The stars are now aligned for a sustainable agriculture program
ORLANDO, Florida — Ford employees in the Orlando, Florida, region represent a small group with a big desire to give back to their community. They regularly participate in Ford Volunteer Corps projects at food banks and other local nonprofits. But they had been looking for something more substantial, something sustainable. Now, working with Fleet Farming, a local nonprofit and the Orlando City Foundation, they've found it. Food for Life is a sustainable agriculture program that seeks to engage local high school students and lift the community at large.
"The stars have all aligned," said Theresa Campbell, business development specialist in Ford's Orlando regional sales and marketing office. "Now, when we talk about mobilizing the community, you're not only going to see Ford volunteer shirts, you're also going to see the Orlando City Foundation staff and its teams. They are really community-driven."
Fleet Farming had been looking to connect with a partner on an urban agriculture program to benefit two underserved and underperforming high schools in Orlando's largest food desert. More than 85 percent of the students at Evans and Jones high schools live below the poverty line and many are homeless. Nutritious food is hard to come by for area families, but Fleet Farming aims to fix that. The organization focuses on educating people how to grow their own food and converting underutilized land into micro-farms.
Orlando City Foundation connected the Ford Orlando office with Fleet Farming to collaborate on a sustainable agriculture program to benefit the kids and the community. The Ford team submitted a proposal for the Bill Ford Better World Challenge, a Ford Motor Company Fund program that supports employee-led projects that have the potential for generating transformational change. The project was selected from dozens of applications for a $100,000 grant to put the project in motion.
With guidance from Fleet Farming, Ford volunteers are working with Orlando City Foundation to restore the green and shade houses at the schools, constructing raised garden beds, filling them with compost and mulch, and adding plants. Ford employees will also plant fruit trees, assemble storage units for seeds and supplies, and install an irrigation system.
"We have a really good culture of community engagement in that it's not hard for us to mobilize employees," said Campbell. "We will be centered around supporting this project all year long."
Students are already gaining hands-on experience growing vegetables, fruits and herbs in containers. Produce will be made available at a local food pantry and pop-up farmers markets on the campus of each school. Students are expected to take ownership of the operation and work to develop pride in the fact that they are fighting hunger and accomplishing something important for their community.
"We're making a cool, really fun agriculture program where the kids are empowered to grow their own food and feed their own families and fellow students," said Lee Perry, program director, Fleet Farming. "We're teaching the teachers how to plan their crops, get good yields, and have something consistently growing that will match their lesson plans throughout the year."
As the agriculture program picks up steam and advances toward self-sufficiency, potential revenue streams—such as selling surplus food—are under consideration to boost Food for Life into the future.
"Doing something on this scale really shows people that we're here, we're part of the community and we care about giving back," said Chaun Avery-Brown, sales operations manager, Ford Orlando region. "It's amazing. This is an opportunity none of us thought we'd ever have."
Click to learn more about the Bill Ford Better World Challenge and past projects.