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. susan

    There are some really great agricultural resources in Florida – even though the ag community is shrinking. The University of Florida and Florida Department of Agriculture can both give you a great deal of help and advice as you move forward.

    This is the best community project to come along in a very long time. Thank you, Jaden, for remembering we must teach our children about sustainability.

  2. Margaret

    What an absolutely fabulous idea. It is so scary what so many kids eat today. And that they don’t know where good food comes from or even what it is.

    Way to go, Jaden and company.

  3. Nancy

    Wow, I was just listening to a song on the way home…”If you gotta start somewhere, why not here….If you gotta start sometime, why not now…” and so on… Folks like you who are willing to use their resources to make “impossible” type things happen are much appreciated by the rest of us out here! (And hopefully very soon this type of project will not be so uncommon…)Pulling for ya!!!

  4. ivoryhut

    Absolutely fantastic news! Bravo for seeing this through to the end. I visited my father in the Philippines, where he grows all sorts of fruits and vegetables, with a focus on personal consumption rather than ramping up production for profit. He knew every single tree in his land, when it was planted, where he got the seeds. Everything tasted better, and he reminded me how important it was to understand where your food comes from, and how keeping things simple almost always works out for the best.

    I would love to help in any way I can! Mis manos es sus manos. Or something like that.

  5. Brooke

    Truly inspiring! And yes, I want to be part of the team! Wow, if we could bring this to Central Florida as well…Congratulations. I really look forward to following your progress.

  6. Brandie

    I am so very impressed and so very happy happy for your community. I can’t wait to follow the progress!!

  7. Foodiewife

    Wouldn’t Jamie Oliver be proud of this project! Isn’t it sad how kids think that real food comes through a window in a paper bag? Or that eggs come from cartons? Awesome. I look forward to your updates.

  8. nicole

    That is fantastic!!!!
    Congrats on getting it organized and approved. I look forward to hearing about your progress with the farm. I have so many questions now, I can’t wait to see what you guys say.

  9. elaine

    Jaden! what a great idea! I live south of you but If you think you could ever use a 50 something flabby ol gal like me, put me on your list! awesome awesome!

  10. Joseph

    Jaden, so proud of your project as you know gardening is my hobby and passion. Love to see things grow.

  11. Joseph

    composting is an excellent idea. Ask your local trash company if they would sponsor it.

  12. Vivilicious

    Wow, what an AMAZING project, you go sistah! Would love to be a part of it… all the way from Singapore…. trying to get a couple of organically reared cows over here, that’s my big project for the year.

  13. Casey

    What a fabulous idea. I am in awe, a bit jealous, and very, very inspired. It is so refreshing to learn of someone actually stepping up to make the change in this world that they see is needed. I cannot wait to hear the rest of the story, meet the players and watch your progress. Three days!? This should be fun!


  14. Candace

    …can you imagine if we had a community farm in every community? I’m very curious about the nitty-gritty of it all–who will care for the animals? etc–but I think this is very promising and I hope it works out well so it can be an inspiration and blueprint for future community farms. GOOD LUCK! I will be following this!

  15. Julia Lampman

    Hey Jaden,

    I am totally impressed with your new adventure. I hope this creates a pattern that eventually can go nation-wide. I live in Iowa and was raised on a farm during my early youth. It is important to have ties to the earth rather than on pavement.

    I just love your site and watch you on your TV visits. You are making great strides in your life as a mom and in your career. I’m enjoying your journey. My best to you in this new adventure. Have fun and take care.


  16. Kathy

    Jaden, this is fantastic news! I’m so glad I live here in the bay area and will be able to visit the farm!! I hope that this will spur many more of these community farms….

    Kathy S in Clearwater

  17. Monica

    Like Kathy.. I also live in the Bay area and would be front and center when the doors open.. its such a great idea and the best thing is that our children will learn something that its so essential to their well being and development.

    Wish I live in your town!

  18. Susan @ SGCC

    What fabulous news, Jaden! This is just what our community needs. I can’t wait to see it all come to “fruition”. I’ll be the first in line on opening day! 8)

  19. Shaina

    That’s fantastic, Jaden! We obviously try to impart this knowledge on our own kids, with a vegetable garden in the backyard, but I would love to be able to share with the whole community. This looks like an incredible undertaking, and I can’t wait to see how it grows! Well done.

