Coming Together

Homeland Community Farm Becoming a Reality


Homeland Community Farm started as a sparkle in Jessica Anderson’s eye when she started her career as an ag teacher at Polk County Public Schools 14 years ago. 

At that time, the 180 acres off CR 640 between Bartow and Fort Meade was used to house cattle that didn’t fit on school land. 

The property, bordered by Peace River and complete with an 80-acre lake, is now on the cusp of evolving into an active farm-to-table operating production facility with classrooms and a working kitchen. 

“We’re deeply rooted and passionate about it being a place for the community to use,” says Anderson, who is now PCPS’s Associate Director of Agriculture. “We want it to be a working farm that people can visit and utilize in a variety of facets.”

The goal is for Homeland Community Farm to serve as a facility that supports agricultural instruction on many levels, from forestry education to harvesting plants to cook in its onsite kitchen.

Multiple entities, including UF/IFAS Extension, citrus growers, and PCPS, are working in tandem to bring the plan to fruition and make agricultural education accessible to everyone of all ages. 

Importance of Ag Ed

Agricultural education is important for many reasons, including food security, Anderson says. It plays a critical role in shaping a sustainable—and prosperous—future for communities, she says. She goes on to describe five ways it does this. 

  1. Economic development: Agricultural education equips individuals with the skills and knowledge needed to innovate within the agricultural sector, driving economic growth and development.
  2. Environmental sustainability: It promotes responsible farming practices that minimize environmental impact, conserve natural resources, and preserve biodiversity.
  3. Community strength: Agricultural education provides opportunities for employment and entrepreneurship within agriculture and related industries. 
  4. Lifelong skills: It teaches life skills like problem-solving, critical thinking, and teamwork, which are all applicable across various fields and industries.
  5. Food security: Agricultural education teaches people how to produce food efficiently and sustainably, ensuring a stable food supply.

“I think people are understanding that food security is a heavy concern in our world today and feel more comfortable knowing exactly where their food is coming from,” says Ashley White, Senior Grants Coordinator at PCPS and former agriculture teacher. 

Covid was the first time in White’s life she went to the grocery store and discovered it was out of stock on the items people needed to eat. 

“People assume that they will never have a problem accessing food, and through Covid that was happening more and more,” she says. “This is when people started valuing farmers markets, locally raised beef, and farm-raised eggs. Buying meat and produce from a local source gives the public a sense of securing a safe and healthy food supply for their families.”

The Pitch

A year and a half ago, Anderson had developed some concrete ideas about the potential of the property and pitched them to PCPS Superintendent Frederick Heid. 

She couldn’t have been happier with his support and enthusiasm. 

“Agriculture has always been a vital component of Polk’s economy and way of life,” says PCPS Superintendent Frederick Reid. “It’s imperative that we continue to educate future generations so they understand how agriculture impacts their world. It’s our hope, then, that the Homeland Community Farm will be an enduring resource in our community for years to come.”

What’s in Store
The plan is to include multiple growing systems, such as greenhouses, hydroponics, in-house gardens, and small-animal facilities. 

“All of these are different ways we can show students and families how agriculture works,” Anderson explains. 

The facility will also showcase new technological methods that deliver precision and sustainability, such as with robotic harvesting and geolocation technology for water conservation.

But parts of the property, including the lake, will remain untouched. 

“We want to afford environmental science and natural resources education,” Anderson says. “If we overdevelop, we don’t give the students a chance to see what natural environments look like.” 

A commercial kitchen will offer a hands-on education for agriculture and culinary students. Anderson says the plan is to donate 30% of its harvest to local food banks and communities.

“Meat products and produce from a local source gives the public a sense of securing a safe and healthy food supply for their families,” White says.

Outdoor education spaces will include planting activities and room for small animals, entirely operated by the students. The indoor spaces are large enough to host large community classes and educational events. 

The Homeland Community Farm project is in the design phase and renderings for the overall project are in the works. 

“This is not going to be just for agricultural students,” Anderson says. “Everyone from construction students, who will have opportunities to build things like picnic tables, to culinary students using the kitchen; we see this impacting multiple career areas in education in Polk County Public Schools.”

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