Healthy Choices

Farm project takes root at Sacramento schools near urban development

A 2.5-acre farm slated for Leataata Floyd Elementary School is being planned this winter, promising an agricultural learning opportunity for students and community members alike by 2016.

The Floyd Farms project is one of many stipulations in a 2012 memorandum of understanding between the city of Sacramento, Sacramento City Unified School District and developer Northwest Land Park LLC.

The firm broke ground last year on a 32-acre complex offering 825 homes east of Interstate 5 and south of Broadway, in close proximity to the elementary school and Arthur A. Benjamin Health Professions High School. To compensate for the impact of the project, the firm will provide funding for an educational farm on a vacant parcel owned by the district.

Once completed, the farm will be open to students in both schools, and will include a half-acre community garden area for use by local residents. Students will grow a combination of vegetables and fruit trees in an effort to increase their understanding of nutrition and agriculture, said Jay Hansen, school board member who has been heading the project.

“Being able to teach students where food really comes from – that it comes from the ground, from the trees and not from a can or from the grocery aisle – when you’re a child, that’s an important thing,” he said.

The district and city will hire a full-time farmer to oversee student and resident activities at the site, which will include a kitchen, meeting room and designated area for community gardening plots. Kevin M. Smith, the local project manager for the Mill at Broadway, as the new residential and commercial area will be called, said there was a community garden on the Leataata Floyd patch once before, but it fell out of use about 15 years ago.

He expects construction on the new farm to cost a few hundred thousand dollars – a small piece of the estimated $100 million that will be spent on the entire project. His hope is to start construction on the farm parcel in late 2015 and be ready to plant in 2016.

The future farm will ideally serve as a destination for students from other schools to visit and learn about agriculture, Smith said. The educational portion and community garden portion will be kept separate for safety reasons, he said, but family collaboration will be encouraged.

“The kids will take the experience they have at school and be a real driver for families participating in the community garden side,” Smith said. “It creates an interaction of families taking on a plot and really going to town.”

The farm would be the only major area in the school district dedicated to agricultural learning, building on the trend of school gardens that has sprouted in Sacramento over the past decade. Soil Born Farms, a Rancho Cordova nonprofit dedicated to urban farming, launched a pilot garden at Theodore Judah Elementary School eight years ago. From there, they launched the Growing Together School Garden Initiative, installing gardens at five additional schools in recent years.

Shannon Hardwicke, coordinator of the initiative, said the garden programs have been largely successful in getting students excited about different kinds of produce. Teachers bring their classes out to the garden at various points during the day or run after-school programs focused on harvesting and cooking. Theodore Judah has a monthly garden snack day at recess, and Camellia Basic Elementary School now hosts a holiday harvest party instead of a cookie party.

Still, the students can produce only a limited amount of food in the gardens, which are about 60 feet by 60 feet, Hardwicke said. A farm the size of the Floyd site – nearly as big as two football fields – has the potential to produce much more food.

Soil Born will host the first Regional School Garden Symposium this March to spread the word about the benefits of agriculture for students, Hardwicke said.

“For a lot of the students in urban areas in Sacramento, they just don’t have that connection to where their food comes from, how it’s grown and what it takes to grow it,” she said. “When they’re working in the school’s smaller version, they can think about the bigger scale. That’s been a powerful piece, and I can see that being helpful for students at Leataata Floyd.”

Median household income for the area surrounding Leataata Floyd Elementary School was about $29,600 between 2009 and 2013, barely half the countywide median during that time according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Plans for the Mill at Broadway include converting an old warehouse into a year-round public market, said Smith. The farmer running the school farm will get a booth at that market to sell the produce, with the goal of putting the proceeds back into the farm.

“We’ll try to eliminate the healthy food desert in that region and provide additional financial resources to support the agricultural activities going on,” Smith said.

Call The Bee’s Sammy Caiola, (916) 321-1636.

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