We’re building a community farm!

In early February of this year, I was invited to the famous Rancho La Puerta spa in Tecate, right over the border in Mexico. I was part of a retreat for social media gals, and at the end of the week, Laura Silvan, the director of Rancho La Puerta’s nonprofit foundation, took the 16 of us gals on a little trip to see some of the community projects that they were supporting in the city of the Tecate, such as their educational center and a 28-acre park with a public sports field.

Our last stop was at the very edge of Tecate. Our van rumbled over the unpaved rocky roads, flimsy homes were supported by just rotting columns, playgrounds were bare with rusty equipment….and there wasn’t much else. This part of poor, rural Tecate is downriver — waste and sewage collected here, making it unsafe for their children.

A group of women in the community, headed by Dona Carmen, decided to stand up and do better. The “Rain Women” cleaned up their community, started a recycling business and begin an organic garden.

The fence around the garden was not to keep their produce safe, but it was to keep people from stealing their clean water.

This little boy just won my heart. He has barely anything, yet eats organic vegetables every day. His mother is part of the “Rain Women” group, and he was just such a happy, healthy boy.

I started crying.

When my own son, Andrew was 3-years old, about the same age as this little boy, I asked him, “Where do oranges come from?”

And my son replied, “a truck!”

*thump* oh. dear.

You see, I live in Florida and every day we see large semi trucks piled to the max with oranges just picked up from the groves and heading towards the interstate.

And so when I saw this little boy in Tecate, that’s when I knew I had to do something in my own community, as there were other kids in my town who thought corn was plucked from the ground and potatoes came from flakes in a box.

I wanted to build a children’s garden and teach kids about where food really comes from. I wanted a place for kids to play in the dirt, touch real food, learn to enjoy their vegetables.

Just look.

This little boy in Tecate grows organic radishes.

We grow ch-ch-ch-chia pets.

The community that we live in is family-oriented, full of soccer moms, minivans and top-notch education.

Parents dedicate themselves to providing for their children, shuttling them from school to baseball to ballet to karate practice. Yet, by the end of the day, the parents are so tired and have run out of time, that they stop by McDonald’s to pick up dinner. I am guilty of being in the group too, as even Nathan wrote a recipe for his classroom cookbook about Mommy making pizza in a box.

And right there is the paradox.

Parents spare no time, expense or energy to give their kids an enriching life with activities and best education, but think nothing of feeding them crap.

I MUST DO BETTER FOR MY KIDS. I must do better for my community.

A team was assembled with Irwin, Ngan, Tara, Patty…and few weeks ago, we pitched the idea to Rex Jensen, CEO of of Schroeder Manatee Ranch, the owner of the land that our community sits on.

Here we are at my home, our after dinner topic of conversation was the garden blueprint. Rex is the gentleman on the right in the blue shirt. Of course, I fed him and his wife very well before we even began to pitch!! That’s the right way to begin any business meeting!

Well, a funny thing happens when an idea just feels so right. People become absolutely passionate and the project begins growing a life of its own.

What once was a small, cutesy children’s garden….all of a sudden became a 5 acre community FARM. Oh wait, not just a farm, but a “Community SmartFarm™” where we teach and utilize technology such as aquaponics (growing fish and plants together in same tanks), solar energy and efficient crop growing.

There’s a farm stand to sell the produce that we grow, a children’s garden with a story stage for performances/book readings/teaching,  a classroom to teach families how to grow their own gardens, and my favorite element is an elegant, enclosed Pole Barn with a teaching kitchen that’s tricked out with studio lighting to record cooking shows. We also have a henhouse, a compost pile and an orchard for fruit trees. An equipment and seed barn to store the wheel barrels and shovels and an apiary for bees.

Rex loved it.

We knew he would.

Next hurdle: meetings to pitch the concept to his Board of Directors and his management team.

They loved it too.

We knew they would. That’s Tara back there – she’s the one who designed the farm plans.

But would the original founders of Schroeder Manatee Ranch love it too? Would this match their vision of what the land would transform into?

It’s a deal, Ms. Magaretha, we will plant peas in your honor.

So let me introduce the future home of the Lakewood Ranch SmartFarm.

I think there’s a total of 11 acres here…we’ll start with 5 acres…and it’s located five minutes from my home.

And next to an elementary school even! Free little weeders!

We are partnering with Discovery Health to showcase the project from beginning to end on their site. Oh, we’re planning to build this SmartFarm in THREE DAYS in October of this year.

Yes we’re absolutely crazy.

