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Nonprofit grows fresh food on former football field

The garden at Woodland Acres was planted after football games were discontinued at the field.
The garden at Woodland Acres was planted after football games were discontinued at the field.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Boys and Girls Club of Northeast Florida used to have a football field at its Woodland Acres center in Arlington.

But after liability issues put a stop to the games, the field was converted into an urban farm.

The club’s CEO, Paul Martinez, came up with the plan to re-purpose the property.

“We wanted to look at something that would teach our kids, so we came up with the garden idea and called one of our local farmer friends,” Martinez said. “We were kind of doing the math to see if we can get this done before Thanksgiving, and it just worked out like a charm.”

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An army of kids and volunteers harvested bunches of collard and mustard greens this week to donate to other local nonprofits for their Thanksgiving dinners.

Organizers said the project is just the beginning for the club’s new farm.

Martinez said he wanted to plant the seeds of compassion and cooperation by having kids tend to a garden and give the fruits of their labor to those in need. The organizations that benefited from the kids' hard work this year were the Salvation Army and Sulzbacher Center, both of which help the homeless.

But Martinez said he has bigger plans for the Woodland Acres farm in the future.

“The neighborhood can know that they can come here for fresh vegetables, and we hope to do it year round, but we’ll communicate more with our neighbors here through our children, so they’ll know exactly when the dates are,” Martinez said. “But I can guarantee you, you won't get anything fresher than this.”

Martinez said the surrounding neighborhood is a food desert, with only convenience stores to provide groceries. He hopes the farm will eventually provide residents with the fresh produce they need.