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FOG develops “Learning Garden” at Fred Cone Park Community Garden to engage and educate Gainesville youth

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A cotton harvester – an example of the modern mechanization of agriculture.
Photo credit: Kimberly Vardeman

As FOG’s Education and Outreach Coordinator, part of my interest is to contribute to developing a strong local food system. What does this mean? First, allow me to say that it is telling of how far removed from the source of our food we have collectively become that we need to use and define terms like “food system.” Simply put, a food system is how we obtain our daily bread. This includes the phases of growing, processing, packaging, and distribution.

Like many other aspects of our modern world, our food system has largely become industrialized and globalized. That is, the production and distribution processes rely on energy-intensive practices and a worldwide network of growers and distributors. While the technological advancements we see around us are amazing, there is a price to pay, particularly when it comes to food.

Although there are benefits of a globalized, industrialized food system, like eating tropical fruits out of season from around the world, there are also many costs. Costs to nutrition, the environment, economy, and equality. With a global network of food producers and distributors, how can it be that many people now have less access to fresh, nutritious foods than in previous generations?

The answer lies in the centralization of food production and distribution. Depending on access to these markets, physically and economically (or a lack thereof), community members may be left languishing in a food desert. A food desert is an area defined by the absence of access to fresh, whole foods. For those of us living in Gainesville, we don’t have to look far. Much of Gainesville (see map) is considered a Food Desert according to US Department of Agriculture statistics (shown as blue areas) defined as low-income Census tracts where a significant number or share of residents is more than 1 mile (urban) or 10 miles (rural) from the nearest supermarket[i]. One solution for addressing food deserts is to increase food production through community gardens. This increases access to fresh foods by growing them where they are eaten, condensing the food system to the local or even neighborhood scale. In addition to improved access, community gardens provide many ancillary benefits as well, such as increased public green spaces, community engagement, and fostering intergenerational interaction and learning.

In 2010, FOG produced a report detailing a Local Food Action Plan for Gainesville and Alachua County, funded through the USDA Community Food Projects Competitive Grants Program and the Lydia B. Stokes Foundation[ii]. As part of a larger strategy to address the number one recommendation in the Plan, to increase food security by increasing food production, a three-pronged approach is presented, including:

  • Develop centralized urban garden network that will increase access to information, education and resources for gardeners.
  • Develop neighborhood-based gardening groups to facilitate easier access to information, education and resources.
  • Select targeted low-income neighborhoods, schools and/or faith-based organizations to focus on improved gardening capabilities.

Recently, FOG has partnered with the freshly established Fred Cone Park Community Garden to commence an organic Learning Garden, with the financial support of Lucky’s Market, geared specifically towards youth age 5 – 12. It is our desire that this Learning Garden will play a part in addressing the goals outlined above to develop a strong and vibrant local food system in Gainesville and Alachua County. Specifically, we seek to engage youth in organic gardening, reinforce school curriculum related to ecology and biology, teach financial and economic literacy, and share effective communication practices. We hope that the “FOG Learning Garden” will contribute to a robust network of gardens in the neighborhoods of East Gainesville with the support and engagement of community partners like the Greater Duval Community Garden, Eastside High School Institute of Culinary Arts, UF/IFAS Extension Family Nutrition Program, and others. This network will bring greater accessibility to fresh food that is both affordable and familiar to community members. In a world full of seemingly endless problems, community gardens offer a suite of solutions for the challenges facing our youth and communities.

For a list of community gardens in Gainesville, please visit the Community Gardens page of the City of Gainesville Parks, Recreation & Cultural Affairs website. Grow Gainesville offers another great resource for community gardens and available local food. They also have an active Facebook page dedicated to discussions related to food production in Gainesville.
–Tyler Nesbit is FOG’s Education & Outreach Coordinator.  Drop him a line at tyler@foginfo.org.

 

 

[i] https://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/food-access-research-atlas/go-to-the-atlas/

[ii] Florida Certified Organic Growers and Consumers, Inc. 2010. “Community Vision for Food System Development in Gainesville-Alachua County: A Local Food Action Plan” (Available online: http://www.foginfo.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/FOGLFAP2010.pdf)

Blueberry Plants for Sale!

On Sunday April 3the University of Florida group, Florida Alternative Breaks, spent their afternoon at the Green Market Nursery tending to Blueberry plants that are currently being sold as a fundraiser for Florida Organic Growers. The group tediously weeded each of the plants individually, added nutrient rich compost and aligned the pots into orderly rows.

The plants are looking great and are ready for purchase thanks to Florida Alternative Breaks generous time and helping hands!

