Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Rockledge Gardens Grows A Farm

By Jerry Forney
Photos by Robert Wicker

Tradition, Family and the Future

The movie “The Yearling”, based on the book by Pulitzer Prize winning author Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, depicts the difficult life of the Baxter family as they struggle to survive in the Big Scrub, a semi-wilderness area located between the Ocklawaha and St. Johns rivers. It is an area measuring about fifty miles long by twenty-five miles wide that today falls within the Ocala National Forest. Those early pioneers had to be resourceful and mostly self-supporting because of their isolation. Occasional visits to Volusia for supplies and family visits were the only connection they had to civilization. These men and women were hard working, dedicated and characterized by a deep love of the land that supported them.

In 1960 a post-pioneer by the name of Harry Witte, a native of Cincinnati Ohio, migrated to Rockledge Florida from a cabbage farm in St. Augustine. When he and his wife Mary arrived, the Rockledge community was fairly well settled… not exactly a pioneer outpost. Rockets were being launched into space from nearby Cape Canaveral and it was readily apparent that the so-called Space Coast had a bird's eye view of the future. It was an outpost of a different kind. Harry had found a place where he could put down roots, literally. Harry is now considered a pioneer in the Brevard County environmentalism and beautification movement.

Doing what he knew and loved best Harry started by selling flower bulbs from a roadside stand that the family ran on the honor system. The sign said, "grab a bag of soil and leave your money in the can". Eventually the business expanded to a full-scale plant nursery that he called Rockledge Gardens. Harry and his wife Mary exemplified the traditional pioneer values of hard work and dedication. They had a deep love of the land and the soil of the Space Coast. The business grew, as did their family, and it soon became a local landmark. His nursery thrived over the decades and today Rockledge Gardens is a family-owned business that is currently run by his daughter Theresa Riley and her husband Kevin Riley.

The nursery, which is located on the west side of US 1 in South Rockledge, operates on 12 acres of beautifully maintained gardens filled with tropical and hardy trees, shrubs, annuals and perennials; a lush sprawling greenhouse full of house and patio plants, orchids, and bromeliads; huge selections of garden accessories, tools, and supplies are available for every gardener from beginner to advanced.

The Farm

Harkening back to Harry Witte's own roots as a farmer and inspired by the current interest in organic farming, hydroponics and sustainable agriculture Theresa and Kevin created The Farm at Rockledge Gardens on 1.5 acres of land on the East side of US 1 approximately a quarter mile south of the nursery. The first thing a visitor notices when touring The Farm is the vertical hydroponic vegetable farm. “We use only natural organic methods for growing our produce. We don't use pesticides or chemicals,” said Theresa to Robert Wicker and I when we visited The Farm recently. “The plants are grown in a sterilized medium of coconut fiber and vermiculite, which allows for proper distribution of the nutrient-rich water.” Robert and I were wondering what the blue and yellow plates hanging from the supports were there for. “The blue plates you see hanging there catch thrips on the sticky side. For some reason they're attracted to blue. The Yellow plates attract and catch white flies.”

Diana Salopek is one of The Farms official “farmers”. Her son, Ayden Byrd, was busy watering some pots when we arrived. He has been helping his mother with plants since he was 3 years old. Ayden is also a farmer at heart and represents the future of small-scale sustainable farming along the Space Coast. Growing food, according to Diana, is a way of “encouraging our current and future generations to sustain health, vitality and happiness”.

One of Diana's jobs is to regulate and maintain the elaborate system of nutrients dripping into the top of each vertical stack of pots. The nutrients slowly drip down each level until they reach the large pot at the bottom that anchors the entire stack. Each vertical structure is attached to a large metal framework that gives the hydroponic farm a stable environment that can withstand the wind and weather of the Space Coast. 

The Farm also has an organic container production side. Rows of traditional pots, filled with organic soil, are home to squash, peppers, borage greens, sunflowers and eggplant to name just a few. Many of the plants are currently in bloom. Theresa showed me her phone that had a striking photo of one of her sunflowers serving as a landing pad for a beautiful butterfly. “Our flowers attract many beneficial insects like bees, butterflies and ladybugs. I was lucky enough to catch this.”

The Future

What's in the future for The Farm? “We have blueberries over there that should be producing sometime in 2013.” Theresa pointed to rows of large pots filled with bushes. “We also plan on putting in a small orchard of peaches and plums on some cleared land sometime in the very near future.” So those roots that her father Harry Witte put down in Rockledge in the early sixties are spreading and continuing to bear fruit. It might not be surviving the tough land of the Big Scrub as described by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings but it's an accomplishment any pioneer would be proud of.

