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Broward garden club members reap the fruit of their labors

Twice a week, members of the Rare Fruit and Vegetable Council of Broward County get their hands dirty.

But the payoff is worth it.

“It’s nice to come out here in the fresh air. It’s nice to watch the things grow,” said George Maggio, who takes care of the vegetables at the garden. “When you take them home, oh boy, do they taste good!”

The club, founded in 1975, owns three acres in Southwest Ranches on which its members grow 350 varieties of rare fruits, vegetables, plants used for medicinal purposes, herbs and spices. Among their bounty: Monstera deliciosa, a long green fruit that tastes like a pineapple and mango mixture; eggfruit, a bright yellow fruit that, when mixed with milk, tastes like eggnog; and barbados cherry, which has one of nature’s highest concentrations of Vitamin C.

This is in addition to the jackfruits, carambolas and mangos that are beloved by Florida horticulturists.

“We want people to know that there is more than just oranges and grapefruit,” said Karim Rossy, who has been part of the club for 13 years.

Of the club’s 150 members, many joined hoping to grow the fruits and vegetables they had enjoyed while living in the Caribbean or South America.

What makes this club different from most gardening clubs is that the Rare Fruit Vegetable Council owns the land.

Lush and tropical

The garden, decorated with every shade of green, has a nursery area and a greenhouse with rows of plants getting ready to be sold. Tomatoes and other vegetables grow in the raised beds, and trees are filled with mangoes and bananas. Small labels let visitors know what they are looking at.

“We provide a facility for people to come and learn primarily about tropical fruit, plants and trees,” said Murray Corman, the facility’s manager.

The club has a core group of 30 who regularly come out to tend the garden. Each member has the choice of what responsibility to take, and how often to come.

The garden is open to the public only twice a year for tree sales. The only other way for a nonmember to visit is by making a special request.

The club also sponsors monthly meetings with lectures by a guest speaker on a rare fruit or vegetable at the Broward County Extension Service, 3245 College Ave., Davie. These are open to the public.

It is at these meetings that the club members will share the fruit they have grown. Club members usually set up a tasting table, and offer jams and pies.

“The whole idea of this club is to share your fruit,” said Cindy Pinera, who has been a member for almost 20 years. “A lot of times you get an overabundance of fruits, so we bring it in and share it.”

The tasting attracts many new guests, and even brings a younger crowd interested in trying the fruits and vegetables.

James Jones, 22, got involved because of his mom’s interest in the club. He completed his high school volunteer hours by helping out at the garden.

“I could have chosen something easier to do my [for] hours, but this was not boring,” Jones said. “It was outdoors, and I exercised.”

Like a family

But the Rare Fruit and Vegetable Council of Broward County is more than just a club — it is a family, members say. At a recent meeting, Harold Morgenstern celebrated 100 years of life and more than three decades in the club.

“It is a family affair,” said Morgenstern. “We are a group, and as active members we work together to build our place.”

At 100, Morgenstern attends only the monthly meetings, but previously put many hours of hard work into the garden. Today, he prides himself on being one of the founding members and being able to name more than 100 varieties of rare fruits and vegetables.

“When you come out to the nursery, you always learn something — it’s not always work,” said Richard Bolt, president of the club. He hopes to expand the club through its website, www.rfvcbroward.org, and to continue helping the members learn through the monthly lectures.

“We want to get the word out,” said club member Karim Rossy. “We reap the fruit of our labors.”

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