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Lanier Charter Career Academy receives grant, plans for farmers market
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Olivia Whitter, left, and Cara Spear inspect a blooming succulent at the horticulture greenhouse at Lanier Charter Career Academy. The two are in Shay Grant’s fifth-period horticulture class. - photo by NAT GURLEY

Benefit event

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The Farm at the Oaks ribbon-cutting ceremony

When: 1 p.m. March 21

Where: 2719 Tumbling Creek Road, Gainesville

More info:

Lanier Charter Career Academy is already home to a fine dining restaurant, gift store, coffee shop and conference center, among other businesses.

What more could the Hall County school possibly offer?

“The terminology I like to use is, we want kids to get their hands dirty,” Assistant Principal Jeff Jenkins said.

The high school is the recipient of a $25,000 grant, distributed by SkillsUSA and Lowe’s through its Toolbox for Education program, for the development of a horticulture program and eventually a working farm on the land behind the school.

The money will primarily be used to develop some of the school’s 38 acres into prime gardening space, along with constructing a storage building and a separate enclosure for a farmers market.

“We’re excited about this opportunity and we feel like we can make an impact on our community,” Jenkins said. “That’s one of our goals, to have more community impact here and to have more community involvement on our campus. We feel like this is one way that we can really get some community support and make a difference for our kids at the same time.”

The food, planned to be certified organic, will be sold to teachers and students with the idea of opening the farmers market to the community at select times of the year. 

Horticulture teacher Shay Grant said it will take a few months to get the farm off the ground as the student-operated business will need a detailed plan.

“They’re going to have to be able to plan what crops they are going to grow, how many seeds they need to start in the greenhouse,” she said. “We’re going to have to figure out what the demand is going to be. Are people going to want to buy kale? Are people going to want to buy spinach, broccoli and cauliflower? So we’ll have to meet the demand.”

The horticulture program is in its first year at Lanier Charter Career Academy, and Grant said she thinks this hands-on environment will lead to its growth. She also has plans to develop a Future Farmers of America group during the next school year.

The Farm at the Oaks will officially debut March 21 at 1 p.m., with a ribbon cutting and short program. 

After getting the farmers market up and running, both Jenkins and Grant said they hope the food grown on campus can be used at the school’s two restaurant businesses, Bistro at the Oaks and the Corner Cafe.

Beyond being yet another business offering at the school, Jenkins and Grant said they are hopeful the lessons learned by connecting with the land will be beneficial to students’ lives outside of the classroom.

“I think that as we become more and more technology oriented, I think that is an issue,” Jenkins said. “I grew up with at least a family garden. We weren’t complete farmers, but I think it’s pretty rare for families nowadays to have gardens. I think it’s pretty rare for them to realize exactly where their food comes from and how it was grown and what kind of plant it came from and what kind of work it took to harvest it.

“We use technology every day ... and it has brought us a long way in the world of education,” he added. “But I think we would be making a mistake if we don’t get back to the land and the earth a little bit and realize what sustains us.”

Grant said it’s gratifying to see her students begin planning for the upcoming farm.

“I have always been passionate about gardening and growing food,” she said. “The students are excited about the possibilities that we’re going to see come to fruition with this project. I feel like it’s going to enrich their lives really beyond measure to be able to participate in a program like this.”