What’s Growing On With Forage?
We are busy bees round here, and always amazed at the work we can accomplish with such a small organization. Currently, we are a staff of one, with an active board of directors, volunteers, interns and a network of supportive partner organizations. With this help, we’ve been able to do a lot of good work in our community. Here’s a highlight!
Protecting Seed Biodiversity in the Southeast
You may have noticed over the past several years our major re-direction of energy to our seed program, the Southern Heritage Seed Collective. What started 6 years ago as a grassroots response to providing local gardeners with access to affordable and quality seed, has grown into something so much deeper. Simply put, we recognized that crops we like to grow in our climate, our soil, our backyards, are only reliably available to us if we accept the responsibility to save and care for their seeds each year. Indeed, much agricultural biodiversity has been lost when individuals and communities lose control over their seed. Once gone, they are vanished forever; thousands of years of cultural traditions and co-evolution in a regional climate GONE. With that seed planted (pun intended), we were on a mission to make our seed program a hub that promoted southern biodiversity, access to quality seeds, and information and education on home seed saving.
We’ve made local, regional and national connections to individuals and organizations dedicated to helping us with this monumental task. It truly takes a village, and many years of steady, focused work to build up a regional network of resistance to global consolidation of our agricultural seeds. Over the years we’ve stewarded over 25 different crops, offering them in our seasonal catalogs for home gardeners, communities and schools to grow. We are learning and acquiring more varieties all the time as we meet new people and their seeds! Our Southern Heritage Seed Collective has the potential now to have satellite locations throughout Florida, and the obvious concern and interest in this issue is evident as we gather more supporters to help grow our seed community.
Youth Garden Collective
For years we’ve been involved in all manners of school, after school, community and home gardening efforts. We often feel like garden consultants, asked all the time for help. We’ve seen gardens thrive and fail, programs come and go, and funding wax and wane. Our response is a program still under development that we’re calling the “Community Supported Garden Collective”.
We’re asking local donors to support long term efforts to keep up ongoing garden education, support and maintenance for gardens around the county. We are particularly interested in garden sites that serve under privileged youth in an after school environment, as well as at GRACE Marketplace, Porters Community Farm and others. We want to avoid the pitfalls of “soft money”, so that gardens can keep growing and thriving. We want to provide ongoing education and support, developing relationships with kids, parents and other educators so that our programming has an impact. We want to provide access to bulk and affordable ingredients that make a garden successful. We want to cultivate a community of healthy eaters that know where food comes from and value a healthy lifestyle.
A new program this year in partnership with the Cultural Arts Coalition, is providing an opportunity for kids to explore science and nature through the garden. We hope to iron out all the details and take this program to other after school settings.
Another exciting garden program we’ve been involved in from the very beginning is the Alachua County Farm to School to Work Hub. This unique program offers high school-aged students with special needs important vocational and life skills training in the agricultural and food service world. Here, students learn about the food system by experiencing it directly! We maintain a “seed garden” (our own little garden plot where we grow out crops for seed) with their help, offering garden education and accessible accommodations for students of all abilities to participate. Each gardening season, students help us clean up seeds from the field and package them for our Southern Heritage Seed Collective. We plan to continue our partnership with them as they continue to develop additional adult vocational programs and employment opportunities.
Community Food Center
You may not know this, but for nearly seven years we have been dreaming and planning about building a community food center to serve the Gainesville area. Imagine a place where local economy, community, and food converge to support a more resilient and secure food economy! The center will house a commercial kitchen, cold and dry food storage, warehousing, community event and workshop space, garden space, and will offer logistical, financial, and capacity-building support for farmers and food-based businesses. Plans are still in progress, but it takes a village and a lot of work so it may still be several months before anything is up and running. We cannot wait to share this space with you!
Classes and Workshops
Our educational outreach is one of our main ways of connecting with audiences on a variety of topics related to gardening, seed saving and local food. You’ll often find us at other events and conferences where we’ve been invited to speak. This year we partnered with Santa Fe Community College and taught a Florida vegetable gardening class. Next semester we’ll do three food preservation classes with them! Our classes are designed to be accessible to everyone. If there are fees to cover material costs, we always offer a wavier for those without the financial means.