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Leon Soil and Water Conservation District, Florida

The Leon SWCD enabled the launching of the Leon Fruit and Nut “Exchange.” Since its inception in January 2017, the Exchange has helped to reduce food waste in Tallahassee/Leon County, Flo., by helping move 5,886 pounds of fresh fruit and vegetables forward to those in need. A total of 48 property owners signed up for the Exchange program, enabling 26 individual deliveries to four local food banks.

Every pound of food moved by the Exchange is a pound of food that was going to waste on trees or vines in Leon County. Instead, that harvest has been incorporated into our local food system.

For example, it is helping launch the first youth entrepreneurial incentive created though the HUB by the creation of the Sweet Girls Lemonade stand. A group of young women from the Springfield Public housing complex learned how to process lemons, through volunteers with the Exchange, to create a sellable product – lemonade. Sweet Girls Lemonade has become a summer staple at the Frenchtown Farmers market and has been featured at various community events.

The program is 100% volunteer-driven. No one is financially compensated for the time they donate to moving food forward with the Leon Fruit and Nut Exchange. Volunteers are the bedrock of the Exchange. Thankfully, efforts to involve others have been successful. The Exchange engaged in extensive efforts to spread the word about the plan to move food forward. Media outreach included radio ads, participation in local talk radio and public appearances at more than a dozen community events. Word of mouth began to spread even more once the gleaning began. As a result, the Exchange had 25 individuals register themselves or their group to volunteer for the program.

The Exchange volunteer program was designed to make it easy for individuals or groups to earn and track service hours. Groups like the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts are always looking for opportunities to provide verifiable, volunteer hours. The experience, from gleaning to measuring and distributing food, is both fun and educational.

Donation deliveries are targeted to low-income individuals who traditionally do not have easy access to fresh food. Food deliveries are concentrated to the Frenchtown Springfield neighborhood and South City neighborhoods of Tallahassee. These neighborhoods are in a federally-designated food desert and contain populations with the largest concentrations of diabetes and childhood obesity in the county. The project intent is to positively impact those statistics. To further support its mission, the Exchange is in the Frenchtown Heritage HUB, located in the heart of downtown Tallahassee. The HUB provides food-based business development services, a commercial kitchen rental program and an all-local farmers market.

The Exchange works in community partnership with the HUB to support the elimination of health and economic disparity among communities of color.

Sustainability

Leon SWCD volunteers helping glean Blood oranges and giving out oranges at a local Tuesday food bank distribution.

1) Food Sales: Through this process, members learned almost by accident that some products may be easier to process in-house, for market sales, to support the Exchange. To that effect, up to 5% of the total annual yield is kept as a sellable product to help sustain the current and future cost of running the Exchange. The processed products under consideration for sale are lemon juice to be used for lemonade; figs, fig jelly and jam; and citrus-filled gift baskets for sale during the holidays.

2) Grants: The Exchange is considering two additional grants to help sustain the program: Community Food Projects Federal Grant and funding for a volunteer coordinator position.

3) Fundraising/Cooking Classes through the HUB: Through this program, several homeowners have shared their favorite recipes that used products usually gleaned. Several have offered to teach a class at the HUB kitchen as fundraising initiative for the Exchange. Topics under consideration are: How to make limoncello from Meyer lemons; tart marmalade from Seville Oranges, which makes a great topping for grouper; ginger fig preserves with locally-sourced goat cheese; and candied and baked grapefruit.

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