Historical Museum & Village’s garden donates harvest to F.I.S.H.
It was been more than eight decades since Sanibel was known by northerners as one of the leading winter agricultural resources in the United States. Since the hurricanes of 1926 and 1928 virtually obliterated the island’s ability to produce crops of fruits and vegetables, sources seeking fresh produce during the traditional “cold” months have had to look elsewhere.
Until now, albeit on a much smaller scale.
Last week, volunteer tenders of the Sanibel Historical Museum & Village’s garden, found within a picket fence-bordered area behind the Rutland House, harvested a medium-sized Tupperware bowl filled with radishes grown on site.
But in the coming months, the garden is expected to produce more than a dozen different fruits and vegetables, thanks to a recent effort by museum staffers to transform the tiny field into an actual “working garden.”
“This museum represents the islands as an agricultural community,” said Carl Rodman, one of the garden’s most dedicated volunteers. “Sanibel used to ship tomatoes, peppers and eggplants up north ahead of other farming communities… until the hurricane of 1926 wiped them out.”
On Monday, Rodman was joined by museum president Alex Werner and Maggi Feiner, president of F.I.S.H. (Friends In Service Here) of Sanibel, as the three picked tangerines from two trees located within the garden. A large box of the sweet citrus fruits, along with last week’s radish yield and all future harvests, are donated to F.I.S.H. for distribution among their clientele.
“This is a great example of community support,” said Feiner. “I’m going to bag some of these tangerines up today and deliver them to some of the seniors we bring food to.”
Although never having had the experience of actually picking the food that is donated to F.I.S.H., Feiner noted that since she has orange and grapefruit trees in her own backyard, “I’ve had plenty of practice!”
According to Rodman, the museum’s garden has been planted with tomatoes, cabbage, castor beans, agave, eggplants, peppers, carrots, onions, beets, garlic, potatoes as well as a key lime, orange and grapefruit trees. There are also banana trees planted at the site, but they are not expected to yield any fruit.
In previous years at the museum, volunteers Jody Brown and Ray Buck tended to the garden area. However, the success of their work was inhibited by raccoons and iguanas, who ate almost all of the crop before it matured.
Werner explained that last year, Rodman led a group of volunteers and docents who wanted to see if they could make the garden – pardon the pun – more “fruitful.”
“We’re just trying to do our part in giving back to the community,” he said.
After consulting with the city’s Natural Resources Department, Rodman discovered that the mulch which previously covered the site was depleting the soil of essential nutrients. Thanks to the generosity of Jesus Hernandez Landscaping, who donated a truckload of fertile topsoil, along with adding some natural cow manure to the plantings, the garden has sprung to life.
In the coming weeks and months, staff and volunteers hope to harvest several more species of fruits and vegetables that will help feed the needy folks supported by F.I.S.H.