In the heart of it all, lays a farm with a lot of heart

These days, consumers are becoming more educated about their purchases. They are taking an active role in their decision-making process and they are spending their money wisely.

This is due in part to a lagging economy, a high unemployment rate and a reduced consumer spending power. So instead of people blindly buying, they are asking questions before they shell their money out: Is it worth the price? Where was it made? Where can I get it for less?

This heightened consumer awareness also applies to their purchases of food, which, along with other expenditures, has increased. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2012), food expenditures have increased 2.2 percent over the course of just one year. Now, more than ever, consumers want to know where their food comes from and what goes into the foods they eat. In response, farmers and growers are keen on educating the consumer about everything from the importance of buying local, to learning the process of how food gets from the farm to the table.

One such farm that is addressing the needs of today's consumer, through educational endeavors, is Marando Farms, located in the heart of Fort Lauderdale and founded in 2009. This family owned and operated farm packs a lot of punch on just an acre of land. On site, you will find a farmers' market, a juice & smoothie bar, a community garden, a garden utilizing hydroponics and another garden utilizing aquaponics. Plus, there are even a few rescue farm animals, including goats, pigs, geese and ducks.

Additionally, Marando Farms offers community members the opportunity to participate in a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), where farmers offer "shares," in the form of produce, while consumers become "members" and receive a box or basket of seasonal produce on a regular basis. All activities and opportunities offered by the farm are designed to provide the community with a real hands-on learning experience.

"Marando Farms was based on the belief that you can improve your community by teaching a variety of life skills through hands-on gardening," said Fred Marando, who co-owns the farm with his wife, Chelsea. Gardening offers one a chance to achieve success, understand nutrition, gain healthy eating habits and enjoy a little exercise. It also teaches a sense of responsibility, offers an opportunity to participate in teamwork and helps build self-confidence.

The educational opportunities offered by Marando Farms come in the form of gardening projects, workshops, seminars and other events.

"Many projects are designed around ecology, biology, science, history, math, health and nutrition," added Chelsea.

The farm is currently established in 15 Broward County schools and they are committed to many partnerships throughout the county. Hands-on, interactive field trip tours that focus on everything from bee colonies to water conservation to composting, are also available for Pre-K to adults.

The importance of buying local is also a large part of Marando Farms' teaching philosophy as buying local ensures freshness and supports local farms. "Supporting your local farmers helps boost the economy, and helps preserve the open spaces that make our country so productive," said Fred. Buying local also helps protect the environment, and reduces our dependence on petroleum, since the food doesn't have to travel far to get to the consumer. Studies show that the average distance food travels in distribution is 1,500 miles.

Currently at the Marando's farmers' market, you will find an assortment of fresh cabbage, herbs, kale, pak choi, peppers, tomatoes and radishes, along with Florida grass fed meats, raw dairy, and a line of healthy pet products, Auggies Doggies.

"We work with Florida's best growers to provide our customers with the freshest quality produce, "said Chelsea. Since Marando Farms is a family-owned farm, you might just get helped out with your purchase, or your educational experience, by one of their children, Lea, Max or Samantha.

If you go:

Marando Farms

1401 SW 1st Avenue

Fort Lauderdale

(954) 713-6441