Pine Island Botanicals feeding the island for over a decade
Christine Lindsey, also known as the “Sprout Queen,” says what makes Pine Island Botanicals different is that while small farmers tend to focus on seasons or crops, this is year round for them. In her words, they are 5 acres of growing and raising what they can, in order to supply businesses like Little Lilly’s Island Deli, Tarpon Lodge and El Pollo Rico, among other places.
“We have customers that can get product from us pretty much all year round,” said Lindsey. “Right now the heat has been testing us. We are growing lettuce greens, and anyone who’s ever tried to grow lettuce greens in heat knows it’s not a simple process.”
She went on to explain that tomatoes, for example, don’t set fruit once a certain temperature is reached, as they need it a bit cooler in order to set.
“At the end of the day,” said Lindsey, “we live and we breathe this. We wake up to it, and we go to bed to it.”
With over 300 domestic fowl, consisting of chickens, ducks and geese, which are not sold for meat but for eggs only, along with a full farm of fresh grown fruits and vegetables, Pine Island Botanicals is a full-time job for Lindsey and her partner, Michael Wallace. The farm’s birds get tested every six months, which certifies Lindsey as a legitimate poultry breeder, enabling her to sell fertile eggs, chicks and adult chickens legally across state lines.
“It’s a program called the National Poultry Improve-ment Program,” said Lindsey.
Wallace and Lindsey both explained that although you may see the word vegetarian when buying eggs, there are no vegetarian or vegan chickens, and also, cage free could mean 100,000 chickens in a 50-square-foot warehouse. Wallace said everyone needs to be careful of misrepresentation by people selling eggs. Lindsey explained that a chicken cannot lay an egg or grow feathers without protein.
From orchids growing in a live oak tree to 10 different bromeliad varieties, ferns, bamboo, madagascar peanuts, philodendron, dragon fruit, there’s no end to the prolific nature of Pine Island Botanicals.
Wallace said the goal is to share what they’re doing, not only by feeding the locals but also through education.
“We do tours out here,” said Wallace. “We educate people about what they can grow and it doesn’t take that much. I use no chemicals or synthetics on the farm.”
As far as the biggest seller they have, Wallace said people seem to gravitate to whatever is in season.
“We keep planting so we can expand the seasons. We have mangoes from May until November,” said Wallace. “There are that many varieties. We can have avocados almost every month of the year.”
He said they can get as much as 20-30 pounds a day from just the couple of guava trees they currently have and that he makes it his business to plant something every day. He also says everything that is not able to be recycled by the county, he and Lindsey recycle themselves by composting. He attributes this continuous composting to the reason they have more soil than sand on the farm.
Lindsey explained how the sprouts get harvested in a tub with a couple of inches of water after they’re cut. She takes out the most desirable sprouts and they get transferred to a screen for drying before being packaged for orders or stored in the refrigerator until they’re needed.
“I’m very particular about when my stuff gets harvested,” said Lindsey. “It all has to do with nutrient levels, shelf life and taste. Most people won’t notice the difference in taste, shelf life and nutrient level, but I will.”
Lindsey explained that although the general public often refers to things overall as sprouts, in reality they are micro-greens, according to the actual definitions given by the USDA. Official sprouts, she said, are grown by only using light and water. Despite having only attended a one-day seminar on things she now does every day, Lindsey gives the credit of her knowledge to her mother and grandmother, who always kept gardens while she was growing up. In fact, as a child, Lindsey said she wanted nothing to do with learning how to keep them.
“I was a member of the Florida Native Plant Society’s, local chapter” said Lindsey. “We took a field trip out here to see how people had planted natives in their yard.”
She explained that a woman was growing wheat grass for her cat and told Lindsey about the health benefits associated with wheat grass, which began her own studies on the benefits of raw food for healing. Lindsey said she has had customers with cancer as late staged as their deathbed reach out to her to say thank you. She said people are just now beginning to realize the importance of eating well.
Pine Island Botanicals is at 12571 Aubrey Lane, Bokeelia, FL 33922. For additional information, call 239-222-9494.