Fresh Kitchen, which opened in Winter Garden last week on Daniels Road, has announced it is partnering with Fleet Farming, a nonprofit urban agriculture program, to construct an edible garden for SunRidge Middle School.
The garden will be located behind the cafeteria near some of the portables and to start will include four raised beds, a few trees and a small pollinator for flowers.
The garden will produce edible items such as herbs, onions, kale and more, as well as native plants to help grow the planting environment. Fleet Farming will help select items based on season, taking the hardiness and care of each item into consideration.
Robin Nelms, SunRidge Middle sponsor for the project, said the goal is to start construction and planning in the middle of July, with the garden being available for planting when the new school year starts in August.
“I think it’s a great learning opportunity outside the walls of the classroom,” Nelms said. “To be able to teach kids hands-on skills that they can use outside of school and being a garden area where people can come and sit outside if a class needs down time or an area to read. I’m hoping that it becomes a place where students can truly enjoy the garden again.”
Philanthropy and sustainability always have been part of Fresh Kitchen’s mission, and the edible garden presented an opportunity for the business to engage with the community outside of the restaurant walls.
Students and teachers will be able to use the garden as part of their STEM teaching and learning curriculum.
Tara O’Neill, vice president of training and experience at Fresh Kitchen, said the organization is partnering with the school not only because of its close location to the new eatery but also because of their excitement to learn.
“Their whole thing is not just, ‘Let’s go and build the garden and be done,’” O’Neill said. “They really, truly do want to inspire the next generation of growers and teach people about the beauty and the importance of growing food.”
O’Neill said unlike most businesses, Fresh Kitchen does not typically use traditional marketing tactics when a new location opens.
“We believe loving our community is like a boomerang, and if we love on our communities, they love us back, and business is good,” she said. “So when we open up in communities it’s important for us to support a hyperlocal organization that’s directly in our community.”
Nelms said Fresh Kitchen approaching the school came as a surprise.
As the leader of the school’s National Junior Honor Society, she worked with the students to help in the upkeep of the partnering SunRidge Elementary School’s garden.
Although the students had plans to redo the garden and make additional improvements, everything came to a halt at the beginning of the pandemic and the school realized how expensive the revamping would be.
When Fresh Kitchen reached out, Nelms said she was thrilled.
“I’ve wanted to do something that (the middle school students) can call their own,” she said. “Working with Fresh Kitchen and Fleet Farming — they’re going to kind of teach us what to grow and when, which helps us in the long run.”
O’Neill said the new location hosted a friends and family event on Sunday, June 5, and an opening on Monday, June 6, where Fresh Kitchen accepted donations for the garden. She said the goal was to raise $4,000, and they did.
O’Neill said the line was wrapped around the building with many community members coming out to show their support, including some students from SunRidge Middle to help greet the guests.
“Everything we do is super intentional,” O’Neill said. “Part of our mission is we really do want to make a positive impact by supporting causes that help the communities where we live and work. As a company, we really are making steps to become a more sustainable organization as well as really trying to inspire that mindset in our team members and community.”