Thanks for joining us for another episode of Patrons & Partnerships, presented by the Library Partnership Branch of the Alachua County Library District.
Our guest today is Claire Mitchell, the founder and executive director of Brave Harvest, Gainesville’s local urban farm. Claire founded Brave Harvest to increase food literacy and empower youth and adults in Alachua County to make healthy food choices from plant to plate, partly by providing youth and adults a chance to get hands-on in the garden. In this conversation, we talk about the history of Brave Harvest and Claire herself, some of programs she holds for the community, and her upcoming fundraiser dinner in collaboration with Afternoon.
Due to the holidays, this is the only episode that will be published in November. The second half of this interview will be posted on December 9th.
Brave Harvest: https://www.braveharvest.org/
Get Involved: https://www.braveharvest.org/get-involved Farm to Table Fundraiser: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/brave-harvest-farm-to-table-dinner-hosted-by-afternoon-tickets-169343509997 ($60 per ticket)
Visit the Alachua County Library District website to browse our collection and to find other resources and services offered at your favorite, local library!
You can view a transcript of this podcast on ACLD's YouTube Channel.
Hi, thanks for listening to another episode of Patrons & Partnerships. Our guest today is Claire Mitchell, the founder and executive director of Brave Harvest, an urban farm right here in Gainesville that aims to increase food literacy and empower youth and adults in Alachua County to make healthy food choices from plant to plate. This episode has been edited for length and clarity. Unfortunately, due to the holidays, this is the only episode we'll publish in November, so the second half of this interview will not be published until December 9. We'll see you then! [music]Eleanore:
Hi, Claire, thanks for being here with us today. Could you tell us more about yourself?Claire:
My name is Claire Mitchell. I have lived in Gainesville for about five years, for the second time. I went to undergrad here, moved away, and came back. During that time I learned a lot about urban farming. I had an urban farm that I ran with my best friend in one of the downtown neighborhoods, and learned a lot about growing and selling produce and learned from a lot of the local farmers in the area of how to grow things in North Florida, which is pretty challenging. And then I moved to Gainesville, and went to grad school and learned about - I guess, like community initiatives and nonprofits. And when I was done with that, I started a new urban farm project called Brave Harvest.Eleanore:
What got you interested in farming to begin with?Claire:
I think when I was in college... Well, the idea of farming just seemed very simple, and kind of pure, you know, like raising vegetables in a way that didn't detrimentally affect the environment. Being really interested in health and nutrition at the time - still am - seeing farming kind of as a solution for a career. And really, like, I've always had an interest in urban farming, though, just to be able to reach more people and access more people than a rural farm. And be able to like, be more involved with education and stuff like that. After doing it for over 10 years at this point, I think maybe some of that was a little naive. And so I don't think that, like, farming is a solution to all the world's problems where I probably did think that when I was 22 or 23. But I do still think that growing food can be very impactful, and gardening and cooking education can make a small difference in people's lives when it comes to exposing them to different foods that they might not have tried before and showing them how to cook foods in a way that tastes good but is also healthy. So yeah, I don't know, I was always interested in growing food. Well, that's not true. I got interested in growing food in college and just like stuck with it. And I was very lucky to be able to follow that meandering career path.Eleanore:
And what exactly inspired you to found Brave Harvest? What was your goal?Claire:
When I was in grad school, I was in the Family, Youth and Community Sciences department. You learn to approach community organizations from a problem, issue, or need. And so the problem, issue, or need that was interesting to me was childhood obesity. Childhood obesity affects a pretty high percentage of American youth, and the vast majority of kids do not eat the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables. And there are like a lot of factors that go into whether or not a child will develop obesity, but one of the factors is personal food choices and food available in the homes and things like that. So I thought the way that I would set up Brave Harvest would be a way to address childhood nutrition, but through the lens of cooking and gardening. So if kids aren't eating enough vegetables, why is that? Why is that a problem, and what are the factors that are influencing that problem? It can be a problem because health problems that start in childhood can follow people to adulthood - childhood diabetes, childhood obesity, those things can turn into cancer and heart disease and all kinds of really