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Tallahassee Students Finally Taste Harvest from School Garden

TALLAHASSEE, FL (WTXL) – Local students finally got a chance to sample their hard work, but instead of tasting the fruits of their labor, they got to taste their homegrown vegetables.The Ghazvini Success Academy teamed up with Farming the Future to build a school garden where students grew black eyed peas that they were able to sample for lunch on Tuesday.
The “Garden to Cafeteria” program was created to give students access to better nutrition because those students with better nutrition are proven to perform better in academics.
The school also said that the program allows kids to engage in STEM careers and agriculture.

Interested in starting your own school garden? Check out our website for a variety of different products perfect for any classroom.

“Good Tuesday evening everyone. I’m Paulo Salazar. Gaspini Success Academy teamed up with the Farming the Future to build a school garden from there. They rolled out the garden to cafeteria program which mimics the farm to table concept. The program shows students with access to better nutrition are proven to better perform in schools. Now it also allows kids to engage in STEM and agriculture.
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Farming The Future leadership – Meera Jagroop

Meera Jagroop is a museum educator specializing in science interpretation and exhibit design.

During her ten years as a science educator, she has developed programs, interpretation, and exhibitions for all ages. Including at Cleveland Botanic Garden, Brooklyn Children’s Museum, The American Museum of Natural History, and Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

Ms. Jagroop has represented institutions at conferences around the country. Presenting on topics ranging from engaging caregivers of young learners to gardening programs for children with disabilities. She also participated in the design and oversees the new Discovery Garden. This is a one-acre, accessible, hands-on garden in Brooklyn, NY.

Meera has an M.S.Ed in Museum Education from Bank Street College of Education. As well as a B.S. in Natural History and Interpretation from SUNY-Environmental Science and Forestry.

She currently lives in Brooklyn. And is passionate about teaching about nature, botany, and gardening in urban environments.

On top of being a steward of the environment and education, Meera is a kind and detail oriented leader.

One of her best skills is listening and interpreting the road blocks that some students experience. Ms. Jagroop has a special ability to present ideas in different ways. Each one breaking through to a different student.

“I love connecting people of all ages with the natural world, especially in urban environments. I hope to provide others with the same empowering experiences with science and nature that have helped shape and expand my own world. I’m passionate about working towards environmental justice, integrating science with the arts, creating accessible programs and spaces, and uplifting traditional ecological knowledge.”

Recent exhibits for children and families include: At Home In Winter: Birds of BBG, Chinese Caribbean Plants, Planting a Hummingbird Garden, Predatory Plants, and Where Did Plants Come From? (Plant Evolution)

Meera is a hands on educator and has a particular love for working with younger elementary students. Her favorite program is Prek-2nd grade 10×10 Full year Raised Garden Science Program. Check it out HERE!

You can also find out more about the Discovery Garden HERE!

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Farming The Future Leadership – Carlos Villa

Carlos R. Villa has been developing and implementing science education programs since 2002. Included in these programs are field trips, summer camps, and student-scientist mentorship programs. In 2018 he earned the National Science Teachers Association’s (NSTA) Citation for Distinguished Informal Science Education. Following his rcognition from 2018, in 2020 he was a finalist for Florida State University’s Employee of the Year.

Carlos was born in Managua, Nicaragua and grew up in Miami, Florida. He earned his BS from Florida State University in 2002. Mr. Villa then earned his MS in Science Education in 2009. Villa works to inspire young learners of all backgrounds to pursue their dreams of careers in science and engineering. As well as to increase diversity in science, particularly to get more women, African Americans, and Latinx students into physics.

In the summer of 2020, when COVID-19 shut down many camps, Carlos was instrumental in the creation of the MagLab’s virtual 10-week Summer Exploration Series (SES) program offered to K-12 students in Tallahassee and across the nation. The goal of the program was to increase youth’s interest in STEM and knowledge of STEM careers relevant to MagLab specific STEM disciplines, including materials science, biomedical and mechanical engineering, chemistry, biochemistry, and physics. (Full Article here!)

Carlos has lead development on many of our programs including our teams favorite overall pick, the 3-5th grade TableTop Living Laboratory w/ Online Curriculum. Check it out here!

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Michele Madison , 2020 Trailblazer

Michele Madison is leading an aquaponic science revolution in the Tallahassee area at just 25 years young. She is a woman with a plan and passion for creating a better future through Farming the Future, an aquaponic S.T.E.M based agricultural education program. Farming the Future is a socially conscious for-profit business providing quality food with an interactive S.T.E.M. learning experience for Title I schools and juvenile detention facilities through aquaponics-based production and 21st century farming.

Learn more about aquaponic science on Farming the Future’s website.

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Farming the Future Raises funds for Juvenile Detention Education

We are so excited to announce that this coming Whole Foods Market 5% Day; Community Giving Program, on January 11th, 2018 is going towards supporting our “S.T.E.M. Through AQUAPONICS” programs in The Juvenile Detention Facilities! Please come out to support us on 1/11/17 by doing your shopping at Whole Foods Market at 1817 Thomasville rd, Tallahassee Florida! Funds go to helping support our Farming The Future programs continuation and expansion at the Florida Department of Juvenile Justices’ Leon County/Leon County Schools Facility! I’ll be there in my overalls waiting to meet you!

