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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.

Florida Small Farms and Alternative Enterprises Conference – July 27 to 29

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Hosted by University of Florida’s (UF) Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS), Extension and Florida A&M University’s (FAMU), College of Agriculture and Food Sciences (CAFS) the 2012 Florida Small Farms and Alternative Enterprises Conference has a full packed program that promises to provide practical and useful information for growers, researchers, retailers and consumers. The conference program includes a track for Sustainable and Organic Agriculture.

FOG invites you to come, share and learn with us. FOG staff will be tabling at the Trade Show open on Friday from 5 to 7 pm and Saturday morning and afternoon. Additionally FOG staff will be moderating on two Saturday sessions. FOG’s Executive Director Marty Mesh will be speaking and moderating the session “Capturing the Organic Market” from 11am to 12:30 pm, while FOG’s project coordinator Jose Perez will be moderating the session “Organic Pest Management” from 2:00 to 3:00 pm.  There will be plenty to see, share and learn. Hope to see you there.

For Registration and more information check the Conference website >>here.



Departmental Spotlight – EBT

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Florida Organic Growers for two years has run a booth providing SNAP benefit -commonly, Food Stamp- transfers at various farmers’ markets in Alachua County. In that time, the booth’s operational costs have been covered by various municipal grants; however, as municipal budgets tighten and the program matures, it is incumbent upon us to find a new way to fund the booth if it is to remain a part of the area farmers’ markets.

The Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program is an aid program administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Originally the Food Stamp Program, started in the late 1930s as a response to widespread unemployment and massive food surpluses that existed during the height of the depression. Having ended in 1943, the program was reauthorized in 1959 with bipartisan support. During the incoming Kennedy Administration it was made permanent so as to make available “… to all needy families a greater variety and quantity of food out of our agricultural abundance.” [exec.ord. 10914]

In the fifty-three years since, the program has had regular revisions in step with political, ideological, and technological changes. One such technological change was a move in the late nineties to phase out the old green-and-brown stamps system in favor of an EBT (Electronic Benefit Transfer) card to be used like a credit or debit card. This was done to make the system more consistent, more accountable, and less susceptible to fraud. With the move to an electronic payment system however, the retail food market became fragmented; those consumers receiving SNAP benefits were effectively shut out from any part of the market unable to handle electronic transactions. Two such parts of the excluded market are small and medium farmers who sell direct to the consumer.

Directly selling to consumers remains a vital part of many farmers’ income. While most farm output is irrevocably tied up in larger grocery vendor systems, farmers often maintain an amount of excess or specialty crops that would otherwise go unsold. Many farmers elect to take part in regional farmers’ markets as a way to sell those products – often at significant a discount relative to grocery stores. Often, these Markets are located close to populations that are underserved by most of the retail food market. Indeed, in Alachua County, the farmers’ markets FOG maintains an EBT booth at border regions the USDA has labeled as being without basic access to large grocery stores or similar outlets.


Departmental Spotlight – GIFT Gardens

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This spring with the support of Alachua County CHOICES, Florida Organic Growers installed a teaching garden at the Waldo Community School. The garden, which contains 3 raised-bed vegetable gardens and a small butterfly garden, can provide organic herbs and vegetables all year long. This teaching garden is one of approximately 250 GIFT Gardens FOG has installed throughout Alachua County. Another of our GIFT garden installations can be found at the Woodland Park Boys and Girls club, where FOG installed 10 raised bed teaching gardens last year also with the help of CHOICES and in honor of Food Day.  

“We’re trying to give people an opportunity to learn to grow fruits and vegetables,” said Steven Pokorny, director of CHOICES. “Ideally to increase the servings of fruits and vegetables in their diet.”

The Waldo Community School teaching garden and the Woodland Park Boys and Girls Club teaching garden were both chosen as sites for our CHOICES-sponsored spring gardening classes.  During the 16 week course, students in both locations were able to watch crops grow from seed to harvest.  FOG collaborated with the Eat Up Program to educate students on a variety of organic gardening principles using lesson plans from the “Gardening for Grades” curricula. This curriculum was released in 2010 by Florida Agriculture in the Classroom and meets Next Generation Sunshine State Standards in a wide variety of disciplines from Language Arts to Science. Benchmarks included identifying the parts of plants, awareness of plant feeding schedules for proper growth, identification of edible plants, and awareness of food origins. All lessons included core ideas like photosynthesis, soil structure, nutrition, and biodiversity. Learning synthesis was achieved through the following hands-on activities: a leaf scavenger hunt, nature exploration, garden care, and collecting pine leaves for mulch.

For the first several classes in February at the Waldo Community School, the students focused on building the garden and planting the beds. Several rows of potted plants were also planted so students could take a vegetable plant home with them for the summer if they wished.