bad health outcomes as adults. And one of the reasons that those things happen is from nutrition and not eating enough vegetables. So we don't focus a lot on, this food has a lot of Vitamin K, and these are the calories that are in this, and things like that. What we're really just focused on at Brave Harvest is learning about vegetables and learning tasty ways to cook them. And also just providing kids and their families multiple opportunities to try new vegetables. Because that's another thing too, is that it can take kids up to 15 times to try a new food before they accept it. And I'm kind of learning that now with my own son - he's almost two. And so you just have to keep offering and offering, offering the same food, even if you think that the child will spit it out, in the end, he just has to like - at some point, they - will become familiar instead of unfamiliar and they learn to accept it. And so the families might not have the resources to spend money on vegetables that they think that their kids are just going to waste and throw on the floor. So this is a way for us to work with youth in our community to expose them to foods, maybe they hadn't tried before. And just give them a way to not only taste it but see how the food is grown, and then be in charge of cooking it in an environment where there's no judgement about eating or not eating food. But we do encourage everybody to be brave. And so if it's something that's unfamiliar, or something that they're not really - yeah, if it’s something they've never tried before, to not be scared of it and to not reject it. But to be brave, and to at least taste it. It seems to work pretty well. Like, I rarely have students reject the food. There's a lot of positive peer pressure when they see other people trying it. And they don't have to like it. It's not the rule. You know, you can like it or dislike it. But the important thing is that you're brave and you tried it.Eleanore:
Hence Brave Harvest? Claire: Yes. And I also think gardening can be really fun, especially for a kid. There's something about going out there and getting your hands dirty and actually coming away with something.Claire:
Yeah, that's really true. Like I did not grow up gardening, I never grew my own food. When I was growing up, all of my vegetables came from a package. We had a lot of frozen vegetables, which I still don't like. [laughs] And I have - I don't have great memories about vegetables when I was little. You know, that's one thing that I ask students is, what's something, what's a vegetable that you used to not like, and then you do like it now and what happened to change your mind. And it can be a lot of things, whether it's just like they just had it prepared in a different way. Or they just kept eating it over and over again. And then one day they liked it when before they didn't. But sometimes people say is that they will try something that somebody they cared about will have fixed them something. [laughs] And eating it reminds them of that person. I don't know, I think people have a lot of emotional connections to food that can be really important. To highlight those connections between food and people, and that's something that we talk about with our student groups is, you know, why? Why is this food important to you? I do think too, like, I've seen some kids try some wild stuff that I did not think they would try and be like, okay, these radishes are really spicy. They are gonna taste just like wasabi. And they're like, Alright, let's try it. You know, I want to try the spicy radish. Because they picked it and they washed it and they cut it up. They made the salad dressing to dip the radish in and all kinds of stuff. And that is totally different than just like buying a prepackaged radish from the store. There's no connection to it whatsoever.Eleanore:
Related to that, could you talk a little bit more about the classes that Brave Harvest offers?Claire:
Brave Harvest actually just received a $3,000 grant from the Whole Kids Foundation. That's the whole foods charitable wing. So we are partnering with an organization called Project Youth Build, and they are another nonprofit who are located really close to us. And they work with 30 to 40 youth every year who have dropped out of high school, and they learn job skills and they get community service hours. You know, they earn their high school diploma through this program. 40% of their students are food insecure, and food insecurity means that they are making decisions about whether to pay for childcare or pay for groceries, or pay for utilities or pay for groceries. And, you know, and some of these students are also parents, so they're raising their own children and trying to eat healthy themselves but are also trying to raise their children to eat healthy. So this was a really great opportunity for us to work with them. And we'll be working with about 20 of their students, who will come up to the farm once a month, and they will harvest vegetables and wash them and we'll be working with a recipe every month for them to try. And also during that time learn about, you know, cooking topics like how to identify the flavors of different pantry ingredients, whether that's sour or salty or sweet, how to identify cooking utensils and cooking methods. And