On production day, Christa Nunez put on rubber gloves, stood next to a machine streaming hot dark red juice, and methodically filled bottles. She capped each one, placed it on a shelf, and later hosed them down and affixed labels. Once finished, she produced 500 bottles at the Food Venture Center in Geneva, NY.
Christa and her husband, Pete, Ithaca residents and owners of The Learning Farm Juicery, recently released their first product, Organic Grape & Beet Juice, and plans to develop on-farm learning experiences. The juice is sold at local stores and available for tasting at GreenStar Co-op on September 9 from 11am until 3pm.
Before creating the juice, Christa, a mom of two kids with another on the way, had noticed that most juices marketed to kids were full of sugar and focused on fruits only. Her goal was to produce a juice with fruit and vegetable components that’s tasty, hydrating, and sweet — without added sugar.
The resulting juice is composed of just four ingredients: USDA certified organic non-GMO juice beet and grape concentrate, filtered water, and citric acid. “Beet juice is really good for you, but with too much beet flavor, it’s too earthy,” she says. “Grapes balances the beet to create a very smooth taste.”
The product was developed with support from Cornell’s agriculture and food science researchers, who helped vet the formulation and production process and assisted with testing and quality control. “We’d like to grow our own grapes and beets someday,” Christa says. “But for now, we’re using concentrate. It has the same nutrition. So we start with a really thick, juice – a rich ruby red liquid.”
Beyond juice, The Learning Farm itself is in development, with a goal to deliver high quality and accessible farm experiences at affordable prices. “Ultimately, our goal is to support individuals, families, and communities in effort to change the way that they go about accessing and developing their own food,” Christa says. “And we want to create an integrated agrarian culture globally, giving everyone access and exposure to sustainable opportunities to create and share food.”
Christa and Pete believe that people want to slow down and relax, and cultivate community connections with fun and ease. “Life is too hard for lots of people; they feel tired all the time. And because sometimes we find we’re on a rat wheel, we’ve lost connection with the earth — a crucial connection that keeps us in balance,” Christa says. “The plan is to have people visit The Learning Farm for a week as a fun and unique vacation with family, with real experiences of cooking together, picking apples together, collecting chicken eggs together, and learning new things.”
The company just purchased 15.5 acres of land in the Town of Ithaca near Robert H. Treman State Park on State Highway 327. Development of the Learning Farm education retreat facility will commence in Spring 2018. For the first stage, ten tiny homes are planned in a learning community with a greenhouse, orchard, raised veggie beds, berries, wildflowers, sheep, chickens, and bees and a communal gathering spot to prepare and eat food. Programs will cater to economically, racially, and culturally diverse participants, including families who live in food deserts, who don’t have access to nature or sustainable agriculture.
Christa grew up in East Lansing, Michigan and has a business and marketing background. Pete’s family in the Dominican Republic grew their own food until they moved to Harlem during his youth. Pete has worked in child development, helping autistic children develop communication and behavioral skills.
“I think for me, the farm means family,” Christa says. “If you look back at U.S. history, slavery separated and exploited people. So we have this agrarian history that can be ugly. But now we have an opportunity to develop an agrarian society where everyone shares in the opportunities. Our vision is to support and appreciate each other wherever we come from. And we need nature, we need to appreciate and cultivate what we’ve been given and share it with folks who don’t historically have access to land and ag resources.”
The Learning Farm Juicery Grape Beet Juice is available at GreenStar Co-op, Lansing Market, Collegetown Bagels, and P&C Fresh, as well as online at amazon.com and learningfarm.org. During 2018, the company expects to expand to regional natural and eventually distribute throughout the east coast and Canada.
Images courtesy of The Learning Farm.