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West Orange Times & Observer Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2018 1 month ago

Ocoee High serving farm-fresh lunches

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An on-campus greenhouse and “farm-to-school” lunch menu gives Ocoee High students more access to fresh fruits and vegetables.
by: Eric Gutierrez Staff Writer

Lunchtime at Ocoee High School has gotten some upgrades. 

Orange County School Board leaders and 4 Rivers President John Rivers on Tuesday, Nov. 6, unveiled a new greenhouse and redesigned cafeteria at Ocoee High School. The greenhouse 

will be used as part of a new “farm-to-school” menu program that has been introduced to the school’s lunchtime offerings. 

“It’s absolutely vital and important that we reinvest back into agriculture,” Rivers said. “And if we’re going to change the agriculture scene in the state of Florida, it starts here with education and getting people not only educated about different ways of growing but (also) excited about it.”

Lora Gilbert, senior director of the food and nutrition program at Orange County Public Schools, said Ocoee High’s new greenhouse was donated by 4 Rivers and The 4R Foundation Inc.

“The 4 Rivers Foundation ... (has) donated the greenhouse and brought it up to code,” Gilbert said. “They can grow about 600 pounds of produce, and so what we’re doing is we’re teaching the students how to become vendors of the school district.”

In addition to growing produce at the new greenhouse, the school also is serving Fresh from Florida produce during lunch and receives fresh produce from local farmers, such as Long and Scott Farms in nearby Zellwood. Gilbert said by sourcing the produce locally, students are given an opportunity to add fresh fruits and vegetables into their diets through school lunches.

“It’s pretty fresh when it’s right from the farm, and then what we’re able to do is put it in a form that the students like,” Gilbert said. “They like tacos, so we have a fresh, homemade item — the pico de gallo — and we make that fresh in our schools. … It’s just an awesome product, and the kids don’t really realize that they’re eating more fruits and vegetables.”

Paige Greninger, executive director of The 4R Foundation, said the foundation’s partnership with OCPS is just one example of their support for the community.

“The 4R Foundation’s current initiatives strive to model sustainable local food systems that inspire and educate students, support and train farmers and stimulate the health and economic vitality of our local communities,” Greninger said. “The 4R Foundation’s current initiatives strive to model sustainable local food systems that inspire and educate students, support and train farmers and stimulate the health and economic vitality of our local communities.”

Ocoee High’s new greenhouse not only will serve as a means to provide students with fresh fruits and vegetables but also will be used as an education resource for the school’s agriscience program.

“Students (can) take a vocational agriculture class … and they learn about the produce,” Gilbert said. “Every year, they learn a little bit more, and by the time they’re seniors, they’re supposed to be ... able to see how you can earn a living being a farmer.”

Peter Jordan teaches horticulture and agriscience. He said students in upper-level horticulture classes will maintain the produce grown in the greenhouse. Students grow vegetables such as cucumbers and lettuce in the greenhouse using hydroponic methods.

“(We want) to create farmers, increase nutrition and educate these kids for future jobs or opportunities in an agriculture/horticulture field,” Jordan said.

Agriscience students Sarah Lanier, a senior, and Gabriel Lane, a junior, said maintaining the greenhouse requires daily work.

“We plant what needs to be planted and harvest what needs to be harvested, and then we will distribute it through the school or the students themselves,” Lane said.

Gilbert said the goal with the greenhouse is to grow produce for the school and also grow enough to for a sustainable enterprise.

“It’s amazing what you can get from one greenhouse,” Gilbert said. “The dream is that it will be sustainable for the school and be able to earn money for the students so they can see that as a business.”

The cafeteria also has seen some recent upgrades, Gilbert said.

“The other thing that we’re unveiling is the cafeteria and the seating,” Gilbert said. “One of the things we did is we made it more like a college campus. We have soft seating, places where (students) can plug in their computers. … And then we have booth seating, which is very popular.”

The new greenhouse and farm-to-school menu is a first-of-its-kind concept for OCPS. 

Eric Gutierrez is a staff writer with the West Orange Times & Observer and Windermere Observer. He graduated from the University of Central Florida in 2015 with a dual degree in Journalism and Political Science. Got a story idea? Contact Eric at...

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