Each plant is $15. When a purchase of 3 to 9 plants is made there is a 5% discount applied. A purchase of 10 or more plants is discounted 10%. Bulk deal pricing is also optional.

If you are interested in supporting Florida Organic Growers by purchasing some beautiful blueberry plants, please contact officeassistant@foginfo.org.

Rocking it out in Gainesville with the Rockstar Farmer Tour

We were thrilled to partner with East End Market in Orlando to bring the Rockstar Farmer Tour featuring Canadian Farmer Curtis Stone, owner of Green City Acres in Kelowna, BC, to town for an inspirational and motivational two-day Curtis Stone bio picture event January 28 and 29!

On January 28, Curtis gave a free lecture at the Civic Media Center to about 75 people. He spoke about his urban farming operation, and describe how, despite having no previous experience and only a shoestring budget, he turned a profit of more than $20,000 his first year and double that profit every year since. He showed quite a few photos of his operation, how he views the city in terms of delivering produce and his method of turning beds within the growing season.

On January 29, Curtis delved a little deeper into the strategic production techniques he uses which focus on high value crops with short growth cycles as well as service specialized and niche market streams such as restaurants, and cooperative CSA’s. The workshop focsued on serious, high production urban farming and focused on the business of urban farming – specifically how to produce high value crops and how to sell them. He shared the tools and technology to better manage business and to save money. More than 25 people attended the workshop.

Green City Acres is a commercial urban farm established in 2010 and based out of Kelowna, BC. Farming under a half acre of land spread over multiple plots in the downtown core, they sell vegetables to some of the city’s best restaurants, wineries, and a weekly farmers market. Curtis also works as an educator, consultant, and writer on the subject urban farming throughout North America.

Learn more about his operation by visiting the farm’s website or follow the farm on Facebook

Porters Community Farm Update

Porters sign

It’s hard to believe it’s been two years since we first came up with the idea of starting Porters Community Farm and turned to you to help make it a reality.

It has been a whirlwind and the time has flown by with tons of compost spread, what feels like tons of weeds pulled, and a ton of food produced for those who need it most.

From an abandoned lot, the thriving community space has grown providing fresh produce to the St. Francis House – a transitional home for the homeless – housing a community garden and hosting numerous tours, groups and events. The first fall, we started with one 50ft by 50ft growing area along with six raised beds. Our first field crop was a row of kale planted on October 25th, 2012.

From that day we have continued to expand, adding on an additional 50ft by 50ft section the next spring, along with many more raised beds. Nearly every corner of the three lots we occupy is filled with some sort of crop or tree.


Donations

Along with the funds we raised through our IndieGoGo campaign, we received an outpouring of community support with other donations. Lost Valley Farm donated an old mower and we received a generous donation of peach, apricot, apple, blueberry, fig, and pomegranate trees from Chestnut Hill Tree Farm. There have also been many other smaller donations of tools and supplies.

Porters Community Farm wouldn’t be possible without your support.

We encourage you to make a donation today so we can continue serving the community.


Grants

In order to supplement and fund our work, we applied for grants and received one from the Florida Wildflower Foundation to plant wildflowers around the perimeter of the farm. We also received funding from the Newman’s Own Foundation and, this year, received a grant from the City of Gainesville’s Community Development Block Grant to offer paid internships to teenagers in the neighborhood.


Harvests community harvest

From day one, our main goal with Porters has been to provide fresh vegetables to the St. Francis House and other charities. We reached our goal of growing and donating 2,000 pounds of fresh produce to donate to the St. Francis House this past spring.

We have also provided fresh, organically grown vegetables to the Catholic Worker House and Gainesville Ministries. Additionally, we offer produce to the neighborhood and general public through our U-Pick, U-Pay-What-U-Can Farm Stand.

While the project has been successful overall, there certainly have been plenty of challenges. We have had our fair share of broken sprinkler heads and cracked pipes. We have also become very familiar with a who’s who of challenging weed species.

We had hoped to keep the project self-sustaining through produce sales and tried various avenues including restaurant sales, a Salad Community Supported Agriculture program and the U-Pick, U-Pay-What-U-Can Farm Stand.  However, the resources needed to maintain this project still exceed the revenue generated by produce sales.

Porters in Numbers
(since inception)

Harvested 2,018 pounds for charity

Logged 2,512 volunteer hours

Education

InternsharvestingA big part of our mission at Porters Community Farm is to create and foster learning experiences. We have hosted rain barrel workshops, seed starting, community BBQs and countless group tours.

This year we are very excited to announce two youth education programs. The first is a once a week afterschool program in coordination with the Porters Community Center. The program consists of eight lessons and aims to teach science through gardening and farming.

