Luanna Simmons and Patrick Garvey of Grimal Grove. REDA WIGLE/Keys Weekly

The back of Patrick Garvey’s Grimal Grove t-shirt advocates fearlessness: “Don’t be afraid to go out on a limb; that’s where the fruit is.” Garvey, who has owned the Big Pine property since 2013, is no stranger to limb-seeking. Having weathered hurricanes and dire financial straits, the grove is finally bearing the fruits of his labor as “an edible community park and place for gatherings,” as Garvey describes it.

Garvey bought the property in 2013 but the dream of an agricultural haven on the lot began in 1955 when original owner Adolf Grimal broke ground. “He dynamited the property, built concrete walls, trucked in soil, and created his own Garden of Eden, traveling around the tropical world and collecting all these rare species of edible plants.” After Grimal died in 1997,  the property fell into ruin. 

Garvey previously worked for the Department of Children and Families and as a food-focused community organizer. During his government tenure, he created an edible garden at a food stamp outreach site that engaged hundreds of people Keyswide. Bolstered by the success of that experience and a passion for permaculture, he poured the entirety of his savings into purchasing what would become Grimal Grove. “It was a mess, but I had a dream. I saw this magnificent mango tree amidst all this garbage, and I had a vision.”

Breadfruit thrives at Grimal Grove. PATRICK GARVEY/Contributed

Guided by that vision, Garvey spent four years restoring the grove. As it neared completion in 2017, Hurricane Irma leveled the site, leaving the mango tree upturned and little more than the stalk of a breadfruit tree standing. Devastated but undeterred, Garvey began rebuilding. “You have to reset; you have to reinvent.” Inspired by the resilience and versatility of the breadfruit tree, Garvey shifted his focus. “Out of every tree we planted the first time around, only the breadfruit survived. It was basically a seven-foot stick, every branch was down and still, within 18 months it was producing fruit. One tree can feed a family of four for a lifetime.” While he continues to grow other fruits and tend to other trees, breadfruit has become Grimal Grove’s primary crop. 

In addition to holding ground through perilous weather and being an excellent food source, breadfruit can be used to make booze. Garvey has partnered with St. Croix-based Mutiny Island Vodka, a spirit made from breadfruit, rainwater and yeast and distilled using solar power. Mutiny will be on hand and congratulations will be in order Friday, Sept. 17 and Saturday, Sept. 18, when Garvey opens the gates of the grove for its inaugural Grimal Garden Gala. Event coordinator Luanna Simmons explains, “It’s an introduction to the Grove. We’re trying to connect the Lower, Middle and Upper Keys and get people introduced to an edible landscape, to foraging, and to learning about what their backyard could be like.”

Free and open to the public, the two-day event will feature the work of local artists and a vintage popup shop curated by Simmons. Food vendors will offer breadfruit-based dishes and Mutiny craft cocktails. For those who want to imbibe without having to drive, shuttle service is available from Key West to the Grove for $15 per person. (For shuttle reservations contact Simmons at 305-290-9051.) “It’s an excuse for everyone to come out, see some art. … There’s a missed opportunity there. We’re so isolated that we should be all integrating our connections and businesses,” said Simmons. 

The revelry begins Friday, Sept. 17, from 5 to 9 p.m., with the opening of the vendor village and yoga in the grove led by Kristin Peterson. Guests will hear the musical stylings of Scott Marishen, lovingly described by Garvey as “the third best jazz harpist in the world.” (For yoga reservations email [email protected]

Saturday, Sept. 18,  from 8 to 11 a.m. features the vendor village, fruit tours and a fundraiser for the Boys and Girls Club. The gala also celebrates the new partnership between Grimal Grove and the Conch Republic Marine Army. The two organizations are joining forces to create a mangrove nursery. “Mangroves protect us from hurricanes and storm surge; they lower salinity levels in the water, helping coral reefs. It’s the beginning of our mangrove stewardship; we’re going to be teaching people that live here about what this environment means,” explains Simmons. 

For Garvey, the mangrove nursery initiative aligns with the ethics and mission of Grimal Grove. “The future is resilient communities. I want to teach people how to be sustainable. I want to empower people. Not only are we trying to feed our people, we’re also trying to improve our environment.”

Grimal Grove is both the limb Garvey went out on and the branch he wishes to extend to his community. “I want to offer the space for everybody,” he said. “It’s meant to be shared. I’ve been dreaming about this and next Friday I get to share my dream with others and make it a reality.”

REDA WIGLE is a middle child and Taurus Fire Tiger named after a stigmatic saint. She divides her time and affections between New Orleans and Key West.