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.

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Blueberries! (The rest of the story)

Lake Forest blueberry eaters 2

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.

Donna Miller of D&J Blueberry Farms in Inverness

Thank you, Donna Miller of D&J Blueberry Farms in Inverness!

Blueberry season!

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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

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.

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.

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!

Persimmon picking

persimmons are to north florida as orange pumpkins are to most of the rest of the countyG.E.T. students at the Farm to School Hub picked persimmons today that will be served as a snack for 1600 elementary school children next week. Ken Hawes of Jonesville Persimmons provided tools and bushel baskets, and two helpers assisted the students in harvesting.

These are the Fuyu variety, which are non-astringent even when not quite ripe. If you have ever bitten into an unripe, astringent variety, you  know why the tomato-shaped Fuyus were chosen instead!  Although persimmons are native to our area, many of us have never tried one. We wanted the students tasting these for the first time to get the best possible introduction to this yummy, local fruit.

While enjoying their snack, students will learn a few facts about persimmons.  The name “persimmon” is from the Algonquin word pessamin. These Native Americans dried the fruit like a prune and ate it throughout the winter. When Captain John Smith of Jamestown tried the fresh fruit he is said to have remarked, “If it be not ripe it will drawe a mans mouth awrie with much torment; but when it is ripe, it is as delicious as an Apricock.”  The variety we picked today is the result of the exploration of another American, Commodore Matthew Perry, who brought persimmon trees back from Japan. These Japanese trees were grafted onto native trees throughout the southeast, resulting in the varieties we eat today.

Persimmons are a good source of fiber and high in Vitamins B and C – a healthy snack we think our students will learn to enjoy snacking on as much as we enjoyed picking them! picking was aided by long-handled persimmon nippersat the weigh station