4 Rivers restaurateur plans 40-acre urban farm for feeding the hungriest people in Orlando


Businessman and planned future urban farmer John Rivers - PHOTO VIA 4 RIVERS SMOKEHOUSE TWITTER @@4RSMOKEHOUSE
In less than two years, Orlando's College Park neighborhood has transformed from a sleepy area satisfied with its 1950s charm to one bustling with the construction of modern luxury apartments and trendy hangouts like a food hall and brewery.

Now, a 40-acre farm is planned for the newly named Packing District, led by local restaurateur and businessman Johnny Rivers, CEO of 4 Rivers Restaurant Group.

Rivers says the regular harvests form the farm, to be located at John Young Parkway and Princeton Street, will be dedicated to feeding the hungry.

The Packing District's fresh, urban-revivalist vibe doesn't exactly scream "agriculture," but then again, College Park does not seem like a place with food insecurity either. But appearances can be deceiving.

While the area's rejuvenation seems set to appeal to the well-to-do crowd, Orange County continues to struggle with hunger. Rivers says he sees a busted food system which chews up the environment and leaves children hungry, and he's not having it.

"We're going after the broken food system and, specifically, you have so many people in Orange County living in food insecurity," Rivers told WKMG. "Specifically in Orange County Public Schools today, you have one in every five students that doesn't know where their next meal is going to come from."

4 Roots Campus, as the $30 million dollar project will be called, is planned to be a working farm. Its entire yield, according to Rivers, will fill the bellies and bare cupboards and refrigerators of the food-insecure families in Orange County schools.

The owner of the 4 Rivers Smokehouse chain says the farm facility will also house classrooms, greenhouse space, a restaurant, and a discovery center for learning about Florida's agricultural past and future. The way through the problem of hunger is through education and understanding, says Rivers.

The project will take some five years to complete. The groundbreaking is planned for early 2020.

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