Joe Pearson, a personal trainer in Lehigh, had a dream a few months ago to do something that would put Lehigh on the map in the way it helps its people and along with the support of Dave Deetscreek and the Admiral Lehigh Golf Club, that dream has grown to a huge reality and Pearson says it is still in the infancy stage.
Four months ago he began to think what could he and others do to help him provide fresh produce to people in Lehigh who need food. That dream is coming into fruition now as crops are beginning to come to harvest.
Boil it down to simple words: Pearson, with the help and sponsorship with many Lehigh business people and associates, has created a massive garden on the easterly end of the Admiral Lehigh Golf Course.
Joe Pearson and Rick Jacbob, right, are shown at the boxed community gardens. Jacbob is the person in charge of the nearby golf course.
He's raising food and lots of it.
And it's fresh, very green, and there are no weeds and problems with insects because Pearson has done his homework.
"Oh when the thought came to me, I thought what and how do I do this, so I did some research and went on the Internet and read and found other resources to learn how to become someone who could grow crops, all kinds of crops," Pearson said.
Anyone who knows Pearson knows he will do and finish what he says he will do and this latest project, one of Lehigh's best kept secrets by many, is working and working so well that folks who get food at Lehigh Community Services and members of the Senior Citizen Center are going to be some of the first benefactors of the upcoming bountiful harvests.
"I want the Southwest Florida community to know that not only are we known for our low major crime rates now, but now I want to promote Lehigh Acres as a community to help provide for the state of Florida, healthy choices for all ages.
This starts with education, and we actually conduct classes in nutrition, fitness, morning stretchy and of course, gardening to name a few," said Pearson
And it's all going to take place at the Gardens at Mirror lakes Golf Club, as it has come to be know now.
There will be classes for those people mentioned above in the mornings, places for people to come and volunteer and a very beautiful place, too, because with the massive gardens already developed by Pearson, more is to come and also coming are more landscaping.
"It's really going to look nice," Pearson said. "It'll be a place to relax and enjoy the outside and see all the crops growing in large boxed gardens that have been built by Pearson and friends.
He has been able to get truckloads of mulch from the county and each boxed garden, which measures several feet wide and long, have been planted with all kinds of crops.
Each boxed garden is sponsored by a Lehigh business or person who Pearson said believes so much in the project that writing out a check to help get it going was no problem.
"We've got great people in Lehigh who support these kinds of projects. And these crops when harvested are healthy and good for the people who will be receiving them with other food passed out by Charlotte Rae Nicely, executive director of Lehigh Community Services.
Pearson has almost become a garden guru because he has learned how to plant flowers and shrubs and other plants that will attract the right insects to pollinate the plants and reject those that would do it harm. Things like planting marigolds around certain plants keeps the worms and other irritating insects away. Planting certain other things does the same thing; shows off the beauty of the planting, but shoos away the bad insects.
"So far, I have not had to use any pesticides on any of our gardens out here," he said with pride. We keep the weeds out and everything looks good. I water the plants and do others who help me," he said.
So far, Pearson and company have some 18 large boxed-in gardens which means they are planted with a boxed in area of wooden frames maybe 12 inches high.
"Look over there. Our Romaine lettuce is almost ready to be cut and when I do, more will grow right back. That lettuce really looks good," Pearson said.
Helping him too, is Rick Jacbob, who tends to the golf course for Admiral Lehigh Golf Club.
"It's been a quiet secret what He's been doing out here," said Jacbob said.
Not only are there "garden crops," but Pearson has planned and has planted banana plants of several varieties, which will make excellent food filled with potassium and the plants will grow hundreds of bananas when full maturity comes.
There are also the beginnings of some palm trees that he has planted which will make the area attractive.
"This area near the golf course and owned by Admiral Lehigh Golf Club, has not been used for anything. They gave me an opportunity to do something with it, something good for the community.
"I've talked to some of our elected representatives and they love the idea and maybe we can get this going all over the state. And we are also planning to help people learn to raise such boxed gardens in their own backyards," Pearson said.
"We are always in need of volunteers and also welcome organizations to contact us to get involved. We are looking for church groups, senior centers, schools, group organizations and kids' organizations to come join us and have fun.
"We encourage everyone to visit our website at healthyharvestfarms.org and they can also join us on Facebook.
"Though I had the initial idea, without the help of David Deetscreek and Mirror Lakes Golf Club this project would have never come to fruition. They have been the catalyst in making this happen with such ease and speed. A huge thanks to them and everyone else who has helped make this dream a possibility," Pearson said.
The 18 differed large boxed gardens have signs posted on them with the name of their sponsors, who have helped pay for the project including the wood and the plantings of the seed and more.
"It shows how much these people care, and we are looking for more sponsors because we are going to add a large amount of the plot off the golf course to even more gardens and also to rows of gardens where taller crops can be planted along with rows of such things as strawberries and beans." he said.
After two months of having this idea, Pearson said they are "proudly starting to harvest and donate to the community what they have harvested.
The current beneficiaries of the yield is Lehigh community Services and the Lehigh Acres Senior Center.
"We are also talking with the Kiwanis Club as well as others that are interested in participating. The community support has also been amazing with many of our local businesses sponsoring the boxes. This has a great potential to promote our community in the positive light that it deserves.
"Our commitment to this project is 100 percent so if you see me coming then run, or I'll have you gardening with me," he laughed.
Pearson says he is planning tours of the "farm" off the golf course and is planning to invite both Boy and Girl Scouts to see what can be done and hoping they and their leaders may want to volunteer, too.
And on Saturdays, Pearson and his supporters, are planning on offering gardening classes. More on that soon.
If you go to HealthyHarvestFarms.org online, you will see more about what Pearson is calling "a community garden project that combines sponsorship and rental opportunities to benefit the less fortunate with healthy alternatives.
In addition, Pearson said they also offer a rental program that can be harvested by individuals for their own use. The rate for both sponsor and rental incudes the box or boxes of their choosing, the medium and a choice of the current season's vegetables or fruit.
"The Gardens' final design includes a beautiful setting in which community organizations, groups and others can visit and experience peaceful and tranquil atmosphere.
"Whether touring the or just sitting by a waterfall or fountain and taking in the beauty with a good book. All will find their own special memory to take home," Pearson writes on his online site.
Although he hasn't officially asked, it's a safe bet that if you want to donate such ornamental plantings as palms or other tropical plants, Pearson will glad to take them, replant them, and take care of them.
But if you want to take care of them, it's a pretty sure bet that he will be glad for you to come on out and help and do what he says is "enjoying the fun."