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Grant of $100,000 awarded to Lee County Schools for farm-to-school program expansion

CAPE CORAL, Fla. — Soon, Lee County Schools will witness an increase in the number of farm-to-school programs.

The Lee County School District has received a grant of $100,000 from the United States Department of Agriculture. It is to assist in supporting farm-to-school initiatives, such as the expansion of school gardens to supply food for school cafeterias.

“When you grow things hydroponically, it really is the way to go. Especially in the times of global warming and we have a lot of blue-green algae.”

A project that has been under development for years at Island Coast High School is finally altering how students learn.

Joe Mallon, Academy of Natural Resources instructor at Island Coast High School, says, “We prove sustainability. And we’ve done it, through hydroponics, alternative energy, aquaponics, and aquaculture.”

In the Academy of Natural Resources, students get hands-on experience. They are taught how to create and run a hydroponic farm with plants and fish. Similarly to their output, the program is expanding.

“We have $100,000 to help put fresh produce on students’ plates,” says Susie Hassett, Environmental Education Resource Teacher for Lee County School District. “Here at Island Coast, they have been the model school to help us learn how to do that and they are going to continue teaching other schools how to do that as well.”

The class has supplied the school and others with fresh vegetables for years. It is designed such that upper-class men instruct lower-class men, enabling them to become independent. Due to federal funding, they will now serve as the blueprint for future district-wide renovations.

“It brings a lot of hope because it increases food security for a lot of families, it teaches them to grow their own food, and fresh local food helps us offset transportation costs and the issues of the supply chain,” said Hassett. “So we are so excited that we are going to be solving a lot of problems.”

As complex as the science may appear, what kids are learning may be applied to real-world situations.

“We grow so many types of plants that my students are learning you’re taking the carbon out of the atmosphere and then creating food and creating oxygen,” said Mallon. “They also know that this program has a negative carbon footprint. So it’s really all about what are we teaching them not only for now but what are we teaching for generations to come.”

Contributing to a future that is greener and more sustainable.

“Students can really educate adults because they get out in the community and they explain the sustainability and how they can make a difference,” said Hassett. “That inspires adults to try to do the same thing and to do their part.”

“If I teach one hundred kids and I get through ten of them and those ten get through ten, it’s exponential,” says Mallon. “Hopefully, we get to the point where I’m starting to see that exponential growth in what we’re doing.”

Lowell Bowen

From the time he was 8 years old Lowell knew he wanted to be on TV. Well, as people say one thing leads to another, that's how Lowell started his career in the news industry. Lowell has been part of The South Florida Daily since the very beginning.

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