Bringing the community back to its roots

Whether they are working the fields of their sustainable flower and herb farm, helping restaurants source local food or organizing a seed exchange for Gainesville’s own gardening network and seed library, Grow Gainesville, the founders of Forage, are always up to something!

Melissa DeSa and Anna Prizzia launched Forage early in 2012 after many years of grassroots work with the passion and purpose of growing, supporting and sustaining North Florida’s local food movement.  For them, the connection between nature, conservation and food is integral. Forage’s many diverse programs seek to reconnect people to their food, to each other and to the natural world.

The heart of Forage is the farm. Nestled on six acres at the Prairie Creek Conservation Area, the rows of flowers and herbs are the perfect site to build community and reunite people with the natural world.  Volunteers come out every week to experience farming and get dirt under their nails. The gorgeous harvests provide a sustainable and local alternative for flowers that help support Forage programs.

One of these programs is Grow Gainesville, a virtual (Facebook and web) and physical space for gardeners to share information, training, resources and their most precious commodity, seeds. The Grow Gainesville seed library provides a means for local gardeners to collectively bulk-purchase seeds that grow well here in North Florida, saving money on seasonal seed purchases. Additionally, it is a place where locally saved seed can be donated and stored for distribution to other gardeners. The long-term goal is to promote and encourage seed saving techniques to protect and increase locally adapted seed varieties.

Hands-on workshops and events like “Building Pollinator Habitats,” or “The Basics of Fermentation” are another way Forage provides opportunities to learn practical skills and connect the community to its food system. Engaging youth in the important work of farming and food is integral to Forage’s mission. By working with the Kids Count Friday enrichment program, Forage volunteers help children tend a garden and engage them in activity and play related to food and healthy eating.

Yet one more way Forge fosters local food connections is the Farm to Restaurant program. This collaboration between Forage and a sister organization, Blue Oven Kitchens, is an annual event that provides networking opportunities and educational sessions for farmers, distributors, chefs and restaurateurs.  Now in its fourth year, this effort has increased sales of local food to restaurants by over $30,000.

Thanks to Forage’s board, the many partnerships with local organizations like Alachua Conservation Trust and Slow Food Gainesville and the love and commitment of amazing volunteers, the fledgling year of Forage has been a huge success.  For individuals, businesses or community partners interested in participating with Forage, please contact Anna Prizzia at anna[at]foragefarm.org.  You may also visit http://www.foragefarm.org or their facebook page — http://www.facebook.com/foragefarm to learn more.