Hydroponic lettuce harvest = fresh, local salads for four schools

Arthur and Matt carefully bag lettuce

Arthur and Matt carefully bag lettuce

G.E.T. (Growing Education Training) students harvested 150 heads of beautiful mixed lettuces – the first of a continuous stream of weekly harvests from their amazing NFT table. Wearing gloves and hairnets, students carefully trimmed the root ball of each head before gently wrapping it and sending it on its way to the cooler. From there, the lettuce was transported to four schools – Duval, Metcalfe, and Lake Forest Elementary schools, and Loften High – for inclusion in their school lunch.

Willard with the first lettuce harvest

Willard with the first lettuce harvest

on its way to the kitchen

on its way to the kitchen

This harvest was the culmination of hard work and a lot of learning on everyone’s part – from following written and oral instructions to set up the complicated system, to mixing the nutrient solution, to checking and recording pH levels daily, to monitoring plant growth and trouble-shooting a nutrient deficiency. The students were there at every stage of the life of a lettuce plant, truly a “seed to plate” experience for them.  They were thrilled to share the process with some of the kitchen staff who will be serving it to students this week.

Kitchen staff and district dietitian visit the greenhouse during harvest

Kitchen staff and district dietitian visit the greenhouse during harvest

Thanksgiving: Celebrating the first harvest

heading back to the classroom with  basket of arugula

         heading back to the classroom with basket of arugula

Today students created a beautiful salad with their field-grown arugula and greenhouse lettuce, basil, and chard. Possum Hollow Farm donated some amazing greens to the salad, and Megan brought along some colorful fruit for toppings to illustrate her nutrition lesson on vitamins. This was their first harvest, and a real celebration of the hard work they have done in the field and in the greenhouses, raising plants from seed to plate. You can see in their faces how proud they are of their work and how pleased to be able to enjoy the fruits of their labor in such a tangible way.

greenhouse forest

             greenhouse forest

adding their harvest to the salad

               adding their harvest to the salad

digging in

                digging in

Tomorrow, 150 heads of lettuce will be harvested from the NFT table in the greenhouse. Students will hand-carry the lettuce, root ball still attached, to the kitchen for weighing and boxing up for children in four elementary schools who will be in enjoying it in their salads.

Tudorel said yesterday that he feels good about growing things because he knows he is doing something good for others. That’s one of the beautiful things about a local food system; you can see and know all its parts. The patient saving of seed, the careful sowing, the watching-over, the mindful trouble-shooting, the joyful harvest. . . it’s a wonder. Many wonderful folks lent their hands to this first harvest, and we are all grateful.

Cheers!

                 Cheers!

Farm to School to Work Hub “Grand Opening!”

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Arthur shows School Board Superintendent, Dr. Roberts, the lettuce that he is growing for school salads

What a great day for our students and for the local food system! Local government officials, school board members, donors, and friends were given tours of the facility and treated to a lunch featuring food from less than 100 miles away. Gainesville Sun coverage here, WUFT coverage here, and the school board’s own coverage below. We are so proud of this project and looking forward to the first greenhouse  lettuce harvest one week from today!

From School Board of Alachua County Website:

“Thousands of additional pounds of lettuce, cucumbers and other fruits and vegetables grown at school and on local farms will be finding their way onto the school lunch plates of Alachua County Public School students this school year thanks to a new initiative based at the Professional Academies Magnet @ Loften High School.

The initiative, called the Alachua County Farm to School Work Hub, is the result of a collaboration between the school, various district departments and a number of other public and private partners. The aim is to give participating students the opportunity to experience first-hand the process of bringing food from ‘seed to plate’ and to include more locally-grown produce in school meals.

Since the beginning of this school year, teachers in the district’s Exceptional Student Education program, with assistance from experts from the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences and the Forage Farm, have been helping special needs students start up both indoor and outdoor vegetable production programs on the PAM @ Loften campus. Outdoors, students are growing vegetables that will be allowed to go to seed. Students will save the seeds for future use, and the plan is to expand the outdoor growing area to produce additional fruits and vegetables for the district’s school lunch program.

Indoors, two aging greenhouses have been renovated to include a state-of-the-art hydroponic system for growing lettuce and peppers and producing plants for gardens in other schools.

Meanwhile, in collaboration with the district’s Food and Nutrition Services Department, the school’s kitchen is being prepared to become the new collection and processing facility for both the student-grown produce and produce from local farms to be distributed to fifteen local schools. Already students have processed and packed persimmons and grapes that were distributed to more than 1500 elementary school students. Along the way they are learning job skills including the proper handling of food.

The Farm to School Work Hub initiative has received significant support from other community partners, especially the Shively Foundation, Lowe’s, the local affiliate of Keep America Beautiful, the Education Foundation of Alachua County, Watson Compost, and Dr. Kim Kazimour.”

Matthew gave tours of the shade house

Matthew gave tours of the shade house

Tudorel with the school garden transplants

Tudorel with the school garden transplants