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Growing and feeding healthy food to those in need

The holidays focus on two events – family and food.

Tuesday over 400 families in Santa Rosa County endured the rain and cooler temperatures for the opportunity to have a brighter holiday that otherwise they might not have been able to have.

The combined efforts of the University of Florida, West Florida Research and Education Center in Jay, and the Bay Area Food Bank along with hundreds of volunteers made a brighter Thanksgiving holiday possible with Tuesday’s food distribution at the Milton Community Center.

Each qualified family received a food box for a Thanksgiving meal along with a turkey, bread, dessert, fresh vegetables, peanut butter, along with fresh produce like greens, cabbage, sweet potatoes, and more.

Since 2010 the University of Florida IFAS and the Bay Area Food Bank have worked to help needy families while making a positive impact in bridging the gap between rural and urban individuals, while celebrating National Farm to City Week, which is Nov. 22 – 28.

“We are proud to help bridge this gap by celebrating Farm to City Week by increasing the knowledge of those who live in the city about the rural farmers and foster a greater appreciation for agriculture,” said Robin Vickers, the Farm to City Week coordinator with the University of Florida.

The Bay Area Food Bank made the event possible by providing over 50,000 pounds of food the past four years while the University of Florida – WFREC, Sirmon Farm and Kichcler Farms has provided fresh locally grown vegetables.

“We had a tremendous turnout on Monday (Nov. 25) by agriculture students from Jay and Central High Schools as well as students from King Middle and Milton High in helping up pick the vegetables and then clean them in preparation to distribute on Tuesday,” said Vickers.

This is the fourth consecutive year for this event where the University of Florida IFAS and the Bay Area Food Bank combined forces.

“Since 2010 we have been able to distribute locally grown produce and holiday meal boxes to 1,000 families in Santa Rosa County,” said Suzanne Rowland, Milton Branch Manager with the Bay Area Food Bank. “The community support has been overwhelming.”

Besides providing the food, the Santa Rosa County Extension Service was on hand to demonstrate how to prepare and cook the fresh produce while providing some prepared samples.

Those attending the food drive were also giving an information sheet on how to store and or can the fresh produce.

“There is no better time to honor our local farmers, ranchers, and producers,” said Vickers. “Without them, the safe, abundant and affordable food we put on our tables at Thanksgiving would not have been possible.

“Generation after generation, their hard work and willingness to embrace new ideas has provided our nation with the food we need.”

Vickers and Rowland said it wouldn’t have been possible for this event to take place without the efforts of the City of Milton and the Milton Community Center.

“We were very happy to be a part of this event,” said Milton Parks Director John Norton. “Helping those in the community is a very important thing to us and we were honored to be a part of this special event.”

This article originally appeared on Santa Rosa Press Gazette: Growing and feeding healthy food to those in need

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