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Farming mentorship program offers move toward self-sufficiency during pandemic

"We need to really recognize the need for food to be produced locally because we can't always depend on the national supply chains," said Juicy Roots Farm's owner.

From panic-buying to seeing food distribution lines miles long, how has the past year changed the way you think about self-sufficiency with food?

If you want to try to grow your own food, the Duval Soil and Water Conservation District wants to help. On March 8 they begin taking applications for a new year-long farming mentorship program.

"It's very empowering to know where your food comes from and to learn how to grow it yourself," said Jessi Fiske, owner of Juicy Roots Farm in Duval County. "It gives the community a lot more resilience, like what happened during covid."

In 2020 the pandemic caused sudden shocks to the food supply system, causing shortages of eggs, meat, and produce in grocery stores.

"The grocery stores ran out of produce and for people to come to the local farms and be able to get it is really important," said Fiske. "We don't have enough farms in this Northeast Florida area and definitely not have enough farmers that are trained to grow food here."

Juicy Roots Farm is one of the farms the DSWCD will have 15 people learn from during the new mentorship program.

"We have 366 farms in Duval County and many of them are home farms on 30,000 acres," said Jennifer Casey, the DSWCD chair. "It's our hope that with the start farming mentorship program we'll be able to add 15 new farms to that list in the years ahead."

The DSWCD has a focus on conservation. Casey says the pandemic has increased interest in self-sufficiency.  

"We need to really recognize the need for food to be produced locally because we can't always depend on the national supply chains," said Fiske. "We need to be more resilient here."

More farms mean more options to feed families and with it comes jobs.

"Being a farmer can be a really viable job when it's done in a profitable way and we can actually create more jobs for more people," said Fiske.

The USDA reports farming-dependent counties suffered fewer job losses during the pandemic.

President Joe Biden's immigration plan offers undocumented farmworkers the ability to apply for green cards if they pass a background check and have worked in agriculture for at least 100 days during four of the last five years. The USDA reports about half of crop farmworkers are undocumented.

The U.S. imports about 15 percent of its food supply, according to the FDA.

Follow the DSWCD on social media here to apply for the mentorship program when applications open March 8.

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