Big pests and small

Our educational center adjoins heavily forested area where many deer live. The gardens are a tempting dessert to the brush and grass they usually make a meal of. Last year, the deer were in the garden beds as soon as we were – leaving their little hoof prints all over the freshly tilled earth the night after it was tilled. One of our first big construction chores was to build a deer fence.


first deer fence project – September 2014

Later, when deer found a way under it, we filled in some gaps and installed sturdier gates.

gates 4.15 - rob and daniel

deer fencing amendments – spring 2015

Now, with an additional, and much larger, garden area, we are building a new deer fence – attached above the original chain link one. Things were going great until we got to the area adjoining the woods and realized what a tick infestation looks like. Work was halted immediately, and we just hoped the deer would not realize how easy it would be to jump over the current fence. After a recent cold snap, we wondered if the ticks might have become dormant, but who wanted to find out?

Last week, our friends at the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, came through again, when Entomologist Jeff visited our site. He gave a presentation to the students where they could view different types of (dead) ticks close up.

tick observation

tick in a bottle

Jeff explained how ticks ambush people and animals by standing on their back legs on plants and waving their arms, waiting to sink their little clawed hands into someone’s loose clothing – and why it is so hard to pull a tick off once it has embedded itself (little hooks on its mouth too).

tick jeff

Explaining how ticks grab onto passersby.

Then Jeff did a “trick drag” through the previously most infested areas. No ticks!

tick drag

tick drag

The cold has knocked them back temporarily, and our students are working quickly to get the fence up before they inevitably wake up again in the spring.

tick fence

fence builders at it again






Students enjoyed harvesting carrots this week – in an assortment of colors. These joined carrots purchased from The Family Garden farm and were featured in their classroom taste test  – plus taste tests at Loften High and Lake Forest Elementary. Students were there from seed to plate (to tummy). It feels miraculous to us all.


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.

Farm to School to Work Hub “Grand Opening!”


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