Gardening Outside the Box by Mary Stein Hurst

Gardening Outside the Box
By Mary Stein Hurst

There is a Chinese proverb quoted often during times of economic difficulty: Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.

Winter Haven resident, Linda Bayko, and Lake Wales residents, Lynn and Faye Greenfield, have applied the same concept to gardening. While Bayko grows organic vegetables in hydroponic towers, the Greenfields prefer to grow a myriad of fresh produce from seed in containers.

Either way, they are helping others to eat better and learn how to propagate food — skills to last a lifetime.

Not only has Bayko taught herself to garden but she’s sharing the wealth with The Mission in Winter Haven, a nonprofit agency that feeds between 300 and 400 hungry people daily. They also provide food to hospice patients with special dietary.

A year ago, she bought herself a tower garden, a hydroponic system accommodating 20 plants. After harvesting her first crop of lettuce leaves in two weeks, she says she realized that the $45 per week she spent on buying organic produce from the supermarket could, in time, easily pay for the $525 each tower costs.

“Not only are the vegetables fresh, but they taste so much better,” she says. “Now, whenever I get near them, I just chow down. I can’t help it.”

Her first tower gardening experience convinced her and a friend to make the same investment for a cause they’ve supported — feeding the hungry at The Mission.

They donated six towers initially to the nonprofit. Father David Berry Jr., The Mission’s executive director, is glad they did.

Now, the towers number 23 at The Mission on East Central Avenue. The Mission’s gardening endeavor has been named “The Daniel Project,” after the biblical book of Daniel, the scripture of which says that men who ate only vegetables were healthier and stronger. The plants in the towers are cared for and harvested by Mission staff and clients. Not only are clients eating fresh vegetables and fruits, Berry says the agency saves $200 a week on their grocery bill.

The prolific gardening system has also added a wealth of opportunities, not only in nutritional meals, but now families coming to The Mission will be able to adopt the care and feeding of a tower garden to learn life skills, and take the fruits of their labor home to cook for their families.

Bayko was so enthused with the tower gardens, distributed by Juice Plus, she became a distributor herself. Though it is a business, she says all the commissions she earns from selling the systems goes toward purchasing more towers for The Mission.

That plan has mushroomed. Berry says not only have his clients learned to appreciate the fresh food, his own children now have learned to love smoothies made from the garden’s harvests.

He has also received inquiries about juice bars and restaurants purchasing The Mission’s fresh produce, which directly supports the nonprofit’s operations.

Each hydroponic tower uses 20 gallons of water circulated with an electric pump. The organic seeds are placed in spun lava rock resembling light foam rubber, and watered by a nutrient solution of earth minerals pumped up through the center of the tower, which then drip down.

“I figured our electric bill would go up,” Berry says. “But the bill went up only about 50 cents a week.”

Berry says The Mission’s kitchen staff has used the herbs and fresh vegetables for salads and to accompany the main dishes, which include a wild game food bank. Hunters donate a variety of meats.

“We get ground venison, wild board, duck, and gator meat,” he says. “We also got four hogs donated by the Polk County Youth Fair that was turned into Italian sausage.”

Bayko says she’s just pleased to be able to help a cause she feels so strongly about.

“My passion is helping The Mission. This is a way for families to learn how to eat properly, grow their own food and that will fulfill that need for a lifetime,” she says.

The Greenfields, married 43 years, bring their fresh produce to the Lake Wales Farmer’s Market twice a month. But they’ll happily share their gardening secrets with anyone who wants to learn.

Lynn Greenfield grew up on an Iowa farm. While he says he didn’t want to be a farmer initially, that’s exactly where his life has ended up. The two met while students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the 1960s. Lynn studied business administration. Faye was a research assistant.

After working in the business world for a while, they decided to move to their Lake Wales property when Faye’s relatives offered them the chance to take over the family citrus groves in the 1970s. While they have retired from citrus farming, Lynn decided to use some of acreage for planting more than 20 kinds of fresh fruits, produce and herbs. They, too, only grow organic seed — some heirloom varieties.

“It’s a hobby farm run amuck,” he says.

Lynn Greenfield’s insecticide is pinching pesky bugs off his plants with his fingers. If that doesn’t work, he destroys the crop and plants something else.

“The only way we are not 100 percent organic is the fertilizer I used,” he says. “It’s a 20-20-20 water-soluble fertilizer I used growing citrus. And really, the plants don’t know the difference.”

He mixes his own soil mix with peat moss and vermiculite, a soil filler that allows aeration and drainage. After doing it by hand for years, he purchased an electric soil mixer a couple years ago. Years of working the orange groves took its toll on Lynn Greenfield’s back and joints.

The Greenfields say they love their lifestyle — tending to gardens and teaching others to do the same. One woman began coming to visit their home to buy organic food for her special needs son. Now, they say, she’s growing her own.

Like Bayko, Greenfield also loves to share the wealth. “We sell our vegetables and the neighbors are sometimes the recipients of the excess,” he says.

“I have four passions,” Lynn Greenfield says. “She,” pointing to his wife, “is No. 1. Then there is this beautiful piece of property, the garden, and fishing. We are well-educated, simple people — but we eat really, really, really well.”

Though he says he’s working as hard as he ever did, the couple took time to smell the roses, travel and did what they wanted to while they were younger.

“We have a reverse retirement,” Lynn Greenfield says. “We’re sentenced to a life of hard labor in paradise.”