CLERMONT, Fla. – Located on 25,000 square feet, a vegetable garden at East Ridge High School in Clermont seems like any other, but there's something that makes it special.
"Just in the last month and a half, two months alone, we donated close to 800 pounds to Second Harvest Food Bank in that short period of time," Troy Badeaux, an agro science teacher at East Ridge High School, said.
Produce, including eggplant, kale, broccoli, cabbage, tomatoes and green beans, is grown at the garden. Badeaux takes care of the plants and said he takes the job to heart.
"When I came here, there was a smaller section of the garden and I also realized there was also a need for students in terms of food," Badeaux said.
With help from students at the high school in Clermont, they are addressing hunger in the area.
"Food insecurity is a big deal throughout the state of Florida, throughout the country," said Michael Elmore, program director at the Society of St. Andrew, a nonprofit organization that helps distribute crops that are grown in small farms and gardens across Florida. Over the summer, a group of volunteers came to pick the produce from the garden at East Ridge High.
"We gleaned, which is gathering excess food that's been left over, and then we took that to food pantries and food banks throughout central Florida." Elmore said.
A study from Map the Meal Gap revealed
- that in Central Florida, 14.6 percent of the population doesn't' have enough food, and more than 614,000 people do not know where their next meal is coming from.
- Also, 21 percent of children in Central Florida live in households with little or no food, leaving them at risk of going to bed hungry.
"Now that it's being addressed at the high school level, where people can be educated about it and move forward and be more conscious of it throughout the rest of their lives, I think it's a big step forward as far as food insecurity and ending hunger," Elmore said.
Jake Dechick, a sophomore volunteer, said he loves the idea of knowing he helped his neighbor somehow.
"As a student, I like to contribute to the education of my peers and contribute to the well-being of my peers, so doing anything that I can to, you know, put more food on their plate is anything I love to do," Dechick said.
Badeaux said it's great to see how much the students learn, not only from growing the produce, but also from being a good member of their community.
He hopes to eventually turn the garden into a professional operation that has row covers and an irrigation system so that students can learn about that system.
Some local businesses are also chipping in for the cause through seed and plant donations. The garden recently received 53 tons of compost to help protect the plants from diseases commonly found in gardens and build good soil structure, enabling the plants to retain nutrients, water and air.