Garden Toil

Melanie Schuller and her wife, Heather Schuller, tend to a big garden they've created for their neighborhood in Port Orange.

A garden grows in Port Orange. And like the tree in “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” this garden, and the couple nurturing it, represents hope.

They also represent a sense of community.

Melanie Schuller and her wife, Heather Schuller, bought their house just before Covid-19 hit. It didn’t have a backyard garden then. It certainly has one now. Bananas, beans, carrots, dill, kale, mango, pickles, tomatoes and watermelons are some of the crops that make up this veritable supermarket of home-grown produce.

Melanie is a lifetime Port Orange resident who owns a cleaning business. Heather has lived nearly her entire life in Volusia County and works as a voice data systems analyst for the City of Daytona.

Despite their full-time jobs, which they both spoke highly of, the couple spends 30 hours a week in the garden. Heather described the work as their passion. Melanie said, “This is what we do for fun, but we hope one day we can do this for a living.”

Planning the garden for seven years, they have been planting for one year.

“We just started on our own, just started reading about it and trying different things,” Melanie said.

They started with a few above ground beds. It was a slow beginning, as Heather recalled, “We kind of jumped the gun there and they (the beds) didn't really work out, of course we didn't want to give up and every time you fail, you learn something. I just kept reading and reading, just got more in detail about what we really wanted to do and what direction we were trying to go in. And we just decided to go bigger.”

Big enough to now grow small. As in microgreens. You may not have heard of them, but you've probably eaten them. They’ve become the hot staple on many dining plates.

“They're like sprouts,” Heather explained, “but they get a little bigger, they can be broccoli, radish, sunflower seeds, anything that grows to its regular plant size, it just grows tiny. You grow them in a real dense tray, and you just kind of cut them off and you put them on top of salads or on sandwiches or something like that. But they're four to 40 times more nutrient dense then if you let the plant grow to its full potential. So, they're becoming this new kind of craze.”

Soon the couple will begin approaching restaurants about buying their fruits and vegetables. Melanie said. “Once we get set up, we really just have to go have some conversations and then get a list of who's interested.”

Producegrower.com notes chefs prefer to buy the microgreens locally.

For Heather and Melanie, it is not only about the future business possibilities. It is also about giving to the community in the present day. They have made connections with local chapters of national organizations. The Daytona Beach Area Chapter of Jack and Jill of America, the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, and Rotary Clubs.

The Schullers will work with the organizations to create gardens tended by children and their families. The benefits run deeper than simply growing produce. Melanie and Heather like that their gardens will keep children off the streets and teach about healthy eating. All while learning a type of gardening that is better for the planet.

LaKisha Holmes, vice president of the Daytona Beach Area Chapter of Jack and Jill of America, commented on the opportunity to work with the Schullers.

“It’s a win-win, we are excited,” she said.

The first community-based garden will be in New Smyrna Beach, the second in Holly Hill, followed by Deland, a fourth location yet to be determined, also is being planned.

But you don’t need to be a member of a national organization to work alongside the gardening duo or simply enjoy the food. Their next-door neighbor, an 88-year-old gentleman, will come by to hangout, the dad across the street will visit and talk gardening do's and don’ts. Recently, a mom and her son stopped by to ask “how to” questions, work with the ladies and then took some food home.

In fact, leaving with food is common for all visitors.

“We give everybody food” Melanie smiles, “I take it to my clients, my mom loves to garden so she wants to take whatever we have, she trades off with us, we barter with my mom, but not on purpose.”

The community is noticing and recognizing their efforts. It is not uncommon for the ladies to hear a shout of, “Schullerville!” when they are out shopping.

They also are looking to branch out other areas, such as beekeeping for honey, a hotline, sitting places and a vegan food truck.

For more information about the Schullers' efforts, call (386) 627-3345.

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