Like everything else, our Farm to School gardens faced a new challenge when school ended in mid-March. We have a robust school gardening program, with fifteen district schools growing food for school lunches. They receive everything they need – from soil, to transplants, to expert advice and harvest assistance. The Growing Education Training program (GET) builds the raised beds and grows many of the transplants, additional transplants are purchased from the GROW Hub, and UF’s Family Nutrition Program offers nutrition education and horticultural advice. On site, garden champions – teachers, volunteers, parents, and Master Gardeners – help the students grow and care for their garden while they learn about everything from soil health to plant parts to energy transfer, depending on their grade level. Finally, the school café staff welcomes the harvesters and weighs in the harvest. The student farmers get to proudly wear their “I am the farmer” buttons on the day their produce is served.
Cool-weather crops still needed to be harvested when everything suddenly stopped. Fortunately, a lot of our garden champions were able to continuing caring for the gardens throughout this time. Some amazing harvests were presented to Food and Nutrition staff to bag up and distribute to student families.
Our large garden/small farm here at the Farm to School Hub was producing like crazy during this time as well. Thanks in large part to Farmer Jess and to the GET job coaches, we were able to maintain and continue to harvest from the garden and orchard. During the last couple weeks, as restrictions have relaxed in our county, we have begun to welcome back our volunteers as well.
As we move past this difficult period, we are looking forward to working side-by-side again with students at the Farm to School Hub and at school gardens, learning to grow and prepare food for school meals and tastings. We are so grateful to the garden champions who continued to nurture the gardens for the benefit of our community during an unprecedented time. The connection between caring for the land, growing food, and maintaining health seems clearer than ever.