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Gainesville's first Food Community Tour shows local cultivating, empowering and assisting

Three organizations partnered Saturday to host Gainesville’s first Food Community Tour.

Working Food, GROW HUB, and the Giving Garden share the mission of providing fair access to nutritious food and touting the advantages of eating locally.

The Giving Garden highlighted growing food in an urban environment, while GROW HUB showed off different types of plants and soil, and Working Food offered a cooking demonstration and lesson on seed preservation at each location.

Attendees learned about the goals, effects and contributions of each organization to the regional food system. They rotated between GROW HUB and Giving Garden, participating in thought-provoking and hands-on activities that showcased localized seed-to-plate production.

“It highlights how closely tied we are as nonprofits but also as individuals in a community and how important food is to everyone,” said Alexa Heilman, a nursery supervisor, horticultural therapist and education coordinator at GROW HUB.

“Everyone eats, so everyone's kind of a participating factor in our food community,” Heilman said. “The more you can participate in your local food community instead of buying less desirable products from big box stores we can reinvest our money and time in our local communities health.”

A sustainable community food system is a cooperative network that integrates sustainable food production, processing, distribution, consumption, and waste management. Enhancing a region's social, economic and environmental well-being is its main objective.

“It’s important to learn about these food community systems as we learn about how these systems create a more well-rounded community,” participant Bailey Daigle said. “I think it’s really awesome that we have people like this that not only are doing these types of things but also educating us about them so we can do them ourselves.”

Melissa Desa, the seed program director for Working Food, has worked for over 10 years with the non-profit organization that was founded in 2012 and strives for a resilient and just local food community where everyone's success is shared. Their primary initiatives are: seed, youth and kitchen, as it assists them in fulfilling their purpose.

“Keeping seeds in communities that belong here and grow well here has cultural significance, “ she said. “Just by having people get the chance to see and realize where their food comes from … shows people the intricacies and the magic and fun about local seeds.”

Founded in 2016, GROW HUB is a non-profit plant nursery at 2900 NE 8th Ave. in Gainesville that aims to provide individuals with developmental impairments with the necessary skills to finally find employment.

“We are inviting the community out to see what we do out here in GROW HUB, as today we are doing soil demonstrations,” said Crystal Taylor, a nursery supervisor and board member at GROW HUB.

“I would love for people to learn about what we do here and I think it’s really important for people to know our mission, as we are a non-profit nursery and all the money that we make here at GROW HUB goes directly back into supporting adults with disabilities,” Taylor said.

Encouraging local food systems improves the local economy, community and environment. Understanding the source of our food promotes sustainable agricultural methods, educates consumers and fosters a sense of responsibility for food production.

“I just came here to see how I can help. I feel that the reason that we have many programs and abilities to help community gardens and producers is all about natural resource conservation,” said participant Juan Hernandez, who is a state conservationist with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.

“Food security became a real thing because of the pandemic, and people didn't realize how fragile our food chain can be,” Hernandez said, “so the reality is that it’s important to learn about your own crops, grow your own crops and understanding the basics is so important and is so healthy at the same time.”

Sofia is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing
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