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Growing a Healthy Generation! 50 Students Help Expand Local Organic Community Garden

CLERMONT, FL — Fifty students from four area Lake County middle and high schools spent their Monday morning pulling weeds, spreading compost, and building and prepping 26 grow boxes during an expansion of South Lake Hospital’s organic community garden, located on the hospital campus in Clermont, Florida.

As a co-sponsor of the garden, Uncle Matt’s Organic has been an integral part of the community project since its launch in early 2013. Uncle Matt’s provides education to members of the community who want to learn about organic gardening.

This year, area schools became involved in the project, sending their agriculture students and FFA (Future Farmers of America] members to participate by preparing the gardens for fall vegetable season. Participating schools included all three area high schools: East Ridge, Lake Minneola, and South Lake as well Clermont Middle School.

“The organic community garden is a great community service project for the students to get involved in and apply the skills they are learning in the classroom,” says Chris Eck, agri-science educator and FFA advisor at East Ridge High School. “It’s neat that this garden is organic because our school garden is not. By planting the boxes here, it shows the students a whole different side of vegetable gardening. It’s an easy transition into the classroom to educate them on what organic is and why it’s important.”

Sarah Eck, agriculture teacher at South Lake agrees. “Right now, my students are learning what makes food organic or not,” she says. “We’re excited about working in the organic garden because it provides an opportunity to learn that there are certain things that we can and cannot do to keep it organic.”

East Ridge students have already started fall vegetable seedlings in the classroom, including squash, zucchini, cucumber and okra, to plant at the community garden and farm it organically. The school’s agriculture department plans on sending students over twice a week to check their garden grow box for weeds and plant health.

Besides Uncle Matt’s, who provided organic juices for the students as they worked, other area businesses also donated supplies and materials, including West Orange Lumber, Home Depot, Simon Seed, Austin Outdoors and Papa Lynn’s Organic Farm. These companies provided everything from lumber to seeds and gardening gloves for the students to use.

“Part of the mission of both South Lake Hospital and Uncle Matt’s Organic is teaching people how to stay healthy and well,” says Susan McLean, board member of both Uncle Matt’s Organic and South Lake Hospital. “One way to stay well includes eating food that is locally grown, organic and nutrient dense.  Through this project, not only do we accomplish all three, but we’re teaching the next generation the value of organic and importance of sustainability.”

The garden’s fall planting kickoff will be held this Thursday, September 26, at 5:30 p.m. at the garden located on the hospital campus.

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