Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Jacksonville growing into a Garden City

Folio has written a cover story on the community gardens! Here is a little excerpt from the article:

"Ten years ago, no one would have called Jacksonville 
a garden city. But if the growing number of “slow food” 
or “farm-to-table” restaurants, community gardens, farms and farmers markets is any indication, the local food culture has grown deep roots. More Northeast Floridians want food that doesn’t come in a box, bag or can or from a greasy drive-thru. They’re hungry for food that is fresh, sustainable and wasn’t shipped thousands of miles. 
A crop of locals are putting their minds to work and their hands in the earth to feed the demand.

One Spark, the crowd-funding competition for inventors, innovators and idea-makers, attracted many agriculturally based projects, representing a cross-section of the local food movement. Among those were two groups that up-cycled shipping containers into high-yield grow houses using advanced technologies (Apod Project and Urban Container Farm), two groups committed to creating and inspiring permacultures (The Food Park Project and Fertile Earth Farms), a woman who wants to encourage the community to become involved in gardening by bringing in a well-known motivational speaker (Growing Power with Will Allen), a farm run by a charitable organization that feeds and educates poor and disadvantaged people (White Harvest Farms), and a young woman looking to become a first-generation farmer (Nubian Falls Farm). If the results are any indication — six agriculturally based projects placed in the top 40 in One Spark — the region is ready to embrace the changes they envision.
Paul Nicholson, Jonathon Fletcher, Eric Hall and Rodney Permenter up-cycle shipping containers into high-yield grow houses.
Though the entries were as diverse as the people involved, all are motivated by similar concerns related to the general population’s health and well-being. Several mentioned a distrust of agricultural giants like Monsanto (which ironically calls itself “a sustainable agricultural company”), Cargill, Tyson and others. The effects of consuming GMOs (genetically modified organisms) is a common concern.
“One of the biggest problems in our food source, in my opinion, is the GMO seeds, and they’re not even labeling the foods so we don’t have a choice,” said Andrea B. Shaw, co-founder of Urban Container Farm.
Others cited fears of ingesting untold types and levels of pesticides, particularly from produce grown in countries where FDA rules don’t apply. (Fun/scary fact from the EPA: Washing fruits and vegetables reduces but does not remove pesticides.)
But don’t call them trendy. Many involved with the projects pointed out that the locally sourced, homegrown food movement isn’t a new idea but a return to an older, and better, dietary life. Luke Watkins is a fifth-generation farmer and president of Black Hog Farm, which has grown exponentially since opening in 2007, from 15 acres to around 200.
“When we go back not even 50 years ago, it was like this. People relied on their local farmers market, their local community, to grow the produce that they ate,” Watkins said.
........The difference between the recent resurgence in local food sources and those of the past is simple: This time, people are more motivated by health than economics. While 14 percent of those surveyed for the National Gardening Association Report did say the recession motivated them to start growing their own vegetables, far more were growing their own food because they know it is safe (48 percent), tastes better (58 percent), and is higher quality (51 percent) than typical grocery store fare.
But it’s not all peace, love and organic broccoli. Gardening is hard work; managing a community garden can be a full-time job. Without a lot of work, any gardening project can easily fail.
.......“The climate here is cooperative. On an individual basis, we work so hard that, at first, it seems like you’ve got some secret to protect. That’s bullshit. You couldn’t feed these million people if you tried,” she said.
And that’s all these groups and others are trying to do. If they have their way, Jacksonville could very well become known as the Garden City. After all, with sandy soil an easy fix and plenty of sunshine and rainfall, the region is a gardener’s dream. And what better way to unite the many neighborhoods of Northeast Florida than through food?
“Regardless of politics or beliefs,” Salz said, “we all need to eat.”
Community Gardens Program Manager Katie Salz is working to turn local community gardens into a single network.