Cultivate Abundance, a migrant farmworker ministry of CBF field personnel Rick Burnette based in Immokalee, Fla., experienced severe loss of gardens used to feed immigrant and migrant workers through Mission Peniel, as a result of Hurricane Ian. Read the article below to learn how you and your congregation can volunteer and provide financial support.
By Rick Burnette, CBF field personnel
Despite an unusual January freeze here in Southwest Florida’s tropical fringe, until September 28, Cultivate Abundance was having a good year of growing, collecting, and sharing produce of cultural preference among Immokalee’s community of Haitian, Guatemalan and Mexican farmworkers.
Between January and August, 14 contributing institutions and farms as well as 28 partner gardeners from communities outside of Immokalee in combination with 14 Immokalee-based institutions and gardens had produced 28,532 lbs. of produce (83,610 food servings). We were on track to surpass all previous annual totals recorded since Cultivate Abundance began operations at the end of the 2018.
The momentum was interrupted on September 28, the day that Hurricane Ian—a Category 4 storm—brought devastation to Southwest Florida, taking over 120 lives. Amidst such vast destruction, dozens of partner gardener properties as well as several plots managed by the Cultivate Abundance team were badly damaged.
While the extent of loss varies, many of our partners also face serious challenges related to shelter and livelihood. Thankfully, the farmworker community of Immokalee was somewhat less impacted although repairs are needed there as well.
During the week following the storm, Cultivate Abundance, along with Misión Peniel, CBF Global Missions and CBF Florida/Caribbean Islands, were engaged in early relief and recovery efforts in numerous neighborhoods. Activities included food deliveries, property and garden cleanup, roof tarping, and the distribution of 120 flood cleanup bucket kits prepared by CBF churches and transferred to Southwest Florida from Ft. Walton by Kenny Phillips.
Additionally, we have been assessing affected properties that previously contributed to the tons of food shared within the Immokalee food desert since 2018. With tremendous damage to fruit trees, garden plots, and farm facilities, access to local nutritious food is already being negatively impacted and will remain diminished for some time.
A few days after the storm, Cultivate Abundance staff and partners rushed to collect fallen fruit, such as avocadoes and bananas, before the windfall could spoil. This harvest was distributed at Misión Peniel on the following Friday. While the salvaged produce helped meet food needs for one week in Immokalee, we have a long way to go before we will attain prior production levels.
As we live in vulnerable coastal Florida, this setback was anticipated. Even so, one might assume that the conventional U.S. food system consisting of large commercial farms, corporate distributers, and grocers as well as foodbanks might easily fill the gap. But so far, that hasn’t been the case.
Local foodbanks remained closed during the week following the hurricane. And the cost of purchased food, whether offered by distributers or local grocers, has more than doubled. Pastor Miguel Estrada, Director of Misión Peniel, emphasizes that due to ongoing inflationary pressures the rising cost of food was already an issue. The hurricane has basically exacerbated an existing problem.
Thankfully, recent financial donations, including a $2,500 grant from CBF Disaster Response, is helping with immediate food purchases.
Meanwhile, Cultivate Abundance, with multifaceted support from CBF, has a plan for recovery. By applying many lessons learned over the past five years while growing food in storm-prone Florida, and with investments such as an additional $2,500 grant from CBF Disaster Response, we will do the following:
- Through CBF Disaster Response, we are extending an invitation for volunteer teams to travel to Southwest Florida to help Cultivate Abundance, our food-growing partners, and others to recover. For example, 12 Seasons Farm, a family-owned operation on the outskirts of Ft. Myers that has provided tons of organic produce for our Misión Peniel clients, was badly damaged by the hurricane and needs many hands to clean up the farm as well as to rebuild production beds and hoop houses. The same applies to other partners such as ECHO.
Meanwhile, the Cultivate Abundance-managed gardens also need TLC. Those willing and able to assist can apply through the CBF Disaster Response website. Accommodations for volunteer teams are available at a Lutheran church in nearby LaBelle, FL.
- We will expand our food production footprint in 2023 by adding another 0.2-acre plot for intensive food production. We will need help with that as well.
- Cultivate Abundance will be assisting 25-30 smaller partner gardens (e.g., home and church gardens) with recovery by providing seedlings of productive, less brittle fruit tree varieties such as starfruit, mango, avocado and sapodilla. The cost of each fruit tree seedling is approximately $40.
- We will do our part to promote a more resilient small-scale Southwest Florida food system for the benefit of farmworkers and others by focusing on crops that are better suited for severe weather. Hurricane Ian has shown us what holds up fairly well to Cat 3-4 hurricane winds, including various dwarf banana varieties, field peas, nopal (prickly pear), sweet potato, longevity spinach, aloe vera, and chaya. Cultivate Abundance will be propagating seeds, cuttings, and seedlings of these crops to plant and share.
Resilient disaster recovery never happens overnight. It will require much of what CBF congregations have to offer; presence, investment, innovation, and collaboration.
And we will plant back better.
Volunteer to serve with CBF Disaster Response here.
Please give generously to support the Hurricane Ian relief efforts at www.cbf.net/dr-give.
CBF field personnel Rick Burnette is a focus of the 2022-2023 Offering for Global Missions Campaign. Watch a video below to learn more about the work of Cultivate Abundance and visit www.cbf.net/ogm to access additional videos about Burnette’s ministry.