PURCELLVILLE, VIRGINIA - Field trips to the JK Community Farm in Purcellville, Virginia, help children understand where food comes from.
The hands-on approach of this educational program allows visiting children to participate in the farming process, starting from planting seeds inside a greenhouse, transplanting them into soil outside to harvesting the resulting vegetables and fruits.
Samantha Kuhn, the farm's director, says this is how these young children learn about the food they eat every day.
“They know that their parents get it from the grocery store, but they don’t know how it gets there,” she explains. “So you want to connect them with the agriculture, with the farmers, you want them to know the nutritional benefits of the food they are eating, why eating local, organic, and healthy is important.”
Since the JK Community Farm donates the harvested vegetable and fruits to local food banks, the young visitors learn another valuable lesson about helping others. “It’s great to see them making the connection, that everything that they are helping us plant and harvest will go to the families in need,” Kuhn says.
A learning experience for adults too
The farm also invites community members to help in various farming operations.
“This year we had already 1300 volunteers, and our goal is 1600,” said General Manager, Mike Smith. “Many have not had any farming experience, but we try to be task oriented. That allows us to get the job done effectively whether people have planted vegetables a lot or not at all.”
In the process, the volunteers learn the secrets of farming.
“They learn a lot, get motivated about food, about where it comes from, about growing their own food,” Smith adds. “We try to teach them as much as they can to encourage more locally grown food.”
Giving back to the community
Chuck Kuhn purchased the farmland last year. The company he founded, JK Moving, has always supported to local charities, and with the farm, he says, they could do even more. “We purchased the land and put in conservation easement to protect the open space in Loudoun County."
At the time, Kuhn’s daughter Samantha was attending college in Tennessee, and working at a community farm there. “She was very proud of her accomplishments at the community farm," Kuhn recalls. "We thought we could combine our desire to protect the open space and give back to the community by donating food to local food banks.”
“When I moved back to Virginia, I was able to see that we were facing similar problems in Loudoun, especially,” Samantha Kuhn notes. “The food banks are receiving a lot of packaged food, a lot of bakery items, but not very much fresh fruits and vegetables. And so, we wanted to be able to donate what was growing within the county to people facing food insecurity.”
JK Community Farm donates fresh vegetables and fruits to a number of local food banks, including Loudoun Hunger Relief. Its executive director, Jennifer Montgomery, says about 4 percent of the county's population can be considered food insecure. “Based on our population figures right now that’s about 15,000 people.”
To be able to receive fresh, organic farm produce, she says, is a tremendous gift.
Last year, JK Community Farm started growing crops on one and a half hectares (4 acres). “This year," Samanthan Kuhn says proudly, "we expanded to 7 acres (2.8 hectares) of garden and we will donate 63,000 pounds (28000 kilos) of produce and 50,000 pounds (22000 kilos) of protein.”
Making a difference on a daily basis is what keeps the JK Community Farm growing.