An old fruit-tree grove gets new life on Big Pine Key (video story)

rmccarthy@keynoter.comApril 30, 2014 

Growing Hope Initiative President Patrick Garvey points out macadamia nuts growing on one of the fruit trees at Grimal Grove on Big Pine Key. Garvey purchased the property in November and has been working to restore former owner Adolf Grimal's vision of a fruit grove.

RYAN MCCARTHY

One of the Keys' most unique properties is in the midst of a major facelift thanks to a nonprofit group headed by Marathon resident Patrick Garvey.

A once-flourishing fruit-tree grove on Cunningham Lane on Big Pine Key, the 1.76-acre Grimal estate had fallen by the wayside in recent years. It was overgrown with invasive plant species, became a homeless encampment and accumulated $850,000 in code fines from Monroe County.

But Garvey saw its potential from his first visit there in 2011, created the Growing Hope Initiative and purchased the land. Since then, it's been a labor of love he hopes to turn into an "edible community park and also a skilled sharing center."

See Garvey explain the history of Grimal's grove here.

So far it has about 35 tree species, including mango, lychee, bay rum, soursope, even cacao.

Garvey said the park could eventually serve as a place to hold local photography, painting and yoga workshops.

"It's not just about us dictating what it would be; it's the community having a voice in directing that," he said.

"We want to reestablish what Grimal had on the property. He probably had twice as many trees on the property. We want to replant all of those and specialize in some things we have interest in," Garvey added.

Adolf Grimal came to the Keys in the 1950s, an eclectic inventor interested in underwater photography, Garvey said.

Somewhere along the way, Grimal became fascinated with exotic fruit trees, which led him to create as many as 25 -- Garvey has yet to tally them up -- "microclimates" with varying soil depths throughout the property. They range from 6-foot-by-8-foot beds to larger 40-foot-by-30-foot ones.

Grimal created the beds by dynamiting cap rock, a practice that wouldn't fly in today's highly protected Florida Keys.

"He separated all the soils and made these beds, trucked in soil and filled them up and went around the world collecting rare fruit trees," Garvey said.

"He chose this property because it's one of the highest elevations above sea level. It's about 6 to 8 feet, which is big time in the Keys, and then you also have an aquifer under it, which helps with any saltwater intrusion," he added.

Grimal's vision for the property died when he did in 1997. It eventually became a community eyesore.

Enter Garvey, a Canada native who worked for several years in Key West for the state Department of Children and Families.

"I was tasked with food-stamp outreach," he said. "While I was working with that program, I realized we really weren't teaching people to create their own self-sufficiency. I felt my mission was to empower families that way," he said.

Garvey wrote a grant to create edible gardens at food-stamp outreach sites and eventually decided to leave the agency and work on a farm in Homestead.

Garvey was introduced to Grimal Grove in late 2011 and by the winter of 2012 was "clearing the property on my own and identifying the fruit trees."

Working with attorney Frank Greenman, who took the case pro bono, Garvey was able to reduce code fines from $850,000 to $50,000 in July 2013 and his Growing Hope Initiative purchased the estate in November.

Thursday, Growing Hope is hosting its inaugural Sunflower Fest featuring Celtic band Scythian and Key West-based Love Lane Gang. It scheduled to run from 5 to 8:30 p.m. and admission is $10. Kids 12 and get in free. The address is 285 Cunningham Lane on the bayside.

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