This past November, the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture appointed Jean Sapp, co-owner (with her husband, Chris) of Promised Land Mangoes in Pineland, Pine Island, to the board of directors of the National Mango Board.
The purpose of the National Mango Board is to increase the consumption of mangoes in the U.S. through marketing, research and industry relations programs. Overseen by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, it is made up mostly of Central and South Americans, who are the largest producers and distributors of mangoes worldwide. Jean is only the second domestic (U.S.) mango grower, and the first female grower, named to that board.
Jean and Chris purchased their 40-acre Pineland grove in 1980. Planted in 1950, the trees produce 19 varieties of mangoes, but primarily the Haden Smith mango. Jean describes the Smith as "an excellent mango. It has fiber but isn't stringy, and it's ideal for freezing because it retains its shape and flavor. They have a peachy taste, with a hint of pineapple."
Jean Sapp at her Promised Land Mangoes in Pineland.
The motto of Promised Land Mangoes is "Better than Organic (BTO)" because no pesticides, not even organic pesticides, are used in the cultivation of the mangoes. The Sapps have protected their grove even to the extent of having a written agreement with Lee County Mosquito Control that itd helicopters will not spray the grove. In fact, they will not spray anywhere in the vicinity of the grove if a wind would drift the spray over their trees.
"We have the healthiest mangoes in the world because our trees grow in a healthy environment with no fungicides, no pesticides, no poisons of any kind," she said. "Poison is poison, whether it's organic of synthetic. If it kills bugs, in sufficient quantities, it will kill humans."
She explains that, "Commercial organic farmers can use pesticides derived from natural products. One of these natural products is nicotine, which has been used for centuries as a natural pesticide. These neonicotinoid insecticides are systemic neurotoxins and may be one of the leading causes of widespread bee colony collapse."
Honey bees and mango trees are abundant in equal measure at Promised Land Mangoes, for the Sapps are beekeepers as well as mango farmers. On Saturdays, you will find Jean in her charming little one-room store in the grove on Pineland Road where she sells her homemade mango and wildflower honeys, mango preserves, and chutneys. In season, of course, she also sells freshly harvested, "BTO" mangoes.
the way God
The Promised Land groves are also herbicide-free. Chris, a former criminal attorney and criminal court judge, who is, according to Jean, "a farmer at heart," chops weeds with a hoe, like his father did 60 years ago.
"My father had a little citrus grove out in Manatee County and people used to ask him why he had his boys out there sweatin' and choppin' grass when all he had to do was buy an herbicide tank and sprayer and pull it behind the tractor and just spray it on that Johnson grass and kill it dead," Chris said. "And my father would always say, 'I got three strong boys who sleep in my beds and eat my groceries. I got a shed full of hoes and files to keep 'em sharp. Why should I buy extra equipment and chemicals to kill that grass? What am I going to do with my boys? Let 'em sit on the porch in the shade and read comic books?'"
Chris is one of those boys, and to this day he controls weeds with a hoe because, "It's the right thing to do. We use too much poison in agriculture."
The Promised Land logo is "Farming the way God intended it." In other words, the Sapps allow nature to grow their trees.
Jean said, "Accountants say that if we can get five bushels from a tree, we should triple the number of trees and we'll triple the amount of fruit we get, but it doesn't work that way. When you crowd the trees, their root systems compete with each other for nutrients and the trees actually produce fewer mangoes."
"Our trees aren't 12 feet apart," Chris elaborated. "They're better than 30 feet apart. The wider spacing allows the root systems to spread out so the trees get more nutrients and produce more fruit. Wider spacing allows the trees to grow full canopies that allow fresh air and sunlight in and shade out the grass and weeds. When trees are crowded, you have to water them and then you get fungus and bacteria from water lying on the ground. You're chasing your tail constantly to buy chemicals to control the diseases and insects and herbicides to kill the weeds. All we do is control the vines with clippers, hoe the weeds and keep the trees open to sunlight and fresh air and the sea breezes that bring in nutrients from the salt water."
"We need more farmers."
Jean is as passionate about growing the number of farms in the U.S. as she is about farming without poisons, natural or synthetic. Her vision is that the U.S. become self-sustaining in the production of healthy foods. This past February, the board sent her to two forums in Washington, D.C.; one dealt with the role of women in agriculture and the other with the future of farming in this nation.
To move this nation toward independent food production, Jean envisions the establishment of urban farm parks in decaying U.S. cities. Urban farm parks would not only feed their communities, but would also provide an opportunity for people to learn farming so that, over time and with assistance, they can move out of the cities and start farms of their own.
"The average age of American farmers," Jean said, "is 65. The number of farms in the U.S. is decreasing every year. We need more farmers, more farms. We've got to start growing our own food. National farm parks could be a gateway out of the city and into the country."
As a member of the research committee of the NMB, Jean will also push for studies to help U.S. mango growers expand their farming operations over a larger part of the southern continental United States and Hawaii and that may also enable them to produce mangoes on a commercial level year round.
In the meantime, out in the Promised Land, the bees are making honey, Jean is whipping up mango preserves and butters, and Chris is valiantly defending his grove against the "pure meanness of those wild hogs that get in at night and bite the tops off of our baby mango trees." They'd be happy for you to stop by any Saturday for a visit.
For more information about Promised Land Mangoes, visit www.promisedlandmangoes.com, or call 239-369-3896.