Editorial: Incredible Fruit Stand at Standstill
Peter and Marie Pittman operate a farm with which they grow seedling ornamentals and other plants in The Redlands. They then sell the young plants to commercial growers and distributors across South Florida.
Several years ago, they began trekking down to Marathon on the weekends to peddle their modest lychee crop on side of the road. These days, the majority of their time is spent south of the 18-Mile Stretch.
“We spend more time in Marathon than we do on our farm,” Peter told The Weekly. “Our friends are here, our church is here. Marathon is our community.”
Five years ago, Marie, with her background in education, and Peter were introduced to Educational Coalition of Monroe County (ECMC) founder Tina Belotti.
As the popularity of the lychee stand grew, and the Pittmans began offering a wider variety of fruits and vegetables to satisfy their customers’ requests, they wanted to find a proper local benefactor for the proceeds from the stand.
“We feel very strongly that the largest barrier in this country is with education,” Pittman continued. “ECMC provides programs that the school does not.”
Belotti said that without the profits from the Incredible Fruit Stand, it would be a nearly insurmountable challenge to bring renowned educators from across the country to Monroe County. She estimated that in the past five years, the Stand has funneled roughly $200,000 into the Coalition.
Each Saturday, the Pittmans, along with help from local volunteers, set up tents and offer as much produce as possible at incredibly affordable prices. Friends and neighbors catch up on happenings and local goings-on.
Though many walk or bike to the Stand with empty boxes and bags in tow, many drive their cars. Those cars often park on the sidewalk in front of the Stand set up in front of Crane Hammock across from K-Mart. The Florida Department of Transportation apparently has taken issue with that and ordered the Incredible Fruit Stand to Cease and Desist the operation, effective Nov. 30.
“The Stand is a mirror of the community it serves, and now it’s being ripped out of the community,” Pittman lamented. “ ‘The state’ is an inanimate object. They can’t own anything. This strip of land belongs to the people, the taxpayers.”
On numerous occasions, we’ve seen bikers diverted off the bike path into heavy oncoming traffic on U.S. 1. This week, we saw a mother struggling to maneuver a stroller around the giant orange cones as she tried to walk her child and a dog down the sidewalk. We here at The Weekly are wondering why, if FDOT is concerned with pedestrian safety in front of the Incredible Fruit Stand, why the bike path is still closed in numerous places throughout Marathon?
Letter to the Editor: Sick and tired of bullies by Benvenuti
We are sick and tired of DOT harassing Peter and Marie Pittman, the Incredible Fruit Stand and the Education Coalition of Monroe County (ECMC).
DOT claims that they are concerned with safety on the bike path in front of the Museums of Crane Point Hammock, but in the years that the Incredible Fruit Stand has been operating, I have never seen or heard of any accidents. At the request of the city, the stand has put up traffic cones and volunteers keep cars off the sidewalk. The museum staff have no problem with the fruit stand being there, why does DOT?
If DOT was really concerned with safety, they would be out on US-1 preventing those who are working on the sewers from blocking the sightlines of drivers trying to make turns in and out of the businesses. If DOT was really concerned with safety, they would have already installed a much requested and much needed traffic light at Aviation and US 1. If DOT was really concerned with safety, they would have completed the 18-mile stretch by now.
No, DOT is only concerned with putting up roadblocks for those who are helping this community. They neglected the Old Seven Mile Bridge until it became hazardous too drive on it. Now residents and visitors can only access beautiful Pigeon Key by boat and by walking. Effectively DOT has crippled the Pigeon Key Foundation. Now they want to cripple ECMC and deny many of our children access to the learning experiences of CAMP. Over the years, the Incredible Fruit Stand has raised tens of thousands of dollars to support activities for our kids. Can DOT say the same?
Where was DOT this summer when the grass in front of the museum was knee high, when the trash was blown across the street from the shopping center opposite the property? I can tell you where the Pittmans were; they borrowed mowers, put gas in them with their own money and cut the grass on Sundays – and not just where the stand was situated – the whole front of the museum property. Before they leave the spot, it is cleared of all trash – and not just their own.
We are tired of bullies trying to run our town. This past summer, the Marathon community got together to save The Brass Monkey from being evicted. Certainly, Marie and Pete, ECMC and the children deserve our support as well.
I urge all of those who have benefited from the Incredible Fruit Stand – whether they have kids who were in CAMP or whether they purchased the good quality fresh fruits and vegetables the stand is known for – call your city council, the city manager, the county commission, and the Governor. Let the Stand stay put and make DOT responsible to the community.
Marianne and Larry Benvenuti