Hey, if Extreme Home Makeover can build a home in a week, we certainly can build a farm in 3 days! Of course, a lot of work has to be done to prep the project, such as fundraising, planning, permitting in gathering all of the troops necessary to make it happen.  But the hard part, getting the land, is done and the rest is a piece of cake, right?! 😉

I’m so fortunate that we’ve got a rockstar group to lead this project (I’ll intro them in separate post!), thankful for Schroeder Manatee Ranch for believing in us and thrilled that Discovery Health will give us a spotlight!

Part of our plan is to document every step of the way, show you the plans, journal the ups (and the downs) so that maybe you can build a SmartFarm in your community too. Would you like to join the team? More information at our Lakewood Ranch SmartFarm website.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must figure out where the children’s chia pet garden will fit in the plans….

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Comments 121

  1. skip to malou

    wow jaden you never run out of great ideas… and ideas that are really carried out into becoming a reality! you are ahh-mazing. As I read this post, I cannot help but get inspired… just as you guys did when you wre here in LA…
    getting people get involved is also another thing… you and scott have the skill to do that… you are the movers that the world needs!

  2. dhanes420

    effing heck! Brilliant!

    Certainly makes our little backyard gardens pale. Count me in to come down at least one of the days in October to help out. Payment will be accepted in the form of a shower (for me) and dinner!

  3. Kim at Rustic Garden Bistro

    Jacen, wow. This is so incredibly inspiring. Way to lead the way for the next generation!!!! When I open up the officialgarden bistro, will you come help me design the community garden?!?!?! Can’t wait to hear updates! [K]

  4. David Leventhal

    wonderful and inspiring story. We should do this with vacant lots as well.

    We have a sustainable boutique hotel in Mexico and we did something similar. Not only have we started an organic garden on the property, but we have partnered with a local organic farmer who has been exporting basil and introduced the concept of a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). Now we have 4 restaurants and 20 plus local residents receiving organic vegetables and fruits delivered to their home on a weekly basis.


  5. John La Puma MD

    Fantastic, from start to finish: sponsorship, media, kids, education and inspiration all in one. I am super, super impressed. Keep up the great work!

  6. Titus Kratz Jr

    How interesting-great idea-happen to have a soninlaw across the street who owns quite a few acres-well i love gardens and will approach him about borrowing an acre. We are in the country with a High School only a few miles away. Such an idea to have our children involved in a Smart Farm.When i was Young,we had our Victory Garden and it was loads o fun-pst did not have a choice.Sure did put lots o food on our table. By the way THANKS fer such a great IDEA.At this point i have lots of Seeds-Sunflower-Gourd-Flower Cabbage-will send some soon.

  7. louis Artalona

    Ms Hair, I just read you’re artical in the trib and you’ve made my day. Lately we’ve been fed a steady diet of “Oh my God” in reaction to the state of the world news. Political corruption, murder, immigration, oil spills, and countless numbers of acts of violence committed by man against man. And here you are building a farm for children. No mention of race or poitical affiliations. Other than the word “kids”, I can find no other criteria needed to participate. You are a breath of fresh air. The world needs more people like you. Good luck and God bless you.

  8. Melody

    Hey! We’re doing the same thing, but we’ve got an urban farming movement going. I’m one of the working members here in Denver, and LOVE it. Thanks for keeping up sustainability!

  9. Kiki

    This post really got me choked up. What an amazing project. My goal this year is to grow all of my family’s fruits and vegetables, and I think we’ll get pretty close. Best of luck!

  10. Amy {Adventures of a Messy Chef}

    I have had this post bookmarked for a time when I could sit down and actually look at it. I am so thrilled and impressed that you are doing this!! I have become addicted to the idea of local farming and will be following your adventures in hopes of starting something similar where I am. If you are in need of volunteers when building time comes, I’d love to join in (Im in NE FL and have a babysitter (aka grandma) north of Tampa). Best wishes!

  11. Karla

    Do you live in lakewood ranch? I live off of University and am an aspiring foodie/blogger that loves the idea of sustainable living. Would love to get involved in your smart farm!

  12. Kendra @ My First Kitchen

    This is truly remarkable. I can’t wait to see the progress! Thank you for being part of something so life-changing for the people in your community and for giving all of us the encouragement to do what we can in our own.

  13. Shubhra

    jaden, where do you get time and energy to do all that you do??????
    this project sounds awesome. i love to garden, and i always find it so amazing when my mom goes to her garden and “plucks” dinner. she brings in squash, okra, tomatoes, eggplant or whatever veggie she is growing and then whips up a delicious Indian dinner. just the other day we were enjoying fresh, crisp cucumbers with lime juice, salt and pepper on them and my mom tells us they are from her garden! good luck on your farm! 🙂

  14. Pingback: GrowCookEat: Organic Gardening Q+A | Good Life Eats

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