An innovative re-purposing of household lawns holds promising potential for the future of food production.
In Central Florida, a new urban agriculture project in the Orlando area demonstrates how under-utilised space can be used for producing food in city suburbs.
Fleet Farming is an initiative that involves converting areas of lawn to chemical-free food production. In addition to being unproductive, lawns are also profligate users of water, fossil fuels, pesticides, and fertilisers. Organisers team up with willing householders to create ‘micro farms’ of at least 500 square feet (about 46 square metres.) A local regulation allows up to 60% of the yard to be used for growing food.
There are a limited number of pre-requisites, which include a minimum of two years during which no chemical sprays have been used. Permaculture techniques are widely utilised. Because Florida has fairly sandy soil, a thick layer of mushroom compost is usually added as the growing medium. The subtropical climate enables a wide variety of fruit trees to be grown.
This project arose in 2014 from the local NGO Ideas for Us, and especially its monthly brainstorming session called The Hive. Gardens are maintained by local residents, and by school pupils looking to earn internship credits. The founder is Chris Castro, who is in his twenties, and who somehow finds the time to run operations on top of a fifty-hour working week.
The gardeners are active in two Orlando suburbs, hip Audubon Park, and Parramore, a disadvantaged largely African-American area with high unemployment and a low average income. It is considered a ‘food desert’ where healthy food is largely hard to find locally.
Because Orlando is relatively flat, this facilitates cycling. In fortnightly ‘swarm rides’, dozens of volunteers cycle through these neighbourhoods, stopping together at the ‘farmlettes’ to help with short working bees which last about twenty minutes each. This provides scope for participants to ask questions, and to gradually learn food-growing skills that can then be applied at home. Equally important, these gatherings are about building community and stimulating motivation.
Keeping it local
Fleet Farms is very much a bike-powered company, and produce is transported using bike trailers. In a type of decentralised Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) system, the produce is sold locally at farmers’ markets and restaurants. In order to keep it hyper-local, in each suburb everything takes place within a five kilometre radius. The money raised goes back into running the organisation.
Fleet Farming is also partly funded through donations, made online by many who are inspired by what it is doing.
Growing food locally has a range of environmental benefits, including cutting food miles and reducing carbon emissions. Fresh chemical-free produce boosts health, and growing it locally improves food security while boosting the local food economy.
As an incentive to participate, the householder receives a share of the produce grown, which is as much as the family can eat. This generally equates to about 5-10 per cent of the total harvest. However, it is not an entirely free lunch; participants are requested to contribute up to US $500 (AUD $660) towards setup costs. There is a minimum two-year commitment. For householders in the Winter Park and Audubon Park areas of the city who have surplus fruit, volunteers can now collect it and distribute it to nearby restaurants.
To date, 26 lawns in the Orlando area have been converted, and the company has a goal of creating two hundred farmlettes in Central Florida by 2020. At present, there is a local waiting list of hundreds of properties. The idea has since spread to West Oakland, California, and Kampala, Uganda.
Fleet Farming www.fleetfarming.com
Fleet Farming Oakland www.facebook.com/fleetfarmingoak
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