Adjacent to Jaco Pastorius Park on Dixie Highway is one of Oakland Park’s hidden gems, the Urban Farming Institute (UFI). UFI is a 501c3 nonprofit organization, urban farm, resource center, and community garden. UFI is open to everyone interested in learning about food production amidst the hustle and bustle of urban South Florida.
The organization was founded a decade ago by Broward County native Jon Albee, who at the time had a construction company in Oakland Park. The “seed” of inspiration for UFI came when one of his team members shared that she wanted to teach her young child about growing food. This led Albee to get everyone in the company their own at-home hydroponic farming kit.
Soon UFI was invited by the City of Oakland Park to set up a community garden consisting of eight raised-bed gardens, hydroponics, and cooking demonstrations. They started Community Supported Agriculture, or a farm-share, which enabled subscribers to regularly receive a box of locally-grown produce from the farm during the growing season. UFI also began weekly programming for children.
“We used gardening as an excuse to teach kids about science,” said Albee, who is now semi-retired and focuses most of his time and effort on running UFI with a team of fellow volunteer staff members.
UFI is also a preceptor site for the graduate program in nutrition at Nova Southeastern University. Research conducted through UFI has focused on various areas of study, including aquaponics, combating Red Tide, edible seaweed, reintroducing Eastern Oysters into the New River in Fort Lauderdale, and more.
Today the site has grown into the most extensive community garden in Broward County, with 70 raised-bed gardens. Programs offered by UFI include hydroponics, aquaponics, food forest development, and a Kid's Garden Adventure. On Saturdays, free public programming, including Talk@Ten and Chef@Eleven teaches gardening best practices and provides cooking demonstrations with samples and recipes.
The City of Oakland Park honored Albee's contributions to the community by asking him to serve as Grand Marshal of the annual Youth Day Parade on March 4th, 2023.
“UFI was born out of a concern for the environment, the education of students, and for the future of our children and their education,” said Albee. Their focus is to show others how they can impact their personal lives through easy-to-grow, restaurant-quality fruits, and vegetables. “Eating healthy food is a key important ingredient to a healthy and successful life,” Albee continued.
To learn more and get involved with UFI, visit its brand-new website at https://discoverufi.org.