Farm-to-table fare coming soon to a menu near you

The Villages is sowing seeds for a healthy lifestyle, and its farm-to-table initiative is
bearing fruit. Born of the desire to help create and support a local food source, The Villages
Grown will provide area residents and restaurants with sustainably grown produce. Now,through our resident
survey, we couldn’t have known that our health-conscious Villagers have a growing desire
for fresh, local, farm-to-fork options, both within our local dining establishments and in
their own homes. Without that information, the spark to research food systems and
controlled agriculture by the development team would never have ignited.”

Produce grown at this farm, located at the corner of Morse Boulevard and State Road 44,
exceeds national and international organic growing standards, said Jennifer Waxman, the
program’s executive director.

“We’re able to dial in the exact nutrients so we have a consistent product in both taste and
feel,” she said. “Obviously, it’s going to taste more delicious.”

Waxman said the team is “going to put our money where our mouth is, literally and
figuratively” in using a third-party to verify nutrient density.

It’s all part of enhancing The Villages lifestyle, said Ryan McCabe, The Villages operations
manager.

“We’re doing so many things to make this place somewhere you can come and live a
happier life,” he said. “But the important piece about food was missing. So, that’s how The
Villages Grown was born, and I think residents are going to be really excited.”

He said it will not only be healthy, but also convenient.

For example, he said, restaurants in The Villages will clearly identify The Villages Grown
produce on their menus.

“One of our big goals is getting as much produce we can out to The Villages’ restaurants,
the assisted-living facilities, hospitals and things like that,” he said. “Residents also are
going to have access to different retail outlets. They’ll be able to walk into a grocery-type
store setting and buy directly from The Villages Grown.”

McCabe said an Airstream trailer has been outfitted to travel the community offering
produce harvested less than a day earlier.

Every aspect of this controlled-agricultural project centers on quality, said Adam Wright,
The Villages Grown director of operations who is in charge of growing, food safety,
distribution and retail.

“My No. 1 priority is having food safety at the highest level of standards,” he said. “And
we’re doing a very good job of that.’’

One of the top priorities is eliminating any chance of contamination, Wright said.
“Most facilities of this magnitude really don’t have a decontamination area; you just walk
into an open area and get sprayed down and you have booties on,” he said. “Everyone who
goes into our facility has to walk through a room and get to that certain standard before
they are allowed to actually enter the facility. It’s not just for food safety. It’s for bugs,
pests, anything that lands on the ground from your shoe that could get into our
greenhouses.”

These precautionary measures exceed the federal Food Safety Modernization Act, he said.
The project will adhere to GlobalGap, an international standard for best agricultural
practices, said Steven Shrump, The Villages Grown operations and production manager.
“We’re able to control about 1,400 things,” he said. “We’re looking at temperature,
humidity levels, light levels. We’re looking at the amount of moisture and the product to
make sure we’re not using too much water. We’re trying to be as efficient with everything
that we possibly can.”

All of this will produce one result, he said.
“You’re going to see probably the largest greens, lettuce, kale, chard production in the
state, with the most efficient systems,” he said. “Then we’ll be able to layer in the tomatoes
and cucumbers as we go. But, one of the best values for our customers, it’s going to be the
best-tasting value on the market.”

No one else is developing a controlled-agricultural operation at this scale, Waxman said.
“Generally, you’ll have a small-farm operation; maybe, they’ll self-distribute with one
truck,” she said. “They’ll go to local restaurants, do farm-to-table events. But this is a very
large operation. In fact, we’re told it will be the largest operation of its kind in the
southeast U.S.”

The marketplace also will offer fresh produce picked daily, as well as classes to learn about
an enriched and healthier way of life — making The Villages Grown a true farm-to-table
experience.

“My hope is that residents see, smell, taste and feel such a difference with these nutrientdense
products that they will seek them out,” Manly said. “The Villages Grown team has
been hard at work developing relationships that will result in the products and ingredients
being available to Villagers almost anywhere they turn throughout the community.”

David R. Corder is a senior writer with The Villages Daily Sun. He can be reached at 352-
753-1119, ext. 5241, or david.corder@thevillagesmedia.com.

View PDF: https://sumteragriculture.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/farm-to-table-.pdf

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