University of Florida donates fresh produce to needy families

Come November, 800 families in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties will line up to get free, healthy, locally-grown food for Thanksgiving dinner.

For the sixth year, the University of Florida IFAS West Florida Research and Education Center will join forces with Feeding the Gulf Coast to feed local families during National Farm to City Week, Nov. 21 to 25.

Farm to City Week is a national effort to increase the public’s knowledge and appreciation for agriculture. The week of Thanksgiving, meals will be distributed to 400 pre-qualified families in Santa Rosa County and 400 families in Escambia County.

“We are proud, as members of the community, to continue a tradition of feeding needy families for the Thanksgiving holiday,” said Wes Wood, center director of the UF/IFAS West Florida REC. “Plus, we get to include other members of the community in producing and harvesting the food, and they learn new skills.”

Participants will get vegetables grown by inmates from the Barrydale work camp, who work at the West Florida REC, said Robin Vickers, events coordinator for the UF/IFAS West Florida REC. “Besides cabbage and collards, grits that have been grown and ground at the research center will also be included,” Vickers said.

The more than 52,000 pounds of food will be harvested and packaged by local FFA, Boy Scouts, and middle and high school agriculture students from Santa Rosa and Escambia County one day prior to the holiday meal distribution, Vickers said.

Each pre-qualified family will be provided with fresh produce, a turkey and all the fixings for a Thanksgiving meal along with some locally grown sweet potatoes provided by the Florida Farm Bureau, she said. Other community partners include the Guy Thompson Community Center, the Waterfront Rescue Mission, Santa Rosa and Escambia counties UF/IFAS Extension, Smith Tractor Company and Coastal Machinery.

“Our local farmers and producers come together to take care of their own by providing the food,” Vickers said. “Without them, the safe, abundant and affordable food we’ll put on our tables at Thanksgiving would not be possible.”

Source: University of Florida

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