By Tiffanie Reynolds | Jacksonville
This portable farm-to-table business model is the latest expansion for Berry Good Farms, a microbusiness of North Florida School of Special Education, and the truck will be serving locally grown fruits and vegetables as salads or wraps during One Spark.
The school started raising funds for the truck during One Spark 2014, where it won second place in the innovation category and third place overall. Those prize funds became the start of continued fundraising and planning, followed by the purchase of the truck last month. After this year’s One Spark, the truck will be used to serve lunch to corporate sponsors and at other public events, eventually becoming a staple at Jacksonville’s monthly events and in other parts of the city.
The truck not only serves as an outlet for the food that’s grown on the campus farm, but as another component for post-graduate students in the school’s transition program to put their entrepreneurship and life skills to work.
The program is part of how Berry Good Farms uses culinary classes and life skill classes to assist people 18 to 22 years of age and older with special needs in gaining job skills.
At Berry Good Farms, students plant, cultivate, harvest and cook the fruits, vegetables and other edible plants for other students, staff, teachers and parents. The students also plant seedlings in larger pots to sell as started plants at farmers markets, as well as packets of campus-grown herbs and spices and homemade dog treats called Barkable Biscuits, which now sell in places like Driftwood, Salty Paws, Yoga Den in Mandarin, Cowford Traders in Avondale, Grassroots, Earthpets and Dogwood Park. All of the profit goes directly back to the farms.
With the addition of the food truck, farm manager Tim Armstrong says that his next goal is to make enough to employ transition program students on Berry Good Farms.
“As the program grows,” Armstrong said, “I hope we’ll be able to hire more students here working the program here on the campus in paid positions.”
Berry Good Farms began three years ago, just a few years after Armstrong enrolled his own son at the school. Armstrong, who is the owner of nursery and urban farming education center Eat Your Yard Jax, saw that the school already had a small garden started at the back of the campus. He was approached by the school to help expand it.
With some help from friends and volunteers, Armstrong, students, staff, teachers and parents planted 100 blueberry and blackberry seeds in one day, and Berry Good Farms was born. Now, the farm sprawls across the back of the campus, covering every piece of open ground with fruits and vegetables, berries, fruit trees, a green house with a seedling and aqua garden and various herbs and spices.
While the farm plays a big role in the school’s transition program, students from kindergarten to high school play a role on the farm. Armstrong uses the farm to teach younger students basic horticulture skills as well as the process of growing and cultivating food. With the school planning to expand another five acres, including a gymnasium and cafeteria, Armstrong is already making plans to plant wherever he can.
“It’s healthy for the kids. They’re learning about good food and we’re creating a little urban farm here on our campus that is a gem in North Florida,” said Armstrong. “A little hidden gem. And, it’s truly a magical place where all kinds of things grow.”