We’re on!

KYV - first lettuce 1.6 cropped

Francisco of KYV Farm in neighboring St. John’s County

We have lettuce! What a terrible season for lettuce El Nino brought  us. Way too warm and wet for it, whether growing at the Hub, in school gardens or on local farms. But FINALLY, after months of waiting and hoping, the first local lettuce was delivered to the Hub. Students packed it today, and it goes out tomorrow to 23 local elementary schools. Whoo.

In December, right before the break, we were able to gift the students with some juicy, sweet Satsumas from Wayde Alford’s citrus groves.

Here he is meeting with the students – a Real Farmer!

Wayde Alford with citrus

Wayde Alford with citrus

And here they are packing the satsumas:

Students packing and labeling satsumas for delivery

Students packing and labeling satsumas for delivery

And here is our driver taking the oranges to the schools:

marcus with satsumas 12.10

It’s been a very slow start, but the students are learning both the challenges and the rewards of farming. It takes a lot of good work from a number of people (and some weather cooperation) to make this happen. but it’s happening.

SafeStaff training for our students!

Congratulations to our four SafeStaff-trained students!

Congratulations to our four SafeStaff-trained students!

The students who are with us everyday form the backbone of our program – in the kitchen, the greenhouse, and the garden. Food safety is an important part of their training and Daniel, our kitchen coordinator, has been methodically working through the SafeStaff handbook with them to make sure they are getting the basic training that every kitchen staff member should have.

Recently, four of our students, hand-picked by Daniel for their level of knowledge and experience, attended an official SafeStaff class taught by certified trainer Blake Dicks. Because the material was familiar to them, both from the book and in their experience working in the kitchen, they were very attentive during the four-hour class and participated right along with food service staff from across the county.

Today, Jan Benet from the Exceptional Student Education department joined Maria Eunice, Director of Food and Nutrition Services, and Blake, their trainer to give the students their official SafeStaff cards.  The Friday class celebrated with them with cake and strawberries. This is a wonderful first step toward finding good work for these great young people. Their hard work and professional knowledge and skills in the kitchen are going to make them an asset in future work environments.

Congratulations, students!

It takes a village - and we have a very supportive one at the Farm to School to Work Hub.

It takes a village – and we have a very supportive one at the Farm to School to Work Hub.

The other side of farm-to-school

gville sun photo

We were so excited to find this great article on our Farm to School program on the front page of the Gainesville Sun last week!  While the amazing and beautiful hydroponic lettuce production has gotten a good deal of press lately, it’s harder to get the newspaper to feature the more mundane and routine side of getting large quantities of farm-grown food on the lunch tables.

This story includes a tired and sunburned farmer, a field of farm workers, harried school accountants, and 1600 pounds of lettuce loaded on a trailer each month on its way to the back door of our processing kitchen. It also includes our beautiful students decked out in hairnets and plastic gloves.

Cheyenne and Miranda go through checklist for receiving produce

Cheyenne and Miranda go through checklist for receiving produce

Arthur records harvest on a spreadsheet

Arthur records incoming lettuce on a spreadsheet

It’s not as pretty.

But it’s so important! THIS is our little part of a viable local food system! The farm growing our lettuce is the first one in the southeast to receive the “Agricultural Justice Project” certification. The farm workers at the Family Garden farm work for a living wage! And our students, waiting on the other end for the produce delivery, are learning valuable skills in food safety and accounting that will hopefully lead to meaningful work in their post-school lives. And all that (organic, restaurant-quality) lettuce, handled with care and driven all over the district in a plain-jane refrigerated truck, will end up on the plates of some students for whom this will be their only fresh vegetable today.

This article in Orion magazine describes well what we are working to do on a small scale at Loften now. We are excited about plans to grow a larger food hub in our region in the near future. It’s a good direction to be heading if we want healthy children, healthy farms, and a healthy local economy here, in this community.

Reduce, reuse, recycle…

Cardboard boxes vs. RPCs. We know who should win this competition.

Cardboard boxes vs. reusable packing crates. We know who should win this competition.

Reuse is a challenge in food service due to food safety concerns, but we are doing our part. Students are learning about separating recyclable trash, composting waste generated by gardening and food preparation, and experimenting with the special packaging requirements for hydroponic lettuce (paper does not do the trick . . . we’re still trying).  Recently, through our Farm to School grant, we were able to purchase reusable packing crates – also known as RPCs – which will help reduce the number of waxed cardboard boxes in the landfills. RPCs are being used to transport lettuce from both local farms and our greenhouse to the lunchroom. In the process, students are using their food safety skills as they work with staff and volunteers to wash and sanitize the crates as they head back into the cycle. This is another way the Farm to School to Work Hub is keeping it local and keeping it healthy – for our students, our farms, and our environment.