Patrick Garvey: Steward of the Keys’ ‘Fruitful’ Future
Patrick Garvey owns and operates Big Pine Key’s 2-acre fruit farm Grimal Grove, billed as the first breadfruit grove in the continental United States. Breadfruit is a starchy cantaloupe-sized fruit that can be used like a potato, bread or even as a custard when ripe.
Tucked away at 258 Cunningham Lane, Grimal Grove is scheduled to reopen Jan. 11 as a Florida Keys breadfruit research site, agritourism attraction and educational park.
Garvey was born on Canada’s Prince Edward Island, and as a child often stared out at the sea, dreaming of adventure. He graduated from Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, with a history degree and did post-graduate studies at St. Vladimir’s Theological Institute in Yonkers, New York.
In 2006, two years after coming to the Florida Keys to visit his brother, Garvey began working as an analyst for Florida’s Department of Children and Families.
In 2011, he founded Growing Hope Initiative, a nonprofit community food movement with educational programs, retreats, dinners and festivals. Today the organization manages Grimal Grove’s community activities.
Garvey purchased Grimal Grove, once owned by hermit Adolf Grimal, in 2013 and slowly restored it, planting a variety of rare and unusual trees. While much of the grove was destroyed by Hurricane Irma in September 2017, that ultimately became the catalyst for a greater vision.
In addition to overseeing Grimal Grove, the Big Pine Key resident also manages Key West restaurant Blue Heaven’s mainland tropical fruit grove in Florida City. He recently took the time to discuss his environmental passion and projects.
Keys Traveler: When did you first come to the Florida Keys and why?
Patrick Garvey: February 2004. It was freezing in Canada when an opportunity to work at a watersports company serendipitously popped up. I didn't know much about the Keys, but I figured it beat the alternative.
KT: What aspects of the Keys environment or way of life matter most to you?
PG: Being an islander, I love the laid-back lifestyle, water and the weather. The discovery of tropical fruit trees growing in the Keys sparked a new adventure.
KT: Who or what inspired you to become passionate about respecting and protecting the Keys’ natural world?
PG: While working at DCF, I started a local food movement called Growing Hope Initiative in response to the lack of education about where our food comes from. I was exposed to a book called "Florida Keys: History of the Pioneers" by John Viele and was intrigued about the history of farming in this unique environment.
KT: How does that passion influence your work or profession?
PG: My passion is to grow food sustainably and to educate others. Sustainable agriculture is necessary to meet our food needs and protect the environment. I discovered a legendary tropical fruit grove known as the "Old Grimal Estate," designed by a reclusive genius, Adolf Grimal. Once upon a time, it was an agricultural wonder in the Keys. I coined it Grimal Grove and took the biggest risk of my life. The method applied at Grimal Grove is a form of agroforestry. Because of my work, I've met many interesting and amazing people who are passionate about our environment and our food culture.
KT: What keeps you energized, challenged and focused on your path?
PG: The awareness that being responsible stewards of our environment is our duty for the next generations. We must leave our children a healthy environment, and we must engage and teach them this practice. It's really amazing to see the kids enjoying the green space at Grimal Grove. Seeing their expressions when they taste and learn about fruits we grow at the grove is priceless.
KT: What do you hope your positive environmental actions will accomplish?
PG: I hope more people will plant more trees in the Florida Keys and elsewhere. The planting of trees is one of the best practices to reduce climate change. I hope people will plant more fruit-producing trees and discover the delicious tastes and health benefits.
KT: What message do you want your actions and example to communicate to people you encounter?
PG: Growing fruit trees in the Keys is possible and fun. It is a much healthier practice for both the environment and your body than buying fruits from the grocery store.
KT: What’s your favorite natural or eco-friendly activity in the Keys?
PG: Before tackling Grimal Grove, I loved to sail. Now my time is devoted to growing and teaching about tropical fruit. I also love fruit hunting in the Lower Keys.