Community Service Homeschool is the first in what I hope will be a series of articles featuring projects being done by members of our SEA homeschooling community. I’m sure our entire SEA community is as proud as I am to have such socially thoughtful and involved members. Way to go Tina!

How we translated our avocation into our children’s education

By Tina Harden

Community Service Homeschool

Community Service Homeschool: Somer’s Garden

Have you ever had a pivotal moment in your life where a decision you made on the spur of the moment took you on a journey you never planned or suspected? One that would have a “huge” impact on your life in ways you never imagined? My family has had two of these moments.

The first was when my wife and I chose to homeschool our boys. The second occurred in 2014, when Bringing Food Forests to NE Florida, INC (BFFTNEF) was born. It didn’t start out as a grand idea. It grew from an opportunity to marry hands-on learning with community service when Jolinda Kohl, a fellow homeschooling mom, and I applied for and won a small grant. The two of us have a strong commitment to community service. We envisioned BFFTNEF as a way we could do something important for our community and show our children, no matter how little you have (our two families have very limited funds), there is always a way to help those who have less.

Community Service Homeschool

Community Service Homeschool: Kids helping

BFFTNEF’s Mission Statement reads: Bringing Food Forests to NE Florida has a mission to bring food forest gardens to publicly accessible locations wherever there is a need, and educate community members, children, and their families through the process of food forest garden creation and installation. These gardens provide free access to healthy, organic produce using sustainable permaculture techniques.

Community Service Homeschool

Community Service Homeschool: BFFTNEF

The two of us are members of Permaculture Jax, a group responsible for several private food forest initiatives in and around Jacksonville Florida. This is where we learned about permaculture. Permaculture involves 3 basic tenets that we try to incorporate into our whole life philosophy: 1. Care of the Earth, 2. Care of the People, and 3. Return of Surplus. We may not have a lot of cash, but we can grow things to help heal the earth, feed our families healthy food, and share the surplus bounty of what we grow with those in need.

Community Service Homeschool

Community Service Homeschool: Harvesting

With society as a whole becoming more health conscious people are making political, financial and environmental decisions based on a desire for a more natural diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables. Because of this, organic food has come into great demand.  In fact, the demand is so high that major retailers like Costco are actually paying farmers to become certified organic food providers to meet the exploding need.  But what about those who are living on fixed and low incomes? Our research1, 2, 3 led us to discover that those most in need of healthy, nutritious foods were the ones least able to obtain any, much less organic, fresh produce. As Jolinda and I developed the mission statement for BFFTNEF, we considered carefully how to bring healthy, organic produce to people who couldn’t afford it. At the same time we made this project a real world learning opportunity in our children’s education through outreach into the community.

Community Service Homeschool

Community Service Homeschool: Food insecurity chart

We covered plant identification and foraging during our botany classes, but now we had the opportunity to expand our educational experience to include budgeting, critical thinking on potential questions that may arise, and not least of all we also socialized! My children and I spent hours reviewing information on how to set up a community garden, preparing proposals and attending town hall meetings to lobby for a community food forest garden in our local food desert. They were already well versed in the science of soil chemistry as related to plant needs thanks to Permaculture Jax and Alexander Ojeda, a fellow homeschooling dad and permaculture guru par excellence.

Community Service Homeschool

Community Service Homeschool: Canopy

This hands on learning led to a much greater understanding of the government and political systems as well as how to work within a timeframe and provided an insight into the importance of perseverance. After many months of research and planning, we were connected with Diena Thompson, mother of Somer Thompson, a young girl who tragically lost her life at the hands of a predator.  Diena had recently been awarded the property where Somer passed and was at a loss as to what to do with it.  Upon meeting with Diena, we discussed a community food forest garden that would provide healing and nourishment to the community devastated by Somer’s death. And thus our pilot project was born, Somer’s Garden.

Community Service Homeschool

Community Service Homeschool: Somer’s Garden map

We wanted to create a lasting memorial to Somer Thompson with Somer’s Garden, but we were concerned with the high failure rate of most community gardens. Some studies put the failure rate of community gardens after approximately five years as high as 50-70% due to heavy maintenance requirements. To ameliorate this potential issue, we chose to create our food forest gardens utilizing permaculture principles. In permaculture, food forest gardens are reaching their self-sustainability potential at five years with minimal maintenance needed thereafter. By incorporating these principles in our community food forest gardens, we have given our gardens a jump start on success.

Community Service Homeschool

Community Service Homeschool

Through permaculture, community service, and persistence, our children have developed an appreciation of the struggles of those outside their socioeconomic niche, learned how to grow healthy organic food in the difficult growing conditions found in NE Florida, and how to impact the change they want to be in the world.

Community Service Homeschool

Community Service Homeschool: Working together

Somer’s Garden is open 24/7. The community comes by on our workdays to share stories of how they stop by to supplement their weekly groceries with what is ready for harvest. We had a single mother stop to tell us they would not have had any fresh food the previous week if it wasn’t for the garden. And we know that folks are harvesting because when we stop to see, all the carrots or greens are gone, or when the previous day the blueberry bushes were full, they no longer have any ripe berries on them. We also harvest and hand out produce.

Community Service Homeschool

Community Service Homeschool

If you are interested in learning more about community food forest gardens and how permaculture can be restorative, regenerative, and educational, please visit the links below.

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