Karen Harty is an edible gardening fanatic. She started out her life with a Mom that had a frugal-lifestyle. Her first job, at 14 years old, was working in a nursery propagating plants. Since then she has been a non-stop edible gardener and is honest enough to admit that she has been killing plants ever since.
Karen successfully ran a freelance graphic design business for over 30 years and retired at age 50. But did she really retire? Read on.
After moving from Pennsylvania to Lehigh Acres eight years ago, she couldn't explain why she was unsuccessful growing veggies that she used to grow. With a hint of selfishness, she started the Edible Gardening Exchange as a means to acquire professional speakers on topics of interest to edible gardeners.
Wanting to reach more people with her newly obtained knowledge, Karen and Edible Gardening Exchange members began teaching a 12-hour Grow A Gardener program. The program, originally designed for youth, took on an older audience because of a typographical error in the newspaper stating "ages 8 and up".
In 2013, Karen became a UF/IFAS Lee County Master Gardener and leader of the VegHeads 4-H youth club. With Lee County Master Gardener assistance, the Grow A Gardener program continued to develop and mature. As a Master Gardener, Harty began teaching about tomatoes, propagation, organic controls, a crash course on veggie gardening, and growing vitamins.
In 2014, she assisted the Lee County UF/IFAS Extension office as "Volunteer Agriculture Program Coordinator" until the need for edible gardening education expanded to beyond just Lee County. Karen continued teaching both adults and youth.
In 2015, she created the non-profit Grow A Gardener Inc. a non-profit organization named after her signature program. Karen spoke at locations in Lee, Hendry, and Charlotte Counties on many edible gardening topics.
Throughout 2016, in addition to speaking in three counties on edible gardening topics, midyear Karen cleared an adjacent 1/4 acre and installed a food farm of fruits and vegetables then added a bee garden. Karen honestly notes that everything is still a work in progress and she is pooped.
Early in 2017, Karen's focus moved to educating youth on edibles and she ran several 4-H youth programs: Five-county 4-H Citrus Program for SWFL Fair, Lee County 4-H FunDay, and VegHeads 4-H Club Leader. The adult Edible Gardening Exchange, after eight years and 96 classes taught, was retired in March.
Upcoming Fall 2017, Karen will be partnering with Lee County 4-H to teach edible gardening classes. These classes will be free to all 4-H youth, 4-H parents, and 4-H leaders/volunteers. They will also be open to the general public for a fee to help cover the costs for the class.