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Heartland Gardens aims to promote organic gardening, healthier eating

By Staff | Dec 15, 2010

Andrea Guerrero prepares to plant herbs within the raised-bed labyrinth at Heartland Gardens, which opened last month. Organizers are hoping to create 500 similar gardens throughout Southwest Florida in the next five years.

Just across the Sanibel Causeway, a grassroots effort to grow organic vegetables, promote better nutrition and self-sustainability and educate the community on how to create their own gardens within an urban setting has taken root.

And with plenty of sunshine, the right amount of moisture and support from the local citizenry, a bountiful harvest is certain to grow.

Andrea Guerrero, an island resident and co-founder of Heartland Gardens, the newly-launched community garden features a raised-bed labyrinth that is constructed of reclaimed brick. The raised beds are planted with a variety of organic and heirloom vegetables, making the labyrinth one of the first food producing labyrinths in the world.

“We were looking for a donation of reclaimed brick,” said Guerrero, pointing to the massive circular structure. “Casa Ybel Resort was getting ready to send these to the landfill, so already we are promoting self-sustainability.”

The walkable labyrinth has been stocked with newly-planted seedling of more than 20 varieties of herbs, tomatoes, cabbage, peppers, lettuce, onions, leeks and edible flowers. Crops grown on site will be donated to community assistance groups, including F.I.S.H. of Sanibel.

Many of the flowers, vegetables and herbs planted within Heartland Gardens' labyrinth will be donated to community assistance groups, including F.I.S.H. of Sanibel.

Heartland Gardens, which Guerrero explained was made possible by a generous donations from Mark Anderson of Benchmark General Contractors, is an educational and charitable not-for-profit organization. Currently, the garden is hosting a variety of classes for both children and adults on organic food cultivation, nutrition and self-sustainability at cost to community members.

The upcoming class schedule includes:

• Mushrooms 101: Growing Gourmet (Dec. 23, Jan. 13 and 27, Feb. 10 and 24)

• Composting 101: Indoor or Outdoor? (Dec. 28, Jan. 11 and 25, Feb. 8 and 22)

• Herbs 101: Build Your Own Herb Box (Dec. 29, Jan. 12 and 26, Feb. 9 and 23)

The gigantic labyrinth, comprised of 40 raised garden beds, is being utilized to harvest organically grown vegetables.

• Super Foods 101: Sprouts (Jan. 4 and Feb. 1)

In addition, they are offering a 13-week course on Crop Cultivation & Garden Design, which runs Feb. 5 through April 30. Work/Study programs and scholarships are available.

“We wanted this whole concept to be both fun and educational,” said Guerrero, who started the garden along with Ben Pino. “The best way for the community to support us is by taking one of our classes.”

Heartland Garden’s charitable purpose is to facilitate the implementation of 500 similar organic gardens in Lee County in the next five years through the Southwest Florida 500 Program.

“We live in a toxic food environment, so eating pure, organic foods fresh from the earth will help improve your overall health,” Guerrero added. “Look at the back of any package of food you might buy in a store. If it has more than five ingredients in it, that it’s probably not good for you.”

Newly-planted okra takes root in the garden.

In addition, they will focus on constructing miniature food producing gardens at public and private schools, retirement communities, local businesses and private homes. The mini-garden concept teaches residents how to grow the maximum amount of food in the minimum amount of space.

“One of the newest trends in urban living are community gardens,” said Guerrero. “Our goal is to educate people on how they can grow their own herbs, fruits and vegetables properly.”

Future plans for their property includes adding a bog secret garden, several outdoor art elements and raising both honey bees and chickens.

For more information about Heartland Gardens, a 501-c-3 not-for-profit public charity, and their winter class schedule, call 239-689-4249. They are located at 16836 McGregor Blvd., Suite 4 in South Fort Myers.