we'll use different recipes that highlight those methods and utensils. This month, we have a bunch of pumpkins that are ready, it being October. Pumpkins are - we've been harvesting pumpkins since about July or August. They're really delicious and they taste just like butternut squash. So we need a lentil curry coconut stew with them. And it was, you know, some different flavors. We had ginger and curry and, you know, fresh garlic and lentils. And all of this was cooked together into this really great stew. And everyone tried it and everyone liked it. So it was like a pretty cool introduction to food for this group. They could like, see the pumpkins growing on the vine a few feet away, and then also be eating those pumpkins. So we'll be working with them throughout this next school year, that’s something we’re really excited about. So another program we're doing this year is called Eat Your Plants. And that's for preschoolers ages one to five. And that's happening on Mondays through November 15.And we have a class at 9:30 and a class at 10:
15. We invite parents to bring their kids to come visit the garden and we'll do some story activities and then garden activities like watering and digging and harvesting. Then at the end, we try a new snack from the garden. So last week was our first class, and it went really well. We tried - [laughs] we tried fresh turnips, raw turnips, and raw cucumber. There was like a couple of kids who just stuffed their faces. [laughs] They like, ate the entire plate. So that was very cute. It was definitely the cutest class we've ever done, just little babies crawling around everywhere. So that was really nice. It’s been fun. You know, there's probably going to be more opportunity for workshops and classes in the future but we're just trying to keep it small for this fall.Eleanore:
That's cool. And that is exciting because the stereotype is kids don't like vegetables. And this really just goes to show that that's not necessarily true.Claire:
Yeah. According to research, there is no - no one has innate tastes. There are people who are super tasters and they have like, a higher concentration of tastebuds on their tongue, so they're more sensitive to taste. But no one is born liking something and not liking something. It really is just the variety of things that kids are exposed to and the frequency that they're exposed to. And that’s just something important for parents to think about, setting a good example for what they eat and then having that food available in the house so when kids are hungry, they have options besides just junk food. It is true that toddlers become more foodphobic as they get older. And they think that's because evolutionarily, when toddlers started like wandering around, that the ones who ate everything poisoned themselves. [laughs] And so the ones that were a little more picky with what they put in their mouth survived. So that's one theory I've heard about why toddlers are so picky. And they get through it and you just have to be patient and just keep offering, keep those options there, and make sure that you don't give up, because eventually, if the food is there and they see the example and they have the opportunity, then it’ll happen.Eleanore:
What else does Brave Harvest offer? What other events do you have going on?Claire:
We actually have an event coming up in about three weeks on November 5. It is a farm to table fundraisers, it’s the first one we've ever attempted, [laughs] and it's gonna be awesome. It's going to be at Afternoon Restaurant. Some of the vegetables that we grow at the farm, we do sell to restaurants and it helps fund our supplies and salaries. Afternoon buys so much stuff from us. They're like a really great restaurant because they're really creative and offer a lot of specials and are happy to try lots of new things with the vegetables I bring them. [laughs] It doesn't matter how weird it is. It's like hey, I have this purple kohlrabi and I have flowering cilantro and I have all this stuff - the chef's get really excited to experiment and make delicious food with the produce that we bring them. [music] Thanks for listening to Patrons & Partnerships. Again, the second half of this episode will not publish until December 9th due to the holidays. We'll see you then! If you know of an individual or organization you'd like to recommend for an interview, email us at email@example.com. To listen to more episodes, find us on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or Spotify. And be sure to check out the Alachua County Library on Spotify while you're there for chill playlists to read to, handpicked by our librarians. Storytime with the library is back with Storytime on the Green. Visit our site at aclib.us/storytimeonthegreen for times and locations. Partnership staff hold storytimes at Smokey Bear Park off of 15th every Thursday at 10am, and we have a representative from the Dolly Parton Imagination Library to help you sign up if you live in the 32609 zip code. The Dolly Parton Imagination Library provides preschool children with a free book every month until age 5 - if you have a child under age 5 in your household, it’s a great opportunity to encourage their love of reading. Residents of the 32641 and 32601 zip codes can pre-register now.