By B.C. Manion
The owners of an organic gardening shop in Odessa weren’t always into organic food.
They eased into the world of foods grown without chemicals.
They began by gradually changing their diet about eight years ago – stocking up on fresh fruits and veggies at farmer’s markets, said Melissa Kanaris.
As their interest intensified, Melissa and her husband, Pete, decided to help others grow their own food.
They opened GreenDreams, an organic gardening shop in Odessa, last year. Its primary market area includes Odessa, Wesley Chapel, Lutz, Land O’ Lakes and North Tampa, as well as communities in West Pasco and North Pinellas counties.
The organic gardening business is a division of Clean Cut Lawn & Landscape Inc., a landscaping company that Pete Kanaris has been operating for 12 years.0
Melissa Kanaris extols the virtues of homegrown foods on GreenDreams’ website.
“The flavor surpasses anything you’ve bought recently from the store,” she writes. “The vitamin and nutritional content is far superior. Every day that a vegetable is off the vine, it loses a significant portion of its nutritional value.”
She also writes about the intangible rewards of gardening.
“There is a sense of satisfaction watching this natural wonder that you’ve helped to create, grow. Every day you see changes in the garden: Plants grow, flowers bloom, fruit forms on the vine and vegetables seem to grow right before your eyes.”
She notes other benefits, as well.
“It is a wonderful learning experience for kids. It teaches them self-sufficiency, responsibility and work ethic. Donating surplus veggies to neighbors or your local food pantry helps them understand the importance of tithing and community.”
There’s an emotional component, too.
“It lifts your spirits. It is really hard to be in a melancholy mood while you are touching and smelling the gifts of Mother Earth,” observes Kanaris, whose family has been gardening for generations.
GreenDreams, at 14510 Black Lake Road, has a small retail room stocked with gardening books, heirloom seeds, organic fertilizer and a botanical-based pest control.
Out back, there’s a nursery, where assorted trees and plants are available for purchase and various gardening techniques are on display. There are plants growing in roof gutters, recycled milk crates and vertical garden towers.
The company also has a small classroom, where Eric Stewart, a GreenDreams employee, teaches classes three days a week. The classes are typically around $15, but there are also four free classes each month.
Stewart is a huge proponent of helping others to become more self-sufficient. He’s heavily involved in the organic gardening community and has a website, www.codegreencommunity.org, which features a wide range of information on gardening topics.
At GreenDreams, Stewart teaches an organic vegetable gardening class, offers instruction on pickling and canning foods and teaches Introduction to Permaculture. Permaculture emphasizes using science, ecology and perennial plants to provide a sustainable source of food.
“It’s all about self-sufficiency. I think that’s definitely the basis of this business – teaching people how to take care of themselves,” Kanaris said.
“We work with edible perennials, a lot of things grow very well in Florida without a lot of care,” Kanaris said. “It isn’t just traditional garden plots and fruit trees.”
Both Stewart and Kanaris are enthusiastic about the maringa tree, which comes from northern India.
“They can get as tall as 40 feet,” Kanaris said. “These leaves are full of nutrition,” she said, while grasping a branch of the tree. “They have four times the vitamin C of oranges.”
Stewart calls it the anti-aging tree.
“It’s high in polyphenols, which are antioxidants,” Stewart said. “The more you eat, the younger you look and the more vibrant you feel.”
The company also sells blueberries and assorted trees, including olive, apple, nectarine, peach, macadamia nut and neem trees.
Vegetables are not grown at the Odessa site, but the company will get vegetable plants started for their customers.
“We make little soil blocks,” Kanaris said. “Then they can plant those in their gardens.” A tray of seedlings, with 50 plants goes for $40.
Beyond selling gardening supplies and providing classes, the company offers consultation services that include soil testing, sunlight and drainage assessments, pruning instructions, mulching and composting and advice on vegetable gardens, perennial vegetables, fruit and medicinal trees, edible bushes and vines, native and pollinator plants and the incorporation of livestock, such as chickens, ducks, rabbits or goats. They also can discuss such issues as drought tolerance and rain harvesting.
Consultations typically take a couple of hours and cost $130.
The company also offers installation of various kinds of gardening systems, including raised beds, vertical gardens, greenhouses and drip irrigation. The cost varies, based on the specific job.
“We’ve done a couple of jobs where the basic installation was two 4-by-4 raised beds and two stackable towers and you do that for $950. That’s with soil, without plants and with mulch around the base,” Kanaris said.
In their own yard, in New Port Richey, Kanaris and her husband replaced existing plant beds of variegated viburnum with heads of broccoli, heads of cabbage, turnips and lettuces.
“It doesn’t have to be in a traditional rectangular garden plot. We’ve even tucked it in along our fence lines,” Kanaris said.
Stewart thinks an increasing number of people are interested in growing their own food not only to be healthy, but to save money, too.
“We feel like it’s going to be more and more attractive,” Stewart said. “The cost of food has been skyrocketing.”
For more information about GreenDream’s services, classes and hours, call (727) 462-5326, email or visit www.greendreamsfl.com