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The vision for the 4R Foundation’s educational farm campus planned for John Young Parkway includes an event barn, discovery center and farm-to-table restaurant.

John Rivers’ vision for 40 acres of land in urban Orlando calls for a farm like few others.

He sees a “discovery center,” a farm-to-table restaurant and an event barn for weddings and other activities.

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Rivers, founder of the 4R Foundation and the 4 Rivers Smokehouse chain, revealed specific details about the 4Roots Farm & Agriculture Center on Thursday. The farm is planned for wooded land donated by Dr. Phillips Charities as part of The Packing District development just west of College Park.

“This whole thing is being built to address the food insecurity that we’re facing in Orange County,” Rivers said of the farm’s mission. “It has to start with education.”

He cited information from Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida that one in five children in Central Florida is food insecure.

The campus will host students from Orange County Public Schools, Rivers said, and discussions are taking place with Valencia College to consider moving its agriculture program to the farm.

Educational facilities, including greenhouse and classroom space, will be built first, with land clearing potentially starting in the middle of next year. The rest of the project will be constructed in phases depending on how much money the foundation can raise.

Known as a ghost kitchen, the only public space inside Central Florida's KitchenAF is a small seating area outside a pickup window.

Rivers called the potentially 20,000-square-foot discovery center “the highlight structure” of the plan.

Similar to a science center, it will give people a chance to explore the history and future of Florida agriculture, said Sara Elliott, the foundation’s executive director.

“As guests come through they really learn about the importance of health and nutrition and the tie back to agriculture,” Rivers said.

The plans also include a literal farm-to-table restaurant surrounded by the farm that would supply the crops, Rivers said. He added they are talking to chefs to run the dining operation.

Other features envisioned include a wetland boardwalk, multiple greenhouses and classrooms.

The Packing District is a more than 200-acre, $500 million project led by Dr. Phillips Charities that will also include a regional park, YMCA family center and mixed-use development near Orange Blossom Trail and Princeton Street. The farm is planned for the southwest part, off John Young Parkway.

A ceremonial groundbreaking for a 307-unit luxury apartment development, dubbed Cannery at The Packing District, took place Thursday. The first of its units are expected to be available in 2021.

“This whole thing is being built to address the food insecurity that we’re facing in Orange County,” John Rivers said of the planned 4Roots Farm & Agriculture Center.
“This whole thing is being built to address the food insecurity that we’re facing in Orange County,” John Rivers said of the planned 4Roots Farm & Agriculture Center. (Courtesy Of 4R Foundation)

The 4R Foundation, started by 4R Restaurant Group in 2015, has also helped with farm programs at Central Florida schools.

The foundation raised about $500,000 for facilities, including a greenhouse and raised beds, at Edgewater High School and spent $60,000 on improvements to agriculture facilities at Ocoee High School, according to its website.

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Dr. Phillips Charities donated 105 acres to the city of Orlando for Rivers’ farm as well as the regional park.

“It touches on education. It touches on health. It touches on sustainability and it touches on youth,” said Ken Robinson, president and CEO of Dr. Phillips Charities. “It brings the opportunity for families, for children, for students to come somewhere that is very close to the city center and learn about farming firsthand.”

Contact the reporter at [email protected] or 407-420-5664; Twitter @afullerreporter

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