Twelve hundred pound of fresh, super-sweet, locally-grown, organic blueberries were on the trays of Alachua County students in 13 schools this week! Managers either served them fresh in a cup or offered them in yogurt parfaits.
As a new product for the schools, there were some challenges – from receiving to storing to packing and distributing. But lessons were learned and the results were great. A very informal survey – a couple of us walking around three lunchrooms asking how students liked them – yielded overwhelming acceptance by students and staff. By buying in bulk at the end of the season, we saved money, supported a local farmer, and offered great nutrition to our students. And GET students received more job skills training in weighing, measuring, food safety, and documentation.
Blueberries are considered a super-food, and we are fortunate they grow so well in North Central Florida. They were a nice finish for a fun school year of growing, purchasing, packing, preparing, and eating food grown by our community for our community.
Thank you, Donna Miller of D&J Blueberry Farms in Inverness!
We are thrilled to be working with a local blueberry farm – D&J Blueberry Farm – down the road in Inverness. This weekend they delivered our first batch of 200 lbs – with 1200 pounds more to come. Our GET students will have the experience of freezing blueberries and packing them into the cardboard flats they construct – and thousands of school children will be getting a taste of local blueberries, some for the first time.
Blueberries grow wild in North Central Florida, and many of us remember picking them as children. But not all families have access to land where blueberries grow wild, and due to their short, early season they can be relatively expensive to buy in the stores. We are thrilled to be able to offer them – fresh, local, and organic – to students in 20 district schools. We are hoping this will be the first step in a district-wide blueberry season to ring out the school year in the future.
We are grateful to D&J Blueberry Farm for working with us to get this quality, local fruit at a good price for both parties.
Students got to show off their work on Saturday when parents arrived for our Open House. Tours of the greenhouse and classroom area were followed by a visit to the “Grow Zone” (formerly known as the field plot) and the Eagle Nursery which is staffed by adults with disabilities, including one of our own graduates. It was a warm day, and families enjoyed a snack of lemon balm tea and cucumber salad prepared by the students. It was fun to see the place through new eyes and to see how much the students have learned this year while they led their families around the different areas.
Greenhouse Cucumber Forest
The field plot is surrounded by acres of woodland and is a beautiful place for our students to get out in nature and get some exercise (including the 1/4 mile walk to the garden). The downside of all this natural splendor is wildlife, and their appetite for fresh veggies. The first thing done to the field plot after tilling was to add deer fencing. It’s an ingenuious system, strung like a shower curtain on wires between poles. Last weekend, gates were installed to provide easier access for people.
In the photo above you can see the trailing vines of the “moon and stars watermelon” we are hoping will fruit by the end of the month, as well as the bolted lettuce from which the students are gathering seeds with the expert help of the Southern Heritage Seed Collective of Forage Farm. Also growing is a host of spring plants – tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, beans, peppers, roselle, okra, sweet potatoes… and even some cotton. The deer are out of the running, but the race is on between the students and the insects.