Thanks to support from the City of Gainesville’s Community Development Block Grant, we will launch a youth crew program and hire three neighborhood youth between the ages of 14-17 to work at the farm as paid interns this spring.

The program’s goal is to promote healthy living by involving the youth in growing, harvesting, donating, selling, and eating of fruits and vegetables as well as use farming to teach business skills and valuable life skills like planning, teamwork, hard work and communication.

The funding only covers the cost of the paying the youth crew members. We still need funding to cover staff operating the program.


Partners

 It’s no easy task operating a community farm and we couldn’t do it without the help of our partners.

Porters Community Farm hosts one of Gainesville Compost’s community compost centers that houses vegetables scraps from restaurants around downtown. They also process all the green waste from the farm, along with compost brought in from the neighborhood. Gainesville is home to many fantastic organic farms and they have been big supporters of Porters by donating surplus seedlings and other supplies in this past two years.

Volunteers are our greatest partners, providing much needed helping hands to keep crops alive and weeds down. We’ve had 19 interns pass through our internship program and hosted countless service groups.


What’s Next?

After two years of operation, we strive to continue providing a valued community space, but need ongoing support to make it happen.  If you would like to learn more, come for a tour or volunteer, just let us know.

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Thank you for your past support and we hope you consider making a donation using the link below for us to continue this work and write Porters Community Farm in the comments section. 

 Make a donation to Porters Community Farm today!

 

Tips from Travis: Growing your own spring salad mix at home

By: Travis Mitchell, Community Food Project Coordinator and Coordinator of Porters Community Farm

Fall is a great time to vegetable garden in Florida, and my personal favorite season. The bugs are starting to disperse, weed pressure is lowering and temperatures are starting to fall.

Baby salad greens are one of my favorite things to grow in my fall/winter garden. They are easy to grow, will produce a lot in a small space, and if you are a big salad eater really save you some money at the grocery store.

1455985_479117562201694_518531813_nThe process is simple; first prepare your bed or garden section making sure to work in fertilizers or compost. Next, prepare a seed mix of your favorite lettuces or greens. I use everything I have laying around, a bag of mesculin mix, some red leaf, some oakleaf, some red russian kale, and some arugula.

Then broadcast your seed evenly and relatively thick across your prepared garden bed. I just used my hands but there are a lot of farm tools for broadcasting seed available if you are going planting a lot. To insure you get a real even application you can add some sand to your seed mix to give it a little volume. After broadcasting the seeds, gently work them into the soil by giving them a light brush with your hand or gently scrape the top of soil with rake.

About a month or so later depending on how warm or cold it is (lettuce doesn’t grow much when the temperatures are below 50 degrees) you will have a bed full of yummy little baby greens. You can harvest them as soon as you want but you don’t want them to get taller than about six inches. Harvest with a knife or scissors and cut the leaves about an inch above the ground. The plants will grow back and can be harvested again two to four times until they become bitter.

If you are a visual learner, watch this video explaining the technique.

Invest in a healthy and sustainable future for Florida

As 2013 winds down, we want to reflect on what we accomplished this past year thanks to the support of our members.

Highlights include:

  • Our GIFT Gardens program has built raised bed vegetable gardens at 21 sites for low-income families and the institutions that support them in the last six months.   SwallowTail Farm workshop_rev
  • Since January, Porters Community Farm in Gainesville has donated more than 700 pounds of fresh produce to the local homeless shelter and various soup kitchens for those in need.
  • Our EBT Program continues to increase access by accepting food stamps for healthy options at two local farmers markets in Alachua County.
  • Our Fresh Access Bucks program is currently active at over eight farmers markets throughout Florida and will be expanding to at least 14 by the end of the year, allowing SNAP users across the state to double their food dollars for Florida grown fruits and vegetables.

A few exciting plans for 2014:

  • We will be hosting four four on-farm educational workshops throughout the state that will cover topics such as soil fertility, crop production and management, sustainable food systems, transitioning from conventional to organic practices, marketing, agricultural policy issues, and organic certification. We are working on details for these workshops, so stay tuned!
  • Expanding and developing our website, including an expanded and interactive map, Florida FarmFinder and many other resources.
  • Our Fresh Access Bucks program will be expanding to at least 20 farmers markets by the end of 2014, allowing SNAP users across the state to double their food dollars for Florida grown fruits and vegetables.
  • FOG will be participating in educational and outreach events throughout the state and region, including partnering with Georgia Organics on their annual conference and GrowFest! in Miami-Dade. FOG will also partner with East End Market to host the Florida Local Food Summit.
  • We will be working to encourage the passage of a Farm Bill and one that promotes our values of a sustainable, just and local farm and food system.

