The art of growing

Published 10:21 am Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Those hoping to learn more about community-sustained agriculture (CSA) and buy fresh produce had the opportunity to do so on Saturday at the Andrews Farm Day in Walnut Hill, Fla.

Guests were given helpful lessons on different topics related to CSA, had a chance to meet the farmers and were able to see crops firsthand on the farm premises.

One of the event’s main organizers, Richard Beck, said many calls were received from those interested in attending and learning more. He said helping others was his main objective.

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“The biggest thing is we’ve got to educate the public on CSA,” Beck said.

Beck said informing people about CSA was the reason for selecting to schedule various lessons.

“It’ll explain what it is and what it does,” he said. “If you don’t tell people, they won’t know.”

According to Beck, Andrews Farm is the only licensed organic grower in the nearby area of northwest Florida. Their farm covers about 120 acres, a comparatively large amount of acreage for produce.

“To me, when you have four and five year old kids coming here and they’ve got strawberry juice all over their face, that’s worth a million dollars,” he said. “You gotta’ love what you do.”

The first lesson was given by Allison Meharg, who is a faculty member at the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension program based in Escambia County (Fla.). She educated an audience on hydroponic gardening.

With the hydroponic system, a person can grow lettuce or other kinds of leafy plants with seedlings, Miracle Gro, water and a piece of Styrofoam and Styrofoam cups without the need for soil. For a family of four to six, an expected yield would be one head of lettuce every week.

One of the most common problems with the hydroponic system is the growth of algae.

Under ideal circumstances, the hydroponic system works best when grown in a greenhouse, but a greenhouse isn’t a necessity when it comes to hydroponic gardening.

If it sounds complicated, it is not supposed to be.

“It’s a real simple system,” Meharg said. “If I can grow it, anybody can grow it.”

In addition to educating the public, Andrews Farm Day also had plenty of other activities, including live music from the band Aces and Eights, raffle drawings every hour, hay rides and various arts and crafts activities for children, as well as an assortment of vendors.

Beck’s wife, Vicki, also one of the main organizers, seemed pleased on Saturday afternoon.

“I think it’s going really well,” she said. “Everyone seems to be really enjoying themselves. It’s a beautiful day and the music is good and you can’t do much better than that.”

She echoed a similar sentiment to her husband when asked what she hoped people would get out of the event.

“The knowledge of the CSA program,” she answered. “What it’s going to do for the community and how it’s going to help the community.”