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Healthy Harvest Farms looks to expand

December 27, 2018
By MEGHAN BRADBURY ( , Lehigh Acres Citizen

Healthy Harvest Farms, which recently relocated following Hurricane Irma, is excited by what the new year will bring.

Gary Dittman, chairman of the Healthy Harvest Farms board, said the farm moved to its new location, 607 Mirror Lakes Drive, after Hurricane Irma came through last year and devastated the prior site.

"We rebuilt in Lehigh and we are in the process of now trying to establish more permanent roots," he said. "We are located on the old Mirror Lakes (Golf Club) property."

The farm currently has approximately 15 different crops, which they hope to expand to some more fruits and other vegetables. Dittman said it's a matter of having the right land and it being cultivated properly.

The farm has a small staff who work the property, but without volunteer help, he said, they would be hard pressed to continue the operation.

Dittman said they are in the process of building a bigger base of volunteers and setting up volunteer days for individuals to come out to weed, plant and learn the process of growing fruits and vegetables.

The primary focus of the farm is to provide food for the local community, local charities and those who are less fortunate. This year they are taking all of their crops and donating it to Lehigh Community Services. Just last week, they donated 50 pounds of produce, including kale, radishes and papaya.

The farm focuses on teaching children at various levels how to plant, when to plant, as well as the value of growing their own food and trying to get them excited about the opportunity to work in the soil.

Ed Moore, who is new to the board, said one of the most exciting things that he has seen happen at the farm involved a Girl Scout troop planting seeds.

"They planted the seeds in their row and they would come out and do weeding. When it was time for harvest they didn't realize that cauliflower grew the way it grew. They were amazed that they were able to grow from seed," he said. "I love that part of it. You are teaching people how to eat healthy, how to plant a seed and then grow it."

Moore said he was excited to join the board because education is his passion, and the farm fit into his model.

So far the farm has been successful in reaching the local schools to start their own gardens on the property, as well as Florida Gulf Coast University looking to expand its curriculum.

Dittman said they hope to partner with various organizations to put together a curriculum and, in the future, hold seminars and workshops utilizing the resources of such places as Florida Gulf Coast University, and civic groups in Lehigh Acres.

The board is looking to expand what they are doing by putting up a couple of out buildings to help with educational programs.

"We are looking forward to expanding the operation in the foreseeable future," Dittman said.

He said they are negotiating with the current owner of the property to see how much space they are willing to let them use. In addition, Dittman said the board is determining how much space they need.

"As the operation grows, we are going to need more," he said.

Healthy Harvest Farms is looking to attract sponsorships and other organizations that want to use part of their facility to grow their own fruits and vegetables.

"We are looking for donations. The farm could not exist without revenue," he said.

There is not a set fee for individuals, or organizations that want to have a garden on the property. Dittman said they will work with people to come up with a fee that will work within their means.

"We don't have a formal contract or process, but if we start to expand we will have to get a little more formal," he said.

In 2019, Dittman said they are looking to expand the amount of produce they will grow, by adding more land to the farm and planting crops. He said for the first time they want to plant Florida summer crops.

"We have not traditionally done that. Usually we are turning over the dirt and getting it ready for fall planting season," he said.

In addition, they are looking to make the gardens that surround the fruits and vegetables more attractive. Dittman said they want the farm to become a destination place where people can find some solace and walk around and become in tuned to nature.

"We want to expand more into a community farm," he said.

In the new year, Dittman said they hope to have open houses to invite the community to the farm.

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