Tours of The Farm at Rockledge Gardens are available by appointment. Classes and Garden Tips are also available. Rockledge Gardens can be contacted by phone at 321-636-7662 or _by email at info@rockledgegardens.com. The nursery website is http://www.rockledgegardens.com/ and The Farms website is http://www.rockledgegardens.com/farm.html.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

A 13-yr old organic farmer should be our inspiration.

If you watched “The Revolution” last Monday you met Birke Baehr, a 13-yr old organic farmer whose TEDx speech about our nation's food supply went viral and turned him into the poster child, literally, for incredible kids making a difference just by asking smart questions. For instance, one of his questions is, "Would you rather pay a farmer or pay the hospital?" Give that some thought next time you're grocery shopping.

Birke is another example of an Everyday Hero. But maybe we should call him an Unexpected Hero. Sometimes you see a kid like this on YouTube and you think his parents must have coaxed him into this. People are skeptical that a kid his age would care less about video games and texting than about issues like organic farming. I think it's probably normal to question why a 13-year-old boy would have more interest in learning about the dangers of the industrial food system than finding cheats for Modern Warfare. Ty Pennington said, after spending just a couple of minutes with Birke there's no doubt he's the real deal. He's on a mission and I'm pretty sure our world will be a better place for it.

You can learn all about his message and how this young man came to be so passionate about sustainable living by visiting his website. He also has a great book titled Birke on The Farm.

A 13-year-old organic famer that’s making a big difference just by asking smart questions. Well, his questions got me thinking a little more about where my food comes from, and this week I’m challenging you to do the same.

Over the next seven days here’s your assignment: go organic. Who knows, once the week is up you might want to stick with it…. Here are five reasons to really give organic food some extra consideration:

1. Organic foods are produced without the use of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). Genetically engineered ingredients are now found in 75% of all non-organic U.S. processed foods, even in many products labeled or advertised as "natural.”

2. Organic foods are safe and pure. Organic farming prohibits the use of toxic pesticides, antibiotics, growth hormones, nano-particles, and climate-destabilizing chemical fertilizers. Consumer Reports has found that 77% of non-organic produce items in the average supermarket contain pesticide residues. The beef industry has acknowledged that 94% of all U.S. beef cattle have hormone implants, which are banned in Europe as a cancer hazard.

3. There’s more humane treatment of animals. Organic farming prohibits intensive confinement and mutilation (debeaking, cutting off tails, etc.) of farm animals.

4. You can expect a higher nutrition value. Organic foods are nutritionally dense compared to foods produced with toxic chemicals, chemical fertilizers, and GMO seeds. Studies show that organic foods contain more vitamins, cancer-fighting anti-oxidants, and important trace minerals.

5. Buying local supports local farmers and small business.

Give it a try for seven days and let me know how your organic challenge goes in the comments below.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Deadline Tuesday: Tell the EPA to reject the 

pesticide that's killing bees

Click HERE to Tell the E.P.A. to immediately cancel its approval of clothianidin. Submit a comment before the Tuesday deadline. 

Since 2006, U.S. honey bee populations have been in precipitous decline, with some estimates suggesting losses as high as 30% per year.1 While that's terrible, the problem is far greater than just the destruction of a species. Without bees, a big piece of our food supply is in serious danger. Pollination by honey bees is key in cultivating the crops that produce a full one-third of our food.

Scientists have been scrambling to understand the crisis -- termed Colony Collapse Disorder -- but have yet to find a single, definitive cause. There are likely multiple interacting causes, and mounting evidence suggests that one widely used class of pesticides may be a critical factor.

One such chemical, called clothianidin, is produced by the German corporation Bayer CropScience. It is used as a treatment on crop seeds, including corn and canola, and works by expressing itself in the plants' pollen and nectar. Not coincidentally, these are some of honey bees' favorite sources of food.

Clothianidin was approved by the EPA in 2010 - but now the EPA is reviewing this approval. The deadline to submit a comment is Tuesday and we need to urge federal administrators to cancel the approval of this dangerous chemical.

Tell the EPA: Revoke approval of the pesticide that's wiping out honey bees. Submit a comment before the deadline on Tuesday.

Shockingly, no major independent study has verified the safety of this pesticide. While clothianidin has been used on corn -- the largest crop in the U.S. -- since 2003, it was officially approved by the Environmental Protection Agency in 2010 on the basis of a single study, conducted by Bayer. However, recently leaked documents show that the study was actually debunked by the agency's own scientists, so the pesticide was effectively approved with no scientific backing.2

It is outrageous that the E.P.A. is putting a vital species, the livelihoods of farmers and beekeepers, and our very food supply at risk just so Bayer can peddle its pesticide.

