said. “They lived to be at least 80 to 90 years old. You learn from history. Everything was green and now were reinventing the wheel. That’s what we were doing 100 years ago.”

He cites the robustness and overall health of Island patriarchs, Francis and Sam Bailey. The Bailey brothers – both in their 80s – still have a large hand in running the Bailey’s Shopping Center as well as attending island events. Bailey’s General Store features an organic produce section as well.

Werner said anyone interested in learning about the History Museum’s garden can contact the staff at 472-4648.

Living healthy is for the young at heart and the young

The Sanibel School’s student Green Team, guided by the green thumb of art teacher Tylor Compton, tends an organic garden. The organic garden started about a year ago as a learning tool for students in nurturing the environment and living healthy. Students actually make and eat salad from the garden. This year the garden got a lift from Sanibel resident Bette Roberts who helped rejuvenate the garden.

Roberts, an Florida Gulf Coast University student, and her boyfriend, Kevin Filiowich, are passionate about living and eating healthy. The two have built gardens for Roberts’ parents, Myra and Wes Roberts, as well as other Sanibel residents.

For Roberts, 21, and Filiowich, 25, eating and living a healthy lifestyle is more of a reflex than a discipline. Planting an organic garden and making a salad out of it is as natural to them as getting up in the morning and brushing their teeth.

During a recent interview, Roberts – a dark blonde, green-eyed beauty – shared her passion for living healthy. “It’s much more gratifying to get your food from the earth rather than a grocery store,” she said.

In a sort of twist of things Roberts, who gained her love of eating healthy from her health-conscious parents, is now encouraging them to move it up a notch and eat organic. Organic produce is often grown with items such as egg shells, coffee grinds, manure and compost from decomposing vegetation such as banana peels.

Roberts and her boyfriend have planted large organic gardens together. They recently planted one for Roberts mom, Myra, as a Mother’s Day present. They also created a worm composting basket for nourishment for the garden.

Filiowich has been chosen by FGCU to build an organic garden for the school. The two will soon create an organic garden for Sanibel residents Dr. Mark Corke and his wife Terri.

With no fast food places, go-go traffic or fast-paced living, Sanibel and Captiva seem to serve as an inspiration to grow gardens and not eat out of cans or frozen boxes. “I think its a perfect atmosphere for living healthy,” Filiowich said of Sanibel.

Both are concerned with protecting the environment as well as their bodies. By planting their own organic gardens and not using commercial fertilizers or having food shipped from other countries, they are working to help preserve the earth for future generations.

Apparently they are having an impact on Roberts’ parents who have adopted an organic lifestyle even their friends.

“You guys have influenced me a lot,” Ryan Derosier, a pal visiting from Portland, Oregon, said of Roberts and Filiowich. “I try to make a conscious effort to do more.”

DeRosier said he chooses to look at more labels and eat organic-based foods.

Roberts’ mom, beamed in pride at her daughter. Roberts, a prominent artist on Sanibel, said she has always chose to live a healthy lifestyle. She even has created paintings of vegetable gardens. Right now she is working on a fresh series of gardening paintings. But her daughter is helping her unearth an even healthier lifestyle.

“I learned a lot from my daughter,” she said. “I am very pleased by that as her mother.”

On any given evening, you can find the petite blue-eyed artist mixing a palate of colorful veggies and herbs in a pot. She loves working on making Thai-inspired soups with curries and spices. With a bright smile Myra will grab a ladle and spoon out a warm, orange steamy bowl of some rich-scented soup and ask you to try it.

“Everything I put in my body I think about,” Roberts said. “I call it conscious eating.”

As an artist Roberts works to learn about and detect subtleties and connections between subjects, colors and basically everything in life. She said eating healthy isn’t much different.

“It’s a lot like art,” she said. “It’s a life-long study. It never ends.”

Sanibel residents Dr. Mark Corke and his wife Terri are getting ready to have Roberts and Filiowich create an organic garden for them. Last year the couple enrolled in a healthy eating program in Fort Myers called CHIP. The Cardiac Health Improvement Program helps students learn how to lower cholesterol levels by preparing more high fiber less animal-fat -based meals, Dr. Corke said. Since joining the program, Corke makes more vegetarian based meals such as spicy black bean burgers. He said he is excited about the prospect of being able to pluck fresh herbs and veggies from his own garden.

Creating an organic garden

Though there is no organic gardening center on the island, several agencies including the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation and the History Museum are willing to give pointers and help.

SCCF plant nursery manager Jenny Evans said kitchen wastes such as veggies, fruits and egg shells are helpful for an organic garden. No fatty foods or meat products should be used as they can attract raccoons and other unwelcome garden munchers. Evans also suggested that growing a veggie garden would probably be easier for a full-time resident over a part-timer since the gardens need much tending.

Classes for learning how to compost are given Wednesdays at Rutenberg Park in Fort Myers; ECHO Farms in North Fort Myers has a variety of herbs and plants. The farm is based on helping feed starving places in the world.

“Their are certainly ways to do it [grow a veggie garden],” Evans said.

Getting fresh produce and foods for the health of it

Planting a garden is not workable for everybody. But that doesn’t mean one can’t adopt a healthy living lifestyle sans a garden.

Several business folks have worked out ways to bring fresh and even organic veggies and nutrition on Sanibel. This year Jean Baer and Betsy Ventura co-coordinated a farmers market on the island. The Sunday morning event drew visitors and residents alike. The farmers market, which ran in the Tahitian Gardens parking lot, was lined with vendors carrying fresh produce and even healthy stuff for dogs.

“We had such a good response from the vendors and the residents,” Baer said. “It just turned out to be a really great thing

The mostly full-time residents would come, buy what they needed, and spend time chatting with the other residents and venders.

Baer said she is in discussions with the City of Sanibel now to firm up plans for a farmers market next year. If all goes as planned, a farmers market will be in place from Thanksgiving to Easter next year, Baer said.

For those who want organic and fresh produce now, Carol Simontacchi, owner of Island Nutrition Center on Sanibel, has worked out a plan with Worden Farms. For a fee residents can pick up fresh produce at the Island Nutrition Center. To sign up with the farm go to wordenfarm.com. Simontacchi also spearheaded the Sanibel-Captiva Food Co-op. This service, which will allow residents to purchase organic and healthy foods at reasonable prices, will kick-off shortly. Members must pay an annual fee of $40 and and work five hours a month to support the co-op, Simontacchi said. Through the co-op members will be able to get fresh produce regularly.

Simontacchi is a passionate about getting people to eat healthy. She provides a vast array of healthy foods, including gluten-free products, in her airy shop located off of Palm Ridge Road. Simontacchi, a lifestyles nutrition counselor, also features one-on-one counseling to help people meet their goals. There is a one-time fee.

She said food is the key to our feeling bad or good. Certain foods such as wheat can trigger allergic reactions and digestive ailments. One client could not stop vomiting and the cause eluded all doctors. Simontacchi met with her and changed her diet around. The client’s condition took a dramatic change for the better.

She said that between caring for our health and lessening the carbon footprint we place on earth, eating organic, locally grown produce is key.

She said island residents in particular want to learn how to live healthier.

“They’re eager to get credible, scientific alternative ways,” Simontacchi said.