Capitalizing on the many rooftops and urban landscapes of downtown Orlando, Executive Director Brent Buffington of Growing Orlando is bringing produce to palates in a new way.
As a land-locked city, options for organic, locally grown produce is limited by what retailers bring to market. In an effort to circumvent this issue and create a truly closed-loop system in which food is grown, harvested and sold direct to consumer, Buffington developed Growing Orlando.
A 501c3 non-profit organization, Growing Orlando was created in 2014, when it planted its roots in the downtown area to create multisite urban farms. At first, the vision, according to Buffington, was to stitch together several small plots of vacant land across the city to start a hydroponic farm and match the output of a large rural farm, using the many rooftops downtown.
Today, it’s really about creating access to food and teaching others how to grow food for themselves.
“This adds tons of benefits including localizing food production into specific neighborhoods, making distribution easier, along with awareness and education to the consumers living nearby each farm,” says Buffington.
The first in-ground site is a plot of less than a quarter acre rooted on West South Street between Parramore and Division where tomatoes, peppers, kale, salad mix, chard, radishes, carrots and more will be harvested.
To date, there is no active market stand or CSA (community supported agriculture) shares although Buffington hopes to have an active CSA in the future.
The economic benefits of local sourcing are vast, including re-instituting money into the local economy rather than spending it at market retailers. However, the potential for job creation also would provide a lasting stimulus to the Orlando economy should Growing Orlando become profitable. The job growth could include internships or contract positions, according to Buffington.
“My earnest desire is that we can add more and more sites so that we reach a point where I am unable to manage them on my own,” he adds.
But it’s the potential environmental benefits that resonate. Namely, reducing the carbon emissions used in transporting goods from point A to point B as demonstrated in this report, which cites a study conducted by Christopher Weber and H. Scott Matthews of Carnegie Mellon University. In it, he concludes that final delivery accounts for about a quarter of the total miles and 40 percent of the transport-related emissions in the food supply chain as a whole, but notes there are “upstream” miles and emissions associated with things like transport of fertilizer, pesticides, and animal feed. Overall, transport accounts for about 11 percent of the food system’s emission.
The benefits of limiting carbon emissions are robust and can be dramatically increased using bicycles as the main mode of transportation, an option Growing Orlando is considering for the future.
However, some nonprofits such as IDEAS For Us have developed an initiative known as fleet farming, a pedal-powered urban farming movement. Like Growing Orlando, fleet farming seeks to utilize the untapped resource of residential home lawns to create micro-farms. A fleet of farmers ride their bikes weekly to the farmlettes (home gardens) and till the land and harvest the crops to bring to market and sell directly to the consumer. Currently, this initiative is specific to Audubon Park and Winter Park, but is growing rapidly as the demand for farm-fresh produce rises.
Of the movement, Fleet Farming Program Coordinator Heather Grove says, “I think there is a growing realization that smaller is better … I find fulfillment in supporting my community of makers and growers, and surviving outside of the ‘system’. But better than the ‘good feelings’, are the benefits of urban farming and local distribution. She continues, “I think the most important aspect of reducing food cost and waste is the freshness of local food. Fleet Farming greens, for example, last up to three weeks because they are harvested within 24 hours of the consumer taking them home. This cuts down on waste and saves the consumer money in the long run. So, in terms of eaters, I see the trend of urban agriculture tightening our relationships with our producers and creating a more educated community of consumers.”
Buffington shares this sentiment and outlook for Growing Orlando too, explaining that Orlandoans suffer from a lack of knowledge about the power of local agricultural sustainability.
He says, “Orlando is suffering from a lack of local food producers to feed Orlandoans. We want to take a stab at all of that by paving a way for others to follow in our footsteps. We want to see this not so much as an opportunity to simply grow food, but to leave a lasting impact on the Orlando foodscape for generations to come.”
Photo credit: Top by Fleet Farming.