Last year, CREDO delivered more than 200,000 petition signatures urging the EPA to ban clothianidin. Now that its approval is up for review, this is a crucial opportunity to protect bees.

Tell the EPA: Cancel the approval of clothianidin. Submit a comment now.

When clothianidin first came to market, there was little or no scientific review of its effect on the environment. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency allowed "conditional registration" in 2003 but requested additional study to establish the safety of the chemical. Bayer, the producer of the chemical, conducted one such study, and without public notice, the E.P.A. granted unconditional use in early 2010.

But leaked E.P.A. documents3 expose a more sordid story. Agency scientists who reviewed Bayer's study determined that the evidence was by no means sound, and even downgraded the study to a level at which it should not have been allowed as the basis for an unconditional approval of the pesticide.

Additional independent studies have shown that neonicotinoid pesticides like clothianidin are highly toxic to honey bees, providing compelling evidence that they should be immediately taken off the market until the E.P.A. can conduct a full and valid scientific review.

This appears to be a case of the E.P.A. catering to the needs of a large chemical corporation at the expense of a lynchpin species in our ecosystem. France, Italy, Slovenia, and Germany -- the home of Bayer -- have already banned clothianidin.

The stakes are simply too high to continue the use of this chemical in the absence of any scientifically verified evidence that it is safe to use.

Tell the E.P.A. to immediately cancel its approval of clothianidin. Submit a comment before the Tuesday deadline.

1 secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Colony_collapse_disorder
2 www.grist.org/article/food-2010-12-10-leaked-documents-show-epa-allowed-bee-toxic-pesticide-
3 www.panna.org/sites/default/files/Memo_Nov2010_Clothianidin.pdf

Friday, February 17, 2012

Green Living Expo Saturday, Feb. 25th, 9:00am - Noon University of Florida Brevard County Extension Office 3695 Lake Dr., Cocoa.

Stop by the extension office to learn about everything green, including green cleaning, eating right, money management, solar and alternative energy, sustainable landscaping, and more. There will be vendor booths, mini-seminars, activities for kids, door prizes, etc. The office is not far from the marketplace so come on by before or after you visit the expo!

Download Flyer HERE

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Free Garden Tour Dec 3, 2011

Sweet Leaf Aquaponics uses aquaponics systems to grow produce and fresh fish. All of their products are naturally grown without any chemicals or synthetic fertilizers. They are an urban farm that utilizes every inch of space to provide delicious, healthy, locally produced food near downtown Melbourne, Florida. David can be found most weeks at the Brevard County Farmers Market.  Look for a feature article on Sweet Leaf Aquaponics on FarmFreshBrevard.com coming soon.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Most honey sold in U.S. grocery stores not worthy of its name

Posted by: Emanuella Grinberg -- CNN

Most of the honey sold in chain stores across the country doesn't meet international quality standards for the sweet stuff, according to a Food Safety News analysis released this week.

One of the nation's leading melissopalynologists analyzed more than 60 jugs, jars and plastic bears of honey in 10 states and the District of Columbia for pollen content, Food Safety News said. He found that pollen was frequently filtered out of products labeled "honey."

"The removal of these microscopic particles from deep within a flower would make the nectar flunk the quality standards set by most of the world's food safety agencies," the report says. "Without pollen there is no way to determine whether the honey came from legitimate and safe sources."

Among the findings:

• No pollen was found in 76 percent of samples from grocery stores including TOP Food, Safeway, Giant Eagle, QFC, Kroger, Metro Market, Harris Teeter, A&P, Stop & Shop and King Soopers.

• No pollen was found in 100 percent of samples from drugstores including Walgreens, Rite-Aid and CVS Pharmacy.

• The anticipated amount of pollen was found in samples bought at farmers markets, co-ops and stores like PCC and Trader Joe's.

Why does it matter where your honey comes from? An earlier Food Safety News investigation found that at least a third of all the honey consumed in the United States was likely smuggled from China and could be tainted with illegal antibiotics and heavy metals.

Foreign honey also puts a squeeze on American beekeepers, who have been lobbying for years for an enforceable national standard to prevent foreign honey from flooding the market.

The Food and Drug Administration does not have a standard of identity for honey like it does for milk or other products, a spokesman said.

The lack of regulation is what enables potentially unsafe honey is able to make its way into the country, Andrew Schneider, author of the Food and Safety News report.

"Where there's no pollen, there's no way for authorities to confirm where the honey came from, so it's easy to smuggle illicit honey into the country," he said.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Florida Natives Simplify The Landscape

Written by:  Jamie J. Anderson