Our members are our lifeblood—without them, we wouldn’t be able to achieve all that we have.

Join FOG today and be part of the good food movement for a healthier and more sustainable future!

You can choose your own level of giving—one that reflects how much you value and have the ability to support the mission and work of FOG.

To join today, learn more or to give a gift membership, CLICK HERE.

Together we can create a sustainable, local, just, organic food and farm system that’s good for people and the planet.

Homeless veterans seek new garden project

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Sunshine Inn Veterans set out to promote community wellness and local food consumption through FOG’s GIFT Garden program.

The Sunshine Inn, which is owned and managed by the Alachua Housing Authority, is the location of one of the Veteran’s Affairs Department’s contract residential programs that provides transitional housing and case management to homeless veterans. Florida Organic Growers will be providing gardening instruction and building raised garden beds at the Sunshine Inn on April 9th, 2013 with the help of the veterans who reside there. We are proud to participate in helping the veterans become more self-sufficient.

FOG will team up with veteran residents to install and plant the garden followed by a BBQ at 12:00 p.m. and work party event at 2:00 p.m.

While the Sunshine Inn residents remain in transitional housing they have taken it upon themselves to volunteer locally and contribute to the sustainable health of their community. The Veterans sought donations from local businesses and community professionals in order to make their dream garden project come alive. It is FOG’s great honor to award their initiatives by assisting with garden construction, planting, and maintenance.

The veterans at the Sunshine Inn have expressed a strong interest in beautifying the property which is located at 4155 NW 13 Street here in Gainesville. They would like to “honor those who have honored us” by improving the grounds. The veterans also wish to install a flag pole to display the American Flag, the State of Florida flag and a flag to remember the prisoners of war. The veterans have come up with a wish list that you will find below. It is our hope that you may find it in your heart to help the veterans accomplish these goals by donating any items on the list.

 If you are able to donate any of the items on the list or have any questions regarding the beautification project at The Sunshine Inn, you may call: 352.376.1611  EXT. 5692 

Veterans Wish List for the Sunshine Inn

Grounds Beautification Project

 

  1. American Flag, Florida Flag and POW flag
  2. Flag pole and installation
  3. Three gardening hoses
  4. Three hose nozzles
  5. Shovel
  6. Pitchfork
  7. Mulch
  8. Covered composting bin
  9. Privacy fencing
  10. Picnic table
  11. Barbeque grill (like those at state parks) that can be cemented into ground
  12. Small hand shovels
  13. Hoe
  14. Rake
  15. Organic fertilizer
  16. Grapefruit, tangerine, persimmon, or fig trees.
  17. Two benches
  18.  2 or 3 Standing sprinklers
  19. Wheel barrel
  20. Potted flowers or potted edible herbs
  21. Solar grounds lighting
  22. Two Watering cans
  23. Bike rack that will fit in 61”x 112” covered enclosure
  24. Two outdoor benches
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Porters Potluck and BBQ

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Give a GIFT Garden

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‘Tis the season to be jolly and as many of our readers know, one of the best ways to be jolly is in your garden! Why not share that gift of happiness this holiday season by giving a GIFT garden to someone you love or a family in need?

Each raised bed garden is made of locally sourced lumber lined with plastic to resist rot. Or if you’d rather, it can also be made out of pressure treated lumber. The beds are filled with rich organic compost, and will be provided with enough seedlings for a full year. Also included in your purchase is a year long membership to the Grow Gainesville seed library! What a gift!

To get started, choose the GIFT Garden size that best suits your site and budget:
4×4 $200
4×8 $350
2 4×8’s $500
3 4×8’s $650

The price of each GIFT garden also includes a $100 tax deductible donation towards our GIFT garden program.

For more information contact Travis Mitchell at Travis@foginfo.org or send in the application form below and someone will contact you promptly to arrange for a site visit.

APPLICATION FORMS (download will begin immediately):
Fundraising Garden Application
Landlord Agreement (required for renters)

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Tree Donation Story in the Alligator

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Travis Mitchell, community food project coordinator of Porter’s Community Farm, 26, examines a new shipment of fruit and nut trees. The trees were donated from Chestnut Hill Tree Farm and will be planted next week. Kelly Logan, Alligator | Posted: Friday, November 30, 2012 12:30 am

Our incredibly photogenic Community Food Project Coordinator, Travis Mitchell, is in the newspaper again! The Alligator has run a story about Chestnut Hill Tree Farm‘s recent donation $500 worth of fruit and nut trees to Porters Community Farm. Read the Fog Blog post about it here>>

Click here to read the Alligator Article: “Garden to Receive Gift of Trees”

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