December Harvest of the Month: Green (and purple and yellow) Beans!

tri-color green beans

John Bitter, of Frog Song Organics in Hawthorne, called us in early December about an over-abundance of tri-colored green beans they had on hand.  Green beans are labor intensive on both ends – harvesting, and trimming for cooking. But what a difference in fresh and frozen (or canned) beans! Our lunchroom staff were enthusiastic about taking them on (as a once-a-year treat), and were amazed to see them change color in the steamer. Students and their families really appreciated the fresh locally-grown “green” beans in the annual Christmas dinner before the winter holidays began.

A big thanks to Amy Van Scoik and John Bitter for this holiday treat!

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Harvest of the Month: Sweet Potatoes

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Sweet potatoes grow in the heat of summer and store well in the cooler months. They are loaded with vitamins and… they’re sweet. Students like them! Our talented kitchen managers decided how to serve them – some baked them, some served them as wedges. They made a great addition to the Thanksgiving meal served at schools before the break began.

Thanks to Danny Johns of Blue Sky Farm in Hastings (the potato capital of Florida) for growing them!

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Harvest of the Month: Persimmons!

 

persimmon-cardsWe think persimmons might just be the new citrus. Persimmons are native to Florida, but so few Florida children have ever had one!

We served Japanese persimmons, a non-astringent variety that is sweet before it softens. Students ate them out of hand, but they are delicious cut up in salads or pureed and served as a topping for yogurt or ice cream parfaits.

Plus they’re orange, so just right for Gator football season.

Thank you, Roy Brown and family of Brown’s Farm in Hawthorne!

 

Harvest of the Month: Muscadines!

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In September, we purchased a thousand pounds of delicious muscadine grapes to serve at lunch at 24 schools!

Muscadines grow in the wild here in North Central Florida – and all over the southeast US. They are much smaller (but delicious) and help support a variety of wildlife, including deer, raccoons, and squirrels. Native Americans ate them, and early European immigrants began cultivating them.

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Native grape growing in nearby woods

Laray Thompson, of Thompson Nursery and Vineyard in Valrico grew ours. Before she became a grower, she was a teacher and was thrilled to know that her grapes would be heading to our food hub to be repacked by students for students.

To encourage students to give them a try, the Food and Nutrition department created educational signage for the lunch line as well as trading cards for elementary students to bring home with them.

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A lot of students tried this local gem of a fruit for the first time this week. We are working on persimmons, another Florida native, for October’s Harvest of the Month.

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Lake Forest student likes grapes!

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Lincoln students enjoyed them too!

Arthur is now a school employee!

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Arthur serving up breakfast at Lofton High School 

Arthur, one of our first students at the Farm to School to Work Hub, was hired by Food and Nutrition Services to work at Lake Forest Elementary School  and Lofton High School kitchens. He is receiving full benefits and the opportunity to continue to grow and develop as an employee – and to move up the career ladder.

Arthur was a team player from the beginning, encouraging other students and working hard to learn how to grow food and practice food safety. When he became an intern at the school last spring, he quickly showed himself to be an asset to the team at Lake Forest. They wanted to hire him – not because they wanted to support the program, but because Arthur is truly a great employee.

We have a two-fold mission at the Farm to School to Work Hub – one is to get local food in the school meal programs, the other to prepare students with disabilities for life post-graduation. We are looking forward to more students following in Arthur’s footsteps. We have two more interns heading to schools this month!

 

The blank slate of a new year

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Turning in the summer’s cover crop.

It’s a new year! Anything is possible!

On the docket:

A new processing kitchen – New walk-in cooler is almost ready and more equipment is being ordered. We will be able to store and send out more farm-fresh food than ever before.

Expanded garden – We are planning an amazing teaching orchard where  visiting students can learn about (and taste) the fruit we grow here.

New farm to school items on the menu –  We have been busy testing the new kale salad at five schools over the past week and a half. It’s going on the school-wide menu, folks!

It’s gonna be good.

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GET student Matthew assists Daniel at the Westwood Middle School Taste test

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Kelly, another great GET student, serving up the salad at Littlewood.

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Littlewood Lions liked it!

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So did these Westwood Whirlwinds

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This little guy from Norton gave it a try.

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Finley Elementary is on board too!

Summertime

watermelon in the field

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And the livin’ is easy (er)…  Students are enjoying (really!) a month of summer school during June – harvesting, cleaning up, and covering some of the beds for the summer.

Summertime in the south offers the kind of garden/farm respite that winter does up north. While some things don’t mind the heat, a lot of things we like to eat just can’t survive the high temperatures and humidity – and the plethora of pests. So garden work and workers take a rest – and we spend more time indoors, huddled around the air-conditioning vent, evaluating, reporting, and planning.

But first, harvest! Students have enjoyed snacking on cherry tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers. And today, they harvested some watermelons to try out in a taste test. Since these are heirloom varieties, they are also saving the seeds for next year. Needless to say,  this is one of their favorite summer school activities.

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Which melon do you like the best? 

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Mike saves a watermelon seed – while enjoying its delicious fruit

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What a busy and productive year this has been at the new location! New staff, new grants, new students, and a ton of new processes, procedures, and reports! But the core of it all are the students who work hard ever day to get fresher, healthier food to fellow students while gaining job skills for themselves – and the thousands of students their good work benefits.

Getting a group photo was next to impossible (there are 9 full-time students, 30 part- time), but we grabbed the ones in the field one day before many of them left for the summer, and we got what we got.

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Here are a few more photos from earlier in the fall. Good kids, growing along with the program.

Carrots in the Kitchen

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Willard, a graduating senior, has been working in school gardens since he was in middle school!

Orange glazed carrots are being served in two pilot schools this month – grown by students for students!

Carrots are a farm-to-school challenge. They grow pretty well here and keep VERY well. But there is extra work involved in cleaning, peeling, and chopping. We are working on getting food processors in the kitchen to help make this easier on the staff. Meanwhile, we are grateful for the work they are doing to help make this good food available to students.

What a difference over frozen and canned! The students loved their natural sweetness and soft crunch.

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This Lake Forest Elementary School student tried a carrot – and then ate  the whole bowl.

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Nine students are at the Farm to School to Work Hub every day from 9:00 am until 3:00 pm (depending on the buses). Between 20 and 25 additional students visit us four to five mornings each week, as community based training participants, to help with the garden and other chores while learning how their particular gifts and skills can be put to good work.

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Those 30 students and the work they do reaches way into the school district and the community. This year 25 schools are receiving produce from both the Hub and from local farms, most of which is received and packaged at the Hub. Approximately 18,500 students regularly see local produce on their lunch lines.

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Over 100 students and their teachers and chaperones visited the Hub on school garden field trips where students joined in garden chores, learning about seeds, plant parts, compost and decomposition – followed by a nutrition lesson and a fresh-from-the-garden snack.

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Twenty teachers learned how to grow a successful school garden and are right now recording harvests for lunchrooms in 15 schools, where 8,340 students are being offered dishes featuring vegetables grown right in their schoolyard.

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Finally, close to 300 community members visited the Hub in April for the Open House where they learned about garden design, beekeeping, and composting and enjoyed a lunch made by a school program in Jacksonville – Berry Good Farms –  that helped mentor us as we began to grow our program.

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There is so much to be learned from a healthy, local food system – and a lot to be learned, too, about how to grow one. Working with students to create a learning environment where questions can be explored and good work accomplished is the epitome of “hands-on education.” We all grow in that environment.