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Farming the Future | S.T.E.M. Education & Entrepreneurship

Sourced from STEM Education | Entrepreneurship

Let’s meet Ms. Michele MADISON, Founder of the Non-Profit “Farming The Future” and learn more about “Using Aquaponics to teach S.T.E.M. , Agricultural, and Career Education”

Would you please tell us briefly about yourself?

This is Michele Madison, Founder of the Non-Profit Farming The Future. I am a scientist, engineer and entrepreneur reaching out to youth to not only educate them on S.T.E.M. education, but agricultural and career education; all while providing a healthier and more sustainable diet for them. Farming The Future uses Aquaponics to teach these areas in an engaging and interactive way.


It is a sustainable farming method that blends aquaculture and hydroponics to grow fish and produce symbiotically together. The fish provide fertilizer for the plants, the plants absorb those nutrients and return fresh clean water to the fish.

How do you help schools and other facilities adopt S.T.E.M programs?

We install these S.T.E.M. programs in schools and facilities by building a terrestrial farm and an aquaponic farm and then teaching the students each week lessons in many different areas. The students learn about the microbiology, chemistry, system design, nitrogen cycle, water quality, food production, and entrepreneurship involved in aquaponics and farming. As an added bonus, the food they grow on site goes into the cafeteria for the kids to eat and have access to better nutrition!

What is the current status of the use of Aquaponic Systems?

They currently have seven aquaponic systems in schools and facilities. Through recent success they are expanding into three more juvenile detention centers that will be getting 1,500 gallon aquaponic systems, allowing the kids to raise tilapia, catfish, and produce for the cafeterias and for donation to battered women’s shelters, homeless shelters, A Second Harvest and other charities and organizations as a way of giving back to their community.

Thank you very much for all you efforts to educate the youth and guide them through their careers, and we wish you all the best for your future endeavours. We hope there will be more schools and other facilities who would like to include these programs into their education programs. How can they contact you?

Everybody is more than welcome to visit our Facebook Page and support our mission:

And if you are interesting in getting a program for your school or facility please feel free to reach out to us through this platform.

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Garden to Cafeteria | Making STEM Tasty at the Success Academy

Sourced from WFSU TV Public Media

by Rob Diaz De Villegas | November 24, 2016

In today’s video, we look at a school garden that feeds and educates students. We also look at different community efforts looking to bring nutritious food to Tallahassee residents living in food deserts.  

Today on the menu at the Success Academy: black eyed peas. It’s not a main dish, but possibly the most interesting.  It’s the first time the cafeteria is serving food grown in the Success Academy garden.

WFSU Producer Rob Diaz de Villegas interviews Dr. Flossie Byrd, author of “Echoes of a Quieter Time”.

Watching the students pick the pea pods in the heat of a late summer afternoon, I can’t help but think about a video I produced earlier this year, a part of our Roaming the Red Hills series.  In it, Dr. Flossie Byrd recalls her 1940s upbringing in Monticello, Florida.  Many of her schoolmates worked on their family’s farms.  Some of their produce ended up in the classroom, where the teacher and students cooked it for lunch.

In her book, Echoes of a Quieter Time, Dr. Byrd (Education Psychology PhD. from Cornell) lists the many successes of her fellow students.  The education they received in the segregated South seems both old school and ahead of its time.  Her teachers didn’t know that they were practicing such modern concepts as “STEM education” and sustainable “Farm to Table” eating.

Success Academy teacher Sean Willett, however, is fully aware of these concepts.  Leon County Public Schools’ Success Academy is a second chance school.  To catch up on credits, students spend a lot of time at desks, at computers.  The faculty thought students needed more outdoor time, and yet they don’t have a lot of time to spare.

“We had to include something that included getting their hands out and dirty, and working,” Mr. Willett says, “but [where] they were also learning.”

Students shuck black eyed peas grown in the Success Academy garden. The peas were then taken to the cafeteria, where they were cooked and served to students.

Aquaponics | STEM Garden Tool

Cucumber growing in an aquaponics system. Photo provided by Farming the Future, Inc.

Not that students are always getting their hands dirty in the Success Academy garden.

Michele Madison stands by a bed of rocks attached to what looks like a small plastic Koi pond. “I don’t think I’ve ever had a better cucumber than a cucumber out of an aquaponics system.”

Michele runs a nonprofit called Farming the Future.  They build aquaponics systems in schools located in Leon County.  In aquaponics, plants grow directly in a bed of rocks.

The fish in that plastic tub create what I guess you could call “fish manure.”  That in turn creates nutrient rich water.  That water floods the rock bed, coating the rocks with nitrogen.