  20. Monica I.

    This sounds absolutely awesome! In this day and age, so many think meat grows on styrofoam trays and comes plastic wrapped.

    Carry on! We’ll be watching with anticipation for the project announcements and progress.

  21. Winnie

    Really amazing Jaden. I love your energy and enthusiasm for doing good in this world. You are inspiration to so many…can’t wait to see your community farm project grow!

  22. Lana @ Never Enough Thyme

    Absolutely fantastic concept! Having grown up in a rural area on a farm, it’s always amazing to me that some people have no idea where their food comes from. Even though I no longer live on the farm, I always keep a small backyard garden and love the fresh taste and quality that home grown food brings to the table.

    I wish you and your colleagues all the success in the world with this worthwhile endeavor. Congratulations!

  23. Kate

    Glorious! Echoing others with children and the issues of sustainability and where food comes from – I don’t have children, but my high school years (not that long ago) were a wake-up call for a transplanted country kid like me. I remember most vividly a conversation in the lunchroom about where our burgers came from. A girl pipes up with: “Everyone knows hamburger comes from pigs!” I had a girl ask if I branded cattle with my belt buckle. And of course, there was that senator a few years ago who said we don’t need farmers – we can get our food from the grocery store.

    I can’t wait to see how this progresses! I’m seriously interested in starting something like this in my own community. You might be my test group. 🙂 Go for it!

  24. Kari C

    This is amazing!!!!! Congratulations, guys!

    I’m from Vancouver, BC (Canada!) and we have a learning farm for kids 20 minutes away in nearby city (Richmond). The farm is called Terra Nova (http://www.kidsinthegarden.org/), and there is a program (Project Chef, http://www.projectchef.ca/) that teaches kids at elementary schools about where food comes from and how to cook healthy meals, as this is a global issue! I volunteered a bit with them after graduating from culinary school this year and the lady in charge, Chef Barb Finley, is unbelievable!

    Thanks for taking part in the fight to give kids a healthy future!

    You rock.
    K xoxo

  25. shirley elizabeth

    Muy muy jealous of your garden plans.

    What you said about the differences in what parents feed their children is true. At my house, sodas and sugars and store-bought snacks weren’t allowed. We had a long countertop that was devoted to fruits and vegetables, and we had a big green salad with every dinner (unless it was soup). Every year we had a garden out in our backyard and would partake of our harvest. If you look at me and my siblings, you will find people that don’t just have healthy habits, but have healthy bodies. Me personally, I am a trail runner/biker and have taken some pretty bad falls and nasty twists, but I have not once broken a bone or sprained my ankle. I had never been to a doctor before I started going in for my yearly woman check-ups, and I haven’t taken a sick day…ever. My siblings all have similar bills of health.

    In contrast to that, my brother-in-law’s two kids are very sickly. Every week they have new news from the doctor of some kind of infection or kidney stone (in a two year old!) or high fever that won’t go down, or baby that needs to go on hormones because he hasn’t grown in three months. His kids don’t get the nutrients they need, and it makes for a very sad life.

  26. Kiran

    Awesomeness! Congrats to Team Jaden for this {literally!} ground-breaking achievements! I am glad to help if need be 🙂

  27. Natalie

    This is amazing! I recently started thinking about something like this and you’ve provided a great blueprint! Are you looking for volunteers?

  28. Pingback: Lakewood Ranch Florida Community SmartFarm | Steamy Kitchen Recipes | MoSo Blog

  29. Fairly Odd Mother

    That is incredible and inspiring! The first story melted my heart, the second one—where you turn emotion into action—made me cheer inside. Good for you and everyone involved!

    (and just a side note: we rented a house in FL a few years ago and I skipped to the supermarket to buy oranges thinking “This is THE mecca for oranges!!!!” I was dismayed to find the oranges were pale orange, from far, far away. My Florida-grown sister-in-law told me that “the good” oranges are picked and shipped far away, not left in Florida for their supermarket)

  30. Suzanne

    This is such a beautiful idea. I wish I lived close so I could participate in your amazing farm. I can’t wait to see the project come together and the story unfold. I’m looking forward to some inspiration for my own little garden.

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