Throughout the Panhandle and Big Bend Region of Florida, many residents struggle to access healthy foods. Among the 20 counties with the most people living in poverty in Florida, more than half are in the Florida Panhandle and Big Bend Region.

Poverty thus leads to food insecurity, as people have less access to healthy foods. Leon County, unfortunately, ranks third out of 67 counties for the highest food insecurity rate in Florida.

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Additionally, on average, only 10.8% of Americans are meeting the standard for daily fruit and vegetable consumption. According to a 2018 USDA Economic Research Study, purchasing fruits and vegetables from direct-to-consumer outlets, such as from farmers at farmers markets and roadside stands, was positively associated with several healthy behaviors.

Extension agent Trevor Hylton taught participants about pruning fruit trees at the UF/IFAS Leon County Extension Office.

Households who did so were more likely to be aware of the USDA’s MyPlate guidelines, rate their diets as excellent or very good, and were nearly twice as likely to have a vegetable garden.

To help address food insecurity, we need more farmers to grow healthy produce for direct-to-consumer outlets. Unfortunately, farmers are continuing to age as a group. According to the census of agriculture, farmers averaged 59.8 years in 2007 and 62.2 years in 2012 in Leon County.

It is not only important to recruit a younger farmer workforce, but it is also important to assist these young farmers with the many challenges they will face, including access to land, developing the skills needed to farm and run a business, and navigating the many aspects of food safety.

Farmer Dave taught training participants about how to build soil beds and seed crops at Liberty Farms.

In an effort to address this issue locally, the City of Tallahassee, with funding from the Knight Foundation, partnered with Tallahassee Community College’s (TCC) Wakulla Environmental Institute, Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University’s (FAMU) Small Business Development Center, multiple local small farmers, UF/IFAS Extension, FAMU Extension, and other partners to deliver a 12-week Urban Farming and Entrepreneurship Training Program.

Coordinating the program is local farmer Sarah Bardolph, of Toad Lily Farm, who grows a variety of produce in Tallahassee for direct-to-consumer outlets such as the Tallahassee Farmers Market and the Red Hills Online Market.

With the ongoing pandemic, the Urban Farming and Entrepreneurship Training Program has utilized a mixture of virtual programming and in-person outdoor hands-on programming to teach 12 beginning farmers a variety of skills.

Topics include how to start a farming business and write a business plan; finding and assessing land; soil health and conservation; site selection and installation; marketing and distribution; produce safety regulations; accounting and bookkeeping; propagation and planting; weed, pest, and disease management; harvesting and post-harvest food safety; tools and supplies; indoor farming systems; market research and diversification; and more.

Now in week 10, participants have visited seven different locations and have tuned in to five virtual modules, giving the beginning farmers a wide range of experiences and resources.

Extension agents taught training participants about integrated pest management at the UF/IFAS Leon County Extension Office.

The beginning farmers started out in-person at City Farm TLH, a new pilot urban farm located on a vacant city-owned parcel in Crawfordville developed by the City of Tallahassee last October. They’ve also visited the Frenchtown Urban Farm, the Frenchtown Farmers Market, Liberty Farms, Turkey Hill Farm, Full Earth Farm, and the UF/IFAS Leon County Extension Office.

The instructors of the virtual modules have been taught by both farmers and university educators, including leaders of the FAMU Small Business Development Center, UF/IFAS Extension Leon County, and Handsome Harvest Farm.

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