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Natural Awakenings Naples and Fort Myers

An Environmental Humanitarian: John Puig Honors Sustainability and Helping Others

Oct 31, 2012 07:24PM ● By Linda Sechrist

Gardening participants at the Garden at Eden

“It is the action, not the fruit of the action, that is important. You have to do the right thing. It may not be in your power, may not be in your time, that there will be any fruit. But that doesn't mean you stop doing the right thing. You may never know what results come from your action. But if you do nothing, there will be no result.” ~ Mahatma Gandhi

Until 2008, John Puig’s life path had largely been shaped by the element of water. After the sale of his marine-related businesses—Collier County Marine Canvas and Bristol Fashion Yacht Management—the Earth began to shape Puig’s life far more than he imagined was possible. With the intention of investing himself in meaningful work to honor the sustainability of the Earth and the future of our children, Puig elected to volunteer his time and expertise in sustainable practices, waste and water management and organic gardening at an orphanage in the Bahamas. He also lent his expertise to the Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization (ECHO), in Fort Myers, and the Collier County Public Schools school district, which allowed him to work hands-on with students and faculty to plant vegetable gardens, fruit trees and butterfly gardens.

Hoping that the local gardens would, like Alice Waters’ Edible Schoolyard Project at Martin Luther King Junior Middle School, in Berkeley, California, turn into gardening lessons linked to classroom studies, Puig planted at Avalon, Shadowlawn, Calusa Park and Veterans Memorial elementary schools; East Naples Middle School; and The Village School of Naples. “Although things didn’t evolve as I had envisioned, I feel that I did the right thing by introducing children to where their food comes from and to a lifetime relationship with the Earth,” says Puig.

In 2009, Puig and his new wife, Luzi, an organic farmer and native of Germany, began enriching the lives of students at Eden Autism Services’ day school in Naples, as well as the soil on an adjacent 10-acre parcel of land owned by the organization, whose mission is to improve the lives of children and adults with autism and support their families by providing a range of community-based services. The Puigs’ skills and values perfectly aligned with the goal of providing improved nutritional and vocational training for Eden students and participants, as well as other interested youth and community groups.

Luzi’s sons, 9-year-old Antonio and 6-year-old Saul, participated in garden classes as part of their homeschooling. The Puigs helped Eden create a Rent-a-Bed program to lease plots from late October through April, and offered a popular six-week introduction to organic gardening course.

Impacting children’s lives daily in the Eden garden brought meaning and personal reward to Puig, and individuals in the community that learned about his efforts provided support. One was Bob Newsome, a local farmer who met John and Luzi at North Naples Methodist Church in 2010. “When I heard John give a talk about the Eden garden, I knew he needed a small tractor. I approached a group of my friends and we donated money to buy one,” says Newsome, who teamed up with Elvie Engle, a local farmer from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, to start Collier Family Farms, in Ave Maria.

Liz Quinter, a single mother whose son, Mike, participates in Puig’s garden classes, is another big supporter. She is working diligently to keep the farm, composting and Rent-a-Bed operations going with the help of volunteers, while Puig fights a battle with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to keep Luzi, Antonio, Saul and his unborn son in the U.S. “Fighting the USCIS, which is trying to deport Luzi, takes up all my time now, and I can’t work the farm or conduct classes,” Puig explains.

Like other Eden students, Mike Quinter, who has Asberger’s Syndrome, has been positively affected by working with Puig. “Until Mike started gardening at the farm and became

The Puig family
The Puig family
fascinated with worm composting, I had to trick him into going to school,” advises his mom, who points out that Puig’s curriculum is about more than organic gardening. “John teaches them how to communicate with each other, as well as the valuable skills they will need to work and fit into the community, which means his contribution is priceless,” she enthuses.

Brooklyn Clemmens, a 17-year-old Eden student with a part-time job at a local Publix supermarket, admires Puig’s relationship with the Earth. “It’s part of him, like a sister,” says Clemmens, who appreciates Puig’s ability to evaluate people not by what they appear to be, but by what they do. “He sees through appearances to your potential, just like he sees beyond the dirt in his hand to the living organisms that outnumber the humans on Earth. I sure don’t want to see John and his family leave Eden permanently. Even if he won’t be here, he’ll still be an inspiration,” says Clemmens.

For information on Eden Autism Services or The Garden at Eden vocational training, 2801 County Barn Rd., Naples, call 239-992-4680 or visit EdenFlorida.org.

For more information about the Puigs’ efforts to remain together as a family in the U.S., visit Tinyurl.com/PuigPetition, where you can sign a petition to help stop the deportation of Luzi Puig and/or write a letter of reference to Florida Governor Rick Scott.

For more information about the Puigs’ efforts to remain together as a family in the U.S., visit Tinyurl.com/PuigPetition, where you can sign a petition to help stop the deportation of Luzi Puig and/or write a letter of reference to Florida Governor Rick Scott.

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