Harvest time: Hope Now provides alternative living through alternative crops

ANY FARMER worth his or her salt knows that if you want something to grow, you have to give it everything it needs. Essentials include a good foundation of soil, the warmth of sunlight, and clean water. It’s the same thought behind Hope Preserve and Farm, a farm and visitor center that is in the works for the 81 pristine acres that Hope Now Transition Center recently purchased in December near Saddle Creek Park on Lakeland’s east side. Hope Now helps adults with life-controlling issues get what they need to be independent and successful within the community. The Hope Preserve and Farm will offer another outlet for clients to receive therapy, all while getting vocational training in the art and husbandry of farming.

“We’re trying to do a vocational farm in a park-like setting,” explains Joseph Cox, the executive director of Hope Now. Hope Now clients will work the farm, gaining skills while experiencing the tried-and-true therapy of hard work coupled with both nature and agriculture. The new farm and preserve expands on what the organization is already doing. “We’ve always had a farm,” Cox shares, “but the infrastructure was not there in our Bartow location.”

The farm will grow some traditional produce, but the organization is focusing on alternative crops that offer more bang for the buck in terms of sustainable agriculture. Cox sings the praises of *Moringa, a plant that is widely used as a staple in Third World countries and is emerging as a superfood due to the fact that it is chock full of protein, vitamins, and minerals. Grown in areas with food scarcity concerns — like India, Africa, and Asia — Cox affirms that, “It seems like God’s answer to helping the plight there.” He shares that Moringa also has a whole host of additional benefits to offer along with good nutrition. “It’s a pretty amazing product,” he assures. “It’s sustainable, meaning it continually grows. So instead of us planting tomatoes that we’ll pull up, we’re trying to grow edibles that will just continue to grow and that you can grow in your backyard.” Other plants with foreign roots that the farm will produce include Chaya, Goji berries, Katuk, Pandan, and Yacon.

While a portion of the produce raised by clients will be consumed and some will be donated, plants and produce will also be for sale at the Hope Store located on U.S. Highway 92 East, near the farm. “It’s always been about sustainability,” Cox maintains. “We wanted to give the clients some vocational hours and training on some things they could grow and live on in their backyards when times get tough, but we also wanted to do locally grown produce and develop something that creates some kind of income flow so the money would go back into the program,” he says. “So we are actually sustainably giving it back into the program.”

The Hope Preserve and Farm also offers a component for the community. Starting this May, the organization will offer workshops for the public, with tours and other educational endeavors in the works for the future. Workshops will focus on edibles like Moringa and alternative planting methods, just to name a few. “Anything to do with health and wellness, we’re going to be doing,” Cox says, as Hope Now continues offering clients and the public the essentials they need to grow.

*Some benefits of Moringa

• Contains 25 times more iron than spinach
• 17 times more calcium than milk
• 15 times more potassium than bananas
• 10 times more vitamin A than carrots


article by ERIKA ALDRICH

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