Engaging students and faculty while promoting healthy lifestyles

While most people at the University of Florida or in Gainesville are familiar with the UF bat houses across from Lake Alice on Museum Road, for some, those rows of kale or squash growing nearby are a mystery.

Called the Student Gardens, this plot of land is part of the UF Field & Fork Campus Food Program, an interdisciplinary initiative led by the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. Each semester, 30 to 50 students volunteer at the garden, working together to grow fresh vegetables while learning sustainable farming practices.

These volunteers get a share of what they grow, and through a partnership with the Alan and Cathy Hitchcock Field & Fork Pantry, which is run by UF Student Affairs, some of the harvest is distributed to those in the UF community facing food insecurity.

UF faculty host classes at the Student Gardens as well as the Teaching Farm, a seven-acre teaching farm located south of Hull Road. The Teaching Farm demonstrates different systems for growing food and is available to faculty in any academic department.

“Field and Fork got started when we recognized a need for our students to have more experiential learning,” said Anna Prizzia, campus food systems coordinator and director of Field & Fork. “We saw two areas on campus that were used to teach students about agriculture, but they were vastly underutilized. These became the Student Gardens and Teaching Farm. We also saw a need to address the issue of food insecurity on campus, which led to the food pantry,” she said.

Any UF student can get involved in the gardens by showing up on one of the scheduled work days, which will be posted on the Field and Fork website and Facebook page. Some volunteers work as interns and receive college credit. Both interns and volunteers gain leadership experience by managing the gardens’ planning and operation.

Prizzia noted that most employers want to see college graduates have real-world leadership experience outside the classroom, which is exactly what the farm, gardens and pantry offer.

The Field & Fork Program hosts several events throughout the year for students in all colleges at UF. For information about upcoming events, volunteer opportunities, and applying for internships, visit the “Get Involved” section of the Field & Fork website.

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