Seeds of Paradise In Sarasota
Miles Brown gently rubs the moist soil between his fingers and thumb; he looks content and smiles as he admires the baby cantaloupe. The Seeds of Paradise Garden is the work of Miles Brown and Kanani Kekahuna, two visionary gardeners.
They greet me enthusiastically; eager to share the progress over the past few months and to discuss the future plans for the garden.
Both Miles and Kanani bring over twenty years of extensive gardening experience to the project, and they light up as they share their intentions which are unlike any other in the county. They envision Seeds of Paradise becoming a model for micro-agricultural programs statewide, where the homeless and working poor community acquires gardening skills to become food self-sufficient. Kanani is passionate about creating a garden in which individuals and families that have recently been ‘homed’ by Streets of Paradise have access to nutritious fruits and vegetables. She hopes that the garden will serve to inspire healthy eating and hands-on learning for children with curious young minds.
The gardeners have encountered their fair share of challenges. Miles tells me that while the soil may look rich, it does not maintain moisture because it lacks organic matter. He is currently testing a mulch and compost combination, which is producing the delicious-looking cantaloupes. He is actively experimenting with mixing up the planting medium in the hopes of facilitating the best taste in the crops. Miles and Kanani direct me towards a large mound of dark, loose soil, covered in decomposing leaves with thriving earthworms. Miles explains that the moisture-rich mixture has a specific chain of bacteria that release nutrients that plants thrive on. Miles describes this as the “Seeds of Paradise Secret Planting Mix.”
Miles is a highly ambitious gardener, and he intends to build raised beds out of large tree trunks to transfer the cantaloupe to higher ground. The food-growing program is well underway, and they currently have leeks, green beans, peppers, red onions, avocados, mangoes, tomatoes, cantaloupes, basil, shallots, onions, mint, basil, Italian parsley, snap peas, beets and lemongrass. The gardeners recently planted peach and plum seeds and the saplings have just broken through the ground. They walk me to the covered sprout house where the gardeners are nurturing baby mangoes. They envision the sprout house becoming an integral part of the program where they will grow peas and corn. They are deliberately choosing high protein, low-cost, easy to prepare foods that align with the Seeds of Paradise Garden’s mission. The enthusiasm that Miles feels for the garden is contagious, and I find myself captivated. He cultivates the garden with the loving care of an attentive parent pointing out pineapple pups along a plant’s base, mango babies all while discussing parent plants. Admittedly, my untrained eye would have missed the miracle of new plant life and the wonder at work in Seeds of Paradise.
An area is set aside for a Zen Memorial Garden that will be dedicated in loving memory of Jabez Spann. Plans for the Zen Memorial Garden include stepping stones created by the Spann family and Jabez’s classmates. The Spann family will plant The Tree of Life they received at Jabez’s funeral. By the time I leave the garden several hours later, with countless bug bites all over me, I’m amazed at the magnitude of the gardeners’ accomplishments and the sheer beauty.
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“The garden suggests there might be a place where we can meet nature halfway.” – Michael Pollan
Photos by Colin Reisner.