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Natural Awakenings Naples and Fort Myers

Mike Greenwell’s Most Valuable Produce

Oct 02, 2013 01:32AM ● By Linda Sechrist

Mike Greenwell, owner of 31 Produce, an 80-acre farm and farm market located on State Road 31, in Alva

From the World’s Largest Wooden Nickel in San Antonio, Texas, to the World’s Largest Donut in Inglewood, California, the U.S. has hundreds of roadside attractions that appeal to traveling tourists. Alva, Florida, got its very own World’s Largest Strawberry Man two years ago, compliments of Mike Greenwell, the owner of 31 Produce, an 80-acre farm and farm market located on State Road 31, in Alva.

“I got the idea from the roadside attractions that I saw while traveling. A couple of my friends helped me build the 10-foot, two-inch statue out of a steel frame and huge blocks of foam, which we trimmed to the shape that we wanted and then painted. It draws a lot of visitors who like to have their picture taken with it,” says the retired Boston Red Sox baseball player.

Four years ago, the family-owned, drip-irrigated working farm, which offers pick-your-own locally grown fruits and vegetables, started as Greenwell’s much smaller hobby garden. “While I was playing major league baseball, I had a garden in my Boston backyard simply because I found gardening produced the reward of relaxation and a peaceful mind,” he recalls. “After I retired from the game and we were living in Alva full-time, my wife Tracy and I were watching a TV program about all the produce that is being imported into the U.S. After we commented to each other about how we are slowing being poisoned by toxic pesticides in store-bought food, I said to Tracy, ‘We have the land, let’s grow a nice big garden without using any chemicals.’ Since I’m a typical guy with a big tractor, I decided to grow a really, really big garden and got carried away,” quips Greenwell.

Greenwell’s garden yielded far more produce than he and Tracy could eat or preserve. Overwhelmed by the bounty, they donated a significant amount to local food banks. Rather than letting the excess go to waste, Greenwell put up a 30-by-50-foot tent where he and Tracy sold their produce to local residents and travelers. “We manned the tent for one full weekend. On Sunday, when I saw 30 cars parked in the front of the tent, I decided it was time to start a U-pick farm and build a permanent farm market,” says Greenwell, who grows 70 percent of his own produce and purchases what he doesn’t grow from other local farmers.

Depending upon the time of year, visitors can find beefsteak, cherry, grape and yellow tomatoes; greens, including kale, mustard, collard, Swiss chard, cabbage and lettuce; squash varieties such as acorn, butternut, patty pan, yellow summer and zucchini. Some of the farm’s unique pickings include dragon fruit, the strawberry pear and the strawberry onion. One of the most unusual crops grown is loofah. “Everyone is surprised to learn that the loofah is really a subtropical vine that produces a fruit which can be cultivated and eaten at a very young stage,” advises Greenwell. “When the fruit has fully ripened, it is very fibrous and makes an excellent scrubbing sponge.”

In addition to its freshly harvested produce offerings for those that choose not to pick their own, the farm market has a full bakery and sells the family’s homemade prepared foods, such as ice cream and yogurt, as well as crafts and log furniture made by local residents. A new mining operation gives kids and adults the opportunity to pan for gems, crystals, fossilized Florida seashells and shark’s teeth.

Greenwell gives farm tours on which children have the opportunity to see his son’s young quarter horses, raised for the sport of barrel racing, as well as the chance to see where their food comes from. He recollects that the idea for offering tours was a spontaneous response to a teacher’s request. “I agreed, and when she showed up with 175 kids and 71 parents, I was astounded. The tour went so well that she spread the word, and now we work with schools as far away as Naples. Every time I hear a little 6-year old say, ‘But I thought strawberries came from Publix,’ I feel really good about what we do here. More than just a farm, 31 Produce is a fun and healthy destination for families,” enthuses Greenwell.

Location: 31 Produce, 18500 St. Rd. 31, Alva. For more information, call 239-313-8213 or visit LeeCLFarms.com.

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