Urban Gardening, Job Training Combine In White Harvest Farms

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Clara White Mission culinary arts students visit White Harvest Farms during its winter harvest period as part of the student’s training.

In late 2012, Clara White Mission, a venerable Jacksonville institution caring for the needy, pushed its operations into new territory — literally — with the opening of White Harvest Farms.

Located in an 11-acre tract in Northwest Jacksonville, the urban farm provides job training for homeless veterans and low-income individuals, while also providing fresh produce for the Mission and residents of an area with limited access to fresh food.

Now, with a grant of $150,000 from the Jessie Ball duPont Fund, Clara White Mission will enhance the operations of White Harvest Farms.

The funding will enable Clara White to hire a farm director, who will oversee the farm and serve as a community liaison, as well as a project manager, who will supervise and maintain the farm site and lead staff and students in work activities related to production.

Together, these two staff will help White Harvest Farm assess community needs, engage partners and incrementally build the capacity of the farm and its educational program and activities.

The establishment of White Harvest Farms completes a system of service by Clara White Mission that is centered on food.

The Mission’s roots are in a soup kitchen operated by Clara White in the late 1800s that evolved into a social service agency established in 1932 by her daughter, Eartha White. Feeding the hungry has been an essential part of the Mission’s work for more than a century.

In recent years, the Mission expanded its work to help clients achieve self-sufficiency through job training — offering, among other things, training in the culinary arts and connecting graduates to apprenticeships through the American Culinary Federation. The Mission also operates Clara’s at the Cathedral, a training cafe in downtown Jacksonville, and Ashley Street Catering, both of which extend the scope of educational experiences available to its students.

Now, through White Harvest Farms, students can connect with the source of the food used by the Mission, learning more about the importance of fresh produce to healthy diets. And they can see the ways in which communities can use urban gardening to build connections, provide employment opportunities and improve the overall health of residents.

The Mission is partnering with Sysco Foods Jacksonville in its work at White Harvest Farms. In addition to providing support for the development of the farm, Sysco will help distribute the farm’s produce to area customers.

While White Harvest Farms is cycling through its first year’s crop rotation, it has firm plans for its future. The Mission plans to develop a farmers market, build a green house, barn and educational center, and retrofit the home of Dr. Eartha White as a museum on the property.

The Jessie Ball duPont Fund makes grants to more than 330 eligible organizations identified by Mrs. duPont in her will. The Fund has assets of more than $270 million and has awarded $329 million in grants since 1977.