Islanders use dream home to teach lessons about sustainability
Galveston Island’s 22 Lemons Farm is less about the lemons and more about “teaching how to make the lemonade,” said Gina Spagnola, who with her husband, Bob, are developing the 33-acre property on the island’s West End.
When completed, the farm will provide students with “live-off-the-land” learning opportunities in agriculture and aquaculture, the Spagnolas said.
“Our primary goal is to serve students from kindergarten to high school and educate them on different methods of conservation and farming,” said Gina Spagnola, president and CEO of the Galveston Regional Chamber of Commerce.
Students can learn to garden, take care of animals and discover the importance of sustainability,” she said.
The Spagnolas already have partnered with Galveston’s Upward Hope Academy, a private alternative school, and hope to enlist local 4-H and FFA groups to participate in farming and animal care.
“Our kids don’t have the land available to them to learn about agriculture and farming and to work with animals,” she said. “It’s part of our plan to build a barn and invite them to use it and to cultivate a space for gardening and let the kids farm it.”
22 Lemons Farm is adjacent to Galveston Bay Foundation property, and the Spagnolas are hoping to work with Texas A&M University at Galveston in implementing marine technology and to incorporate wind energy and promote the importance of renewable alternatives into the learning plan, they said.
“We want to teach children how to catch, clean and cook local fish,” she said. “We want to teach them to use rain barrels to collect rain and the importance of using wind to harness energy. We want to teach them how to grow their own food and harvest eggs from the chicken coop.”
Spagnola plans to use fresh eggs from the farm to make pasta and bake bread in the dream home she and Bob designed together.
The Spagnolas combined their small-town upbringing — she’s from rural Arkansas and he’s from Victorian upstate New York — with their Italian ancestry to create a charming farmhouse filled with antiques and family heirlooms. The couple has spent a lifetime collecting stunning wood pieces from around the world — refurbished and repurposed — and combined them with fun Texas elements of design throughout the house.
Each room combines something old with something new. A collection of aprons spanning generations hangs near a cupboard of hand-painted plates and bowls Gina Spagnola scored on a recent trip to Italy. Grandpa’s rocker and grandma’s cookbooks are next to a modern collection of Italian art. Ancient wooden doors frame rooms with Texas-inspired fans and light fixtures.
“My mother and grandmother always insisted on hand-picking special items for their homes and I learned from them,” she said. “They taught me to think about the people who ate at this table or walked through that door every day. The stories behind each piece are important.”
Gina Spagnola, who has led the Galveston Regional Chamber of Commerce since 2004, refers to her four-gable-designed farmhouse as “the home that Galveston Chamber built” because, whenever possible, the Spagnolas hired or bought materials from local businesses, they said.
“We used locals for everything: from the electrical work, to the window installation, to the floor and lighting refurbishing,” she said.
“What I love most about Gina is her deep love for the kids and her desire to give back to the community,” said Bob Spagnola, who is the property’s general contractor. “Her joy isn’t just in building our dream home, it’s in being able to share it.”
Gina Spagnola for years has worked with children in the community. She and the Galveston Regional Chamber of Commerce team began the local Lemonade Day in 2012. The program encourages entrepreneurship among young people who use the lemonade stand as a business plan. Students are tasked with creating, marketing and financing their own original venture.
The farm’s name comes from her fondness for Lemonade Day and because number 22 is a family favorite.
“When we met, we discovered that both of us had the same lucky number,” said Spagnola who married Bob, a professional boxing manager, in 1991. “That was just one of the things that sealed our fate together.”
Their daughter, Caroline Grace, 25, is a Realtor who lives in Houston.
The leap to teaching students about sustainability wasn’t a big one for the Spagnolas, Gina said.
“We both grew up in rural America and we always knew that we would return to those roots,” she said. “I think folks these days are yearning for simpler times, a simpler way of life. Farming is becoming a lost art, of sorts. If Bob and I have an opportunity to share our land and heritage and know-how with the younger generation, then we would love nothing more. Because when life gives you lemons, you need to teach the next generation how to make lemonade.”
Gina’s 22 Lemons Farm Lemonade
2 cups water
1½ cups sugar
1½ cups freshly squeezed lemon juice
7 cups cold water
Simmer 2 cups of water and 1½ cups of sugar to dissolve the sugar. Cool to room temperature and chill.
Squeeze 1½ cups fresh lemon juice and refrigerate.
To serve, combine 7 cups cold water, chilled sugar syrup and chilled lemon juice.
Serve over glasses filled with ice and garnish with lemon slices, strawberries, blueberries and/or cherries for color and an interesting twist.