A bell siphon regulates the amount of water in the bed.  When the water reaches a certain level, the siphon creates a vacuum that drains the bed.  Now the roots receive oxygen.  When the bed is empty, air bubbles rise up through the pipes and suck the water back up, bringing water back to the roots.

Photo provided by Farming the Future, Inc.

The plants consume the nutrients in the water, cleaning it for the fish.  It is, as Michele says in the video, a symbiotic relationship.

Aquaponics uses the same biological processes that make plants grow in soil, and uses engineering to make it happen.  It’s a multifaceted teaching tool.  And it makes nutritious food.

Michele sounds like a person who has found her dream job.  “It brings people together,” she says, “and it gets people excited about growing their own food… This is the future.”

The Availability of Healthy Food

When Michele references the future, she is partly talking about using design and engineering to sustainably feed people.  But there is also the idea that communities can take control of their food needs.

“In this school, a lot of students live in food deserts,” Michele says.  “And they don’t have access to good, nutritional food.”

Below is a map of food deserts in Tallahassee, created using the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Access Research Atlas:

The USDA defines a food desert as a “low-income census tract where either a substantial number or share of residents has low access to a supermarket or large grocery store.”  A low income tract is one in which 20% of the population is below federal poverty levels.  If 33% of people in the tract are more than a mile from a  grocery store, that’s considered low access (10 miles in rural areas).

In other words, these are places where people might have trouble affording fresh fruits and vegetables.  And, they have to travel further to seek out this healthier food.

“Maybe you should cut back on the prices of how healthy food, how much it costs.” Says Success Academy student Maleek Cole.  “Junk food ain’t really that much, so it’s like, get something quick and simple.”

A number of nonprofits are, however, working to get healthy food to more people in Tallahassee.

Community Garden Efforts & More

Below is a list of programs that look to bring healthy, affordable food to areas of concern.

Frenchtown Farmers Market

Every Saturday from 9 am to 2 pm, local growers sell “a wide variety of fresh, local, naturally grown produce, honey, eggs, baked goods, gourmet preserves and smoked meat.”  On the USDA map, Frenchtown is not considered a food desert.  But, it is a low income Census tract.  It’s the only farmer’s market in the area to accept SNAP Benefits (formerly food stamps).  In fact, at the Frenchtown Market, every SNAP dollar is worth double its value.

iGrow – Whatever You Like

Empowering young people is the at the heart of the iGrow mission.  It is a working farm run by teens, and it has two locations:  The original Frenchtown farm and one more recently opened in South City.

They sell produce at both locations on Mondays and Fridays.  Whatever they don’t sell, They donate to charities like Second Harvest.  They also sell products like the iGrow Bucket, raised beds, and compost to encourage urban gardening, and offer workshops.

They’ve been fairly successful since their inception in 2011, selling their produce on Red Hills Online Market and to local restaurants such as the Miccosukee Root Cellar, Kool Beanz, Sweet Pea Cafe, and Cypress.

Community Gardens in Tallahassee

iGrow is an initiative of the Tallahassee Food Network.  The TFN also partners with the City of Tallahassee to facilitate the creation of community gardens.

You can search for a parcel of city owned land in your neighborhood, and put in an application.  The city will even install a water meter on the parcel.

There are, of course, rules governing community gardens.  And it is a commitment.  But it does seem like a good way to bond with neighbors, and grow some tasty food.

Farming and Education

The first time we met Maleek Cole, it was also in a farm setting.  Good Taste Tally is a farm founded by FSU education professor, Dr. George Boggs.  Kind of like iGrow, the farm is run by teens.  In this case it’s a group from 50 Large, a Leon County Public Schools program for at risk youth.  The students we interviewed attended the Success Academy as well.

Good Taste Tally combines the educational goals of the Success Academy garden with the entrepreneurship ideals of iGrow.  There are definite benefits to having kids work with their hands, outdoors.  It’s not a benefit that can be measured by standardized testing.

The Success Academy is the only public school in Leon County where Farming the Future has installed an aquaponics system.  There is one at Cornerstone Learning Community, and Michelle told us that they were building units at the Magnolia School and at the Department of Juvenile Justice.

Cornerstone in particular embraces the connection between education and agriculture.  Students maintain gardens and raise chickens on the campus, and make monthly visits to Longview Farm.

The Sustainability of Aquaponics

We didn’t have space for this in the video, but I thought it was worth sharing.  Michele Madison gave us a few reasons that aquaponics is more ecologically friendly than traditional farming:

  • You can’t use pesticides, because it would kill the fish.  If the plants get aphids, she said, they close the greenhouse and release ladybugs.
  • It uses 1/10 the water as traditional agriculture.  It’s a closed system that makes use of constantly recirculating water.  They do use the nitrogen rich system water to water seedlings, so there is some need to replenish the tank.
  • Because it’s a closed system, it doesn’t threaten local waterways.  Depending on their use of fertilizers, farms are a source of excess nitrogen in waterways.
Michele Madison, Farming the Future, Inc.Want to know how to set up a program like this in your school? Look at our website today.