Pat’s Wildways: Reap What You Sow

By Pat Foster-Turley
April 14, 2023

Jim Allessandra harvested some fresh lettuce for me. Photo by Pat F-T.

It started out as a simple visit to the Nassau Humane Society, where I was headed to “socialize” the cats, meaning, I get to pet cats whenever I want. If there is a stress reliever for me, this is it. But this time I was distracted by the Airport Group garden nearby, where a couple of men were hard at work, and I decided to step into their midst to see what this was all about. Before long I was happily chatting with Jim Allessandra and Andy Dixon, two avid gardeners who have been working their plots for years.

I learned that the airport leases this plot of land to the Airport Garden Group, and they have 14 large plots that different subsets of volunteers cultivate and maintain, with a waiting list for more who want to do it too. Each plot is bigger than my own front yard, with plenty of space to plant whatever they wish, with water hoses, sinks and storage sheds all on the premises. All the gardeners happily agree to donate at least a quarter of their harvest to organizations like Barnabas Center, Hope House, Gracie’s Kitchen and other groups that provide food for the needy. In fact many of these gardeners donate far more than 25% — this giving is part of their joy in gardening.

Both Jim and Andy proudly showed me their beautiful lettuces, arugula, cilantro, kale, cabbage, and all kinds of other crops ready for picking. I admired Jim and Andy’s new olive tree (they named it “Ollie”) in a large planter between their two beds and followed them down their rows admiring the produce. Soon enough I found my arms laden with bags of five or six kinds of lettuce—romaine, red leaf, butter lettuce and who knows what else. It turns out that these lettuces are too fragile and don’t keep well in food banks, and I was happy to take some off their hands.

What to do with all this fresh produce? Photo by Pat F-T.

As I was leaving the garden with my arms full of produce another couple parked out in the lot, wondering if I had helped myself, which of course I didn’t do, but some people do, sadly, despite the signs and security cameras. But then right away this couple recognized me, and me, them. It was Lis and Nick Krawiecki who I knew from my water aerobics class. They hadn’t been in the pool in months, maybe ever since their new garden plot took over their life. I was eager to see their garden too so I followed them back inside the compound. But before we got very far Lis called out, “Look my haricots verts are in! Nick let’s have some for dinner tonight!” Her enthusiasm was catching.

And before long they added their own produce to my pile. They gave me six types of radishes and then more lettuce of different kinds. Nick was eager to show me squash blossoms, and he taught me how to tell a female squash flower from a male one. And then, he clipped some flowers–they form at the end of the developing squash that, once fertilized, have no need any more for the blossoms. He gave me hints about how to stuff and cook these and I added them to my larder.

Once home I cleaned my stash and pondered its fate. It was way too much for me to eat myself and Bucko is not a salad person. Then inspiration hit me. The Easter Saturday celebration was the next day at the Fernandina Church of Christ at the daily drop-in center there for the homeless in our town. I got to work making a giant salad with all the fresh produce, and then a homemade salad dressing to go with it and showed up there Saturday morning.

Enough greens for a giant salad for the day drop-in center. Photo by Pat F-T.

What a great morning of fellowship it turned out to be! The volunteers organized by Michele Holbrook included people from the Saturday A Team, Sisters in Christ (Waycross, Ga.) and the Barnabas Center and they all brought heaps and mounds of food for a massive Easter banquet. Turkey, ham, casseroles of all descriptions, all the fixings, enough for everyone there and many more too. A feast! The tables were set in linen tablecloths, with linen napkins, and cute Easter decorations and the food was served on real china plates. A table was laden with candy and colored eggs and more food to bring home too. Pastor Mark Charles from the Memorial United Methodist Church played the guitar and we all sat together at the tables, the clients, the volunteers, and I eating a banquet and singing favorite uplifting songs together.

The Easter Saturday celebration at the Day Drop-In Center was a real feast for one and all. Photo by Gaye Foote.

If you want to help in efforts like these it’s easy. Just visit the drop-in center at the Church of Christ on 14th and Jasmine Streets from 9-11 a.m. Monday through Saturday to find out more, and bring a check made out to the Coalition for the Homeless of Nassau County if you wish to donate.

If you “reap what you sow” the greens from the Airport Garden Group reaped a whole lot. And you can too. I hope you had a happy Easter!

Pat Foster-Turley, Ph.D., is a zoologist on Amelia Island. She welcomes your nature questions and observations. [email protected].

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Joan Cipriano
Joan Cipriano(@islandcipscomcast-net)
5 months ago

Your column is always wonderful, but this was especially moving. Thank you.

Dickie Anderson
Dickie Anderson(@dickie-andersongmail-com)
5 months ago

Great to run into you and catch up. Great column and inspiring story.

Judi Mixon Brown
Judi Mixon Brown (@guest_68394)
5 months ago

Thank you for a wonderful & inspiring story! We always enjoy your column.