Orlando-area restaurant chain 4 Rivers Smokehouse is partnering with Orange County Public Schools to build three horticultural education centers, the first one this summer to train Edgewater High School students.
The restaurant chain's 4 Rivers Foundation charity has committed to providing money and infrastructure for all three centers, spokesman Bo Morris told GrowthSpotter. The other two high schools that will get similar facilities have not been named.
"To date, as a Partner in Education, we have committed to help provide support either through renovations or creation/build-out of new agriculture programs within three OCPS high schools," Morris said via e-mail.
"There is a need for new training and development of qualified workers in this industry," he said, "as well as exposure to high technology growing methods and systems to support the changing environment in agriculture in our country."
The Edgewater center will be located off-campus at 901 Maury Road. The 1.15-acre site will encompass a 1,875-square-foot greenhouse, and a 350-square-foot multipurpose building housing a restroom, tool closet, vegetable washing and processing station, and walk-in cooler.
The project will go out to bid this week for general contractors approved by OCPS. Morris said the estimated project cost will be $400,000.
The agricultural learning centers are the product of restaurant founder John Rivers' dream of establishing a sustainable, local source of fresh produce for the community. Called the 4Roots Farm & Agriculture Center, the initiative aims to inspire and train students in fruit and vegetable cultivation and processing.
"There are a lot of opportunities for growth in the business of agriculture," said Paige Greninger, executive director of the 4R Foundation.
"There are over 6 million jobs open in agriculture in this country," she added. "We want to make farming cool again."
The foundation is actively seeking a site for it 4Roots Farm, Greninger said. The program's website said the farm and agriculture center will be a "fresh food hub" providing produce to select Orange County school campuses, 4 Rivers Smokehouses and Florida Hospital locations.
Income generated by the farm will provide resources for curriculum development and funding for redevelopment and construction of greenhouses at the three high schools, as well as assisting underserved "food desert areas" in Central Florida.
The horticulture training centers evolved out of an initial conversation between Rivers and Orange County School Superintendent Barbara Jenkins concerning ways to bring fresh produce into high schools.
"Out of the conversation came a commitment to help provide capital infrastructure to the schools to enhance the agriculture programs through capital and corporate partnerships," Morris said.
Rivers, a former health care executive who started 4 Rivers in 2009, also created the 4R Foundation in 2015 so his popular restaurant could help strengthen and inspire communities through charitable giving.
OCPS has submitted plans for the ag center to Orlando city planners, and a request for a conditional use permit to build the center is scheduled to be heard by the Municipal Planning Board in April.
If the city approves the measure construction can start in June, according to the foundation. The project will likely take two to three months and be ready for operation during the first week or so of the fall semester.