Florida Uncommon Edibles

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Our Sustainable Living Team seeks out experts in a variety of fields that are on the ground growing a movement of sustainability right here in our own backyards. Our goal is to share these innovative ideas, lifestyle choices and knowledge with the public in hopes that we can broaden dialogue and provide options for action in our own lives that lessen our impact on the natural world around us. 

Recently we sat down with a farmer that takes an unconventional approach to growing food. Josh Jamison is an agriculture manager at Heart Village, which is a faith based non-profit that has created  edible demonstration gardens that provide practical skills to volunteers interested in helping assist in the fight against world hunger. For Josh, the knowledge he has gained in the last 11 years with Heart is not only important as a weapon against famine overseas, but important in the fight against climate change right here in Florida.

Many of us can probably relate to planting a garden and finding that the results didn’t meet our expectations. Florida is a unique climate with high humidity, hot temperatures with wet and dry seasons. Many of the conventional foods you find in the grocery store like tomatoes, cucumbers or corn are difficult to grow in Florida and require lots of amendments to improve soil condition and keep pests at bay. 

What Jamison and his colleagues at Heart have done is to focus on planting food crops that are adapted to our climate and have a high yield, but require little input as far as fertilizers and pest control. Jamison explains that many traditional lettuces and leafy greens in Florida can’t be grown in the hot, wet summer months. Alternatively, Jamison advises that there are more than a few perennial green leafy plants that are well suited to our climate that can be grown easily without replanting or significant risk of loss due to drought or pest pressure. 

“We have lots of perennial leafy greens that we are able to eat through the warm season, about 8 months out of the year. Chaya is one of the lesser known perennial leafy greens that tolerate tropical weather,” said Jamison. Chaya, also known as “Tree Spinach” is a 10 foot tall leafy green that grows from cuttings and produces edible leaves that must be boiled and taste like collard greens. Jamison boasts of its high content of protein, fiber, calcium, iron and vitamin C. It produces in abundance and requires very little work to grow. Other perennial greens that were mentioned are a great addition to your salad that produce all year long are sissoo spinach, and katuk. Fruit trees can be added to any yard to provide food right out the front door.  Mangoes and jackfruits are well suited to our warming climate. Jamison advises that anyone interested in growing food should look into heavy producers like papaya, mulberry and carambola. Mulberries taste like a sweet version of a blackberry and are quick to produce from a cutting. Growing from a cutting is a great way to know that you are getting a variety that produces well. Papaya on the other hand grows easily from seeds and can produce fruit the first year it is planted. Not only can the fruit be eaten when it’s sweet and ripe, but it can also be peeled green and eaten raw or cooked as a vegetable. 

Anyone interested in finding these plants can find Jamison and a plethora of other experienced gardeners on Facebook’s Tampa Gardening Swap, or reach out directly to Jamison at Heart Village by calling (863) 638-1188. Tours of the village are open to the public, but must be scheduled in advance. 

Tanja Vidovic, Grace Behnke, Evan Greenfield, Jared Vidovic

Sustainable Living WMNF 88.5FM