What began as an idea only a few short years ago has been cultivated into a viable, growing garden. Located just up the road from Fleamasters Flea Market in Fort Myers, the Roots Heritage Urban Food Hub founded in 2010 by Sanibel resident Yvonne Hill was created in order to provide the community with locally-grown fresh produce, owned and operated by members of the community itself.
According to Hill, the first garden was planted in 2010, and that plot of land began redesign plans six months ago. The Urban Food Hub also received a boost of support when the City of Fort Myers leased them five acres of farm land, located just behind the fresh produce stand, a structure purchased with funds supplied by the Periwinkle Garden Club of Sanibel. The original garden was comprised of about 50 simple wooden boxes. However, the Urban Food Hub's growth has exceeded the capacity those boxes could provide.
So with an additional quarter-acre garden area to work with, Hill and her volunteer gardeners are hard at work planting a new crop of seasonal herbs and vegetables – including tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, beets, cow peas, sweet potatoes, dill, mint, sage and parsley – for harvest in the near future. "There is a great historical significance of agriculture of these crops here in Southwest Florida," said Hill. "People can learn about what crops were grown for traditional family recipes, some of the herbs that have medicinal benefits, and then they can buy them and use them at home." The new fenced-in garden area is decorated with brick pavers, rain barrels and antique farm equipment (which have been donated) and will be soon equipped with an outdoor kitchen and grill as well as an Agri-Tourism Learning Lab.
The Roots Heritage Urban Food Hub's fresh produce stand is open seven days per week: Monday through Saturday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. It is located at 3903 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, two miles east of Fowler Street in Fort Myers. While some of the fruit and vegetables sold there are harvested on site, additional supplies come from other farms in Lee County. "People like getting their produce locally, because their fruits and vegetables aren't going to lose any of their nutritional value," said Roscoe Jordan, one of the Urban Food Hub volunteers who also collects the honey sold at the stand. "When you buy your produce at a big supermarket, they get their fruit from Mexico and other countries, and by the time you buy it, it's not as fresh. Here, it's fresh… it's natural… we don't use pesticides. It's healthier for you." Another Urban Food Hub volunteer, Keith Lee, noted that his neighbors prefer buying their produce from him because it helps support the community.
"They know it's gonna be safe for them and it's coming from their own community," added Lee. "And because we are able to sell it to them for a better rate as well, everybody's happy with that, too." Hill noted that the next Urban Farmers In Training (UFIT) session will begin at the end of July, and that people interested in registering for the program, signing up to volunteer or donating funds or equipment for the facility should call her at 464-9925. "We're a 501(c)3 non-profit, and our wish list includes an electric hook-up for our produce stand, a cooler, an irrigation system and a hoop house for shading our crops," said Hill. "We would also like to do some work with hydroponics."
For additional information, visit the Roots Heritage Urban Food Hub on Facebook