This post by Julie from the A La Carte Department at Ozark Natural Foods.
When I started working at ONF nearly three years ago, there was a giant empty field next to the co-op. I remember thinking that it was odd that a huge lot was sitting empty in the middle of town. Then I learned that it was to become a teaching farm operated by Apple Seeds, a non-profit organization focused on the Farm to School movement. Here local school children can learn about gardening, cooking, and the healthy benefits of eating fresh vegetables. Having resided in Berkeley, CA, where Alice Waters began the first teaching garden in the United States, I was already familiar with the benefits of this educational format, not just for the children but for the community as a whole. I was thrilled that the concept was catching on right here in Northwest Arkansas.
With the support and hard work of local businesses, community members, school partners, and of course kids, they transformed that empty field into a thriving teaching farm. Now it is home to more than 5,000 square feet of gardens, an outdoor classroom, and a team that provides garden-based programs to students. Their farm programs, including Farm Lab and Farm to Table, are hands-on, fun, academically rich, and inspire young students to make healthy food choices.
Since 2014, they have grown more than 3,000 pounds of produce. The veggies have found their way to local school garden markets and their burgeoning Farm to School program, as well as their annual fundraisers and to Ozark Natural Foods, a long-standing partner and neighbor. Some of the produce that ONF sells from Apple Seeds are tomatoes, bok choy, herbs, peppers, cucumbers, and eggplant. Apple Seeds is passionate about their mission of inspiring healthy living through garden-based education. By building Apple Seeds Teaching Farm in the center of town, they can better serve the needs of our growing community.
Now, when I take my breaks at work, I go outside and see teachers and children roaming the gardens, leading and learning. I can actually hear the excitement in their young voices as they volunteer for a task. I see the staff tending to the rows of plants, pulling weeds, and covering them when the weather turns. I’ve watched the garden beds transform from rows of soil into tall sunflowers, lush tomato plants, and other delightful veggies. I’m so grateful for this beautiful view, but even more so that Apple Seeds is providing the next generation with the knowledge and skills to grow and be healthy.