Clara White Mission “Farm to Table Institute”

By Beth Reese Cravey Sun, Apr 19, 2015 @ 9:27 pm | updated Mon, Apr 20, 2015 @ 6:35 am

Rashard Scott, 9, knows all about go foods and slow foods.

He learned about go foods — the healthiest kind, such as an apple — and slow foods — the stuff with added sugar, such as applesauce — and all sorts of other nutritional information as part of a six-week curriculum at his Jacksonville school, Tiger Academy. Next up, his parents will learn what he learned and they will receive garden space to grow their own fresh food.

“It’s a good thing,” he said. “We are learning new things that we are going to need for our lives … and for when we grow up and to teach our kids.”

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Rashard is in the first phase of a new initiative led by the White Harvest Farms Educational Center, an outreach of the Clara White Mission. The farm-to-school program introduces to youth the basic elements of health and nutrition, gardening and farming, kitchen safety and equipment, food preparation, food demonstration and dining etiquette, taught by trained professionals in the culinary and agricultural industry.

The program is geared toward school-age students and parents who live in so-called food desert communities, with little or no access to affordable, fresh food and produce, such as parts of North Jacksonville. The currently participating schools are in that area: Rashard’s Tiger Academy and St. Clair Evans and Carter G. Woodson elementary schools.

Farm to school will help “our youth do what they are capable of doing,” said Ed Perez, the mission’s board chairman. “This is an exciting time for all of us.”

The parent workshops, other activities and the family garden will be at White Harvest Farms off Moncrief Road, said the mission’s CEO, Ju’Coby Pittman,

“After they complete the six weeks [school nutrition curriculum], they will come right here with their parents. We have to train the parents as well,” she said.

Families will receive gift cards for healthy food and a “row” to cultivate their own fresh produce at the farm’s 15 acres, she said. Also, the farm will introduce their children to potential U.S. Department of Agriculture scholarships.

Since 2012, volunteers and people enrolled in training programs at the downtown mission have cultivated crops including greens, squash, tomatoes, onions and melons at the urban farm near Moncrief Creek. The mission later expanded its cropland with ground on the creek’s north bank near Nash Road.

That North Jacksonville neighborhood was part of a major pollution cleanup project about 15 years ago because of contamination that occurred decades earlier. Ash from city trash incinerators was buried or spread there, loading the ground with lead, arsenic and industrial chemicals, according to Times-Union reports.

The farm property was cleaned years ago.

That land with such a history is now being used to “provide nourishment and food,” Perez said, “is just amazing.”

The initiative is backed by a contingent of community partners, including the city, University of Florida/Duval County Extension Service, Florida Blue, Chase and Bank of America. Farm to school won a competitive $30,000 grant from the Meninak Club of Jacksonville, said club spokesman Lock Ireland.

“Nutrition, education and it’s for children,” he said. “A lot of people in the community will start recognizing what is happening. And as a result there will be a lot of giving. It’s in the right community by the right people.”

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Like Rashard, Chase Stafford, 11, and Octavis Robinson, 10, have become experts on healthy eating.

Junk food is OK to eat occasionally, Chase said, as long as you exercise as well “so you lose the added fat.” But the best approach, he said, is “to always eat healthy.”

Octavis said he and his friends are happy to lead the charge.

“We should all know about nutrition and to eat more healthy food,” he said.Farm to School Program