March was a busy month in the garden. Since everything in the two beds was planted and growing fast, we had plenty tomato pruning to do, mulch to lay, and a need to constantly water. With an eye toward expansion, the students started additional seedlings that they either took home or are saving to be added to garden. In order to learn about the vast biodiversity around us and the life cycles of plants, we read Eric Lyle’s book “The Tiny Seed”. We then went on a seed scavenger hunt. We also explored the origins of different plants that we eat. As a hands-on way to cement our new knowledge, we played a game of four corners with plants and their continent of origin.

The garden lessons in April were all science-based and focused on biodiversity. Students engaged in a leaf scavenger hunt among the vegetables and underneath the surrounding trees. They were asked to find leaves that smelled good, leaves that smelled bad, large leaves, spiny leaves, and leaves that we would eat. The scavenger hunt was paired with a worksheet where students were asked to label different parts of the plants, and then describe the biological purpose. The second half of the worksheet had the more advanced terms chlorophyll, photosynthesis, sugar, oxygen, and carbon dioxide. These terms were new to most of the students and the section acted as a pre-test. To connect the biology of plants to the vegetables we eat, the students played a game involving common vegetables and naming the part of the plant that vegetable is.

We also installed a new garden bed and planted it with radishes, which are a quick growing crop. We then held a radish race where the students measured their radishes to see which could grow the largest.

To teach photosynthesis, students were asked to complete several worksheets and coloring sheets about photosynthesis while we discussed its process and role in plant growth. This was paired with a game where students acted out photosynthesis being either water or carbon dioxide, pairing up and then becoming either oxygen or sugar.

In May we continued to focus on teaching the science behind all the growing that was happening in the garden. Students completed the same worksheet focusing on photosynthesis and the parts of the plant that they were given earlier in the spring and the results were quite striking. The first time the class completed the worksheet the average score was 3.45 correct answers out of ten, with the median and mode scores both 3. A month and half later the class averaged 8.32 correct answers out of ten, with a median score of 8 and mode score of 10. To demonstrate how plants gather resources, the students played a game where each had to stand on a paper plate and then brown, blue, and yellow cards were spread around them representing nutrients in the soil, water, and sun light. Then without moving their feet off the plates the students had to grab as many of each card as they could and those who couldn’t reach one of each had to explain what they were missing and how it would prevent plant growth.

We were also blessed with the beginnings of abundant harvests, and the students were able to harvest tomatoes, red asparagus beans, radishes and eggplant to take home. To prepare the gardens for the summer they were planted with sweet potatoes. We also added a small wildflower section to attract butterflies and other pollinators.

The spring gardening classes at the Woodland Park Boys and Girls club also covered a variety of organic gardening principles.  We began by planting most of the beds with spring crops like beans, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, and squash. With everything growing fast we had plenty of tomato pruning to do and insects to chase away. By the end of the March we were able to harvest sugar snap peas and the last of the broccoli. In April we were able to harvest some more sugar snap peas, along with strawberries and growing clusters of green tomatoes. Despite the unusually warm spring, the sugar snap peas were delicious, sweet, and crisp. We estimate that between the two patches, 15 pounds of peas were produced in March and April. In May we were also blessed with the beginnings of abundant harvests, and on the final day of classes the students were able to harvest tomatoes, green beans, strawberries, green peppers and eggplant to take home. We estimate the between $200 and $300 worth of produce was harvested from the garden during our spring gardening classes. More will available to harvest by the students at the Boys and Girls club and the surrounding community throughout the summer.

For more information about GIFT Gardens or our gardening classes for youth, please contact Travis Mitchell.

Tropical and Sub Tropical Organic Production Webinar – May 31st

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Live Webinar explores organic production in tropical and subtropical regions through virtual tours of organic farms in Florida and Puerto Rico.

Florida Organic Growers (FOG) will lead short virtual tours of certified organic operations in Florida and Puerto Rico as part of a live webinar being broadcast on Thursday, May 31 at 1:00 PM Eastern Time. The National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) plans to host the webinar as part of a multi-partnership project which includes sustainable and organic organizations from around the United States.

Each organic grower will touch on the philosophical and practical aspects of growing organic crops in semi tropical and tropical regions as they lead participants on a virtual tour of their agricultural system. Among the topics discussed will be; production challenges and successes, natural resource management, and conservation. Presenters will also spend time identifying areas in which they need support to increase their resource conservation. Although the hour-and-a-half long webinar is focused on training for Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) staff, it will offer valuable insight and advice for organic producers and others interested in organic production.

The goal of the webinar is to share with NRCS staff the perspectives, management principles, agricultural practices, and needs of organic growers in this region. It will help NRCS staff members increase their ability to understand organic growers’ needs in this region so that they can better serve them.The webinar is being presented with funding through a NRCS National Conservation Innovation grant project.


The webinar begins at 1:00 PM Eastern Standard Time.

The organic producers featured in the webinar will be Sonia Carlo of Hacienda Sana Siembra Organica in Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico, and Farmer Charlie Andrews of Hammock Hollow Herb Farm in Island Grove, Florida. FOG staff members Jose Perez and Executive Director Marty Mesh will also be contributing.

To register for the webinar, go to