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West Orange Times & Observer Wednesday, Mar. 2, 2016 3 years ago

OCPS partners with 4Rivers on farm project

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The 4Rivers Farm Project Partnership seeks to teach students at Ocoee High about what they are eating as well as agriculture skills that could lead to a career.
by: Jennifer Nesslar Reporter

As 4Rivers grows, CEO John Rivers always has felt the responsibility to give back to the community. 

But he’s never been involved in the world of agriculture — until now. At the start of next school year, the 4Rivers Farm Project Partnership with Orange County Public Schools will launch at Ocoee High School.

The program will teach students to test a variety of methods of growing vegetables and produce, including some hydroponics methods. 

Rivers was compelled to the project when he considered the epidemic of Florida farmers going bankrupt, as well as realizing how far produce travels before it ends up on the plates of local teenagers.

“You take a look at what the kids are eating in school and the quality of produce that’s coming to them,” Rivers said. “If they don’t have a good Brussels sprout or a good mushroom or a healthy red pepper, they’re not going to know what it really tastes like, and they’re going to default to thinking it’s bad.”

Ocoee High currently has an agriculture program, complete with a greenhouse, where students already grow produce. But the new program will allow them to use different growth methods, and students will be able to compare the different methods to see what works best, as well as do basic data-keeping and testing of nutrients. The new methods also will allow the plants to grow at greater quantities. 

The program will teach students much about agriculture and the food they eat, but the benefits will extend far beyond that, said Mike Armbruster, senior and executive director of career and technical education to OCPS. 

The skills students learn at the greenhouse will allow them to put some of those skills into practice at home. Using tools such as a Verti-Gro Tower, which takes little space, students can provide produce for their families.  

The program also could pave the way to a career for many of the students. 

“There’s a lot of opportunity for young entrepreneurs to really take this information and knowledge that they’re going to learn and move forward with it,” Armbruster said.

The growing popularity of locally grown and organic foods only works in the students’ favor.

“Having this opportunity is just outstanding for them,” said Peter Jordan, agriculture teacher at Ocoee High School, who predicts hydroponic techniques will begin to become a key part of the agriculture industry.

The project also will be in partnership with the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, which will bring in some staff to help manage the greenhouse and aid with instruction.

NEXT STEPS

Once the project is initiated at Ocoee High, Rivers hopes to partner with OCPS food and nutrition services to serve the food in school. He also would like to start a larger commercial farm offsite where students can work. 

“How cool it would be for a student to be sitting in a cafeteria one day and everyone enjoying whatever meal it is, and he or she says, ‘Hey, I grew that lettuce,’ or ‘I grew that tomato or cucumber personally; I picked it,’” he said. “You start instilling a lot of pride around what they do.”

OCPS also hopes to offer summer internships to Ocoee High School students, so they can continue their learning and keep the garden fresh when school is out of session.

METHODS

Students will experiment with different methods of growing plants to compare the success of each method, using methods such as theVerti-Gro Tower and the Grow bag. 

Contact Jennifer Nesslar at [email protected].

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