By Marissa Lopez
According to the US Census Bureau, in 2015, 62.7% of the U.S. population live in cities, or just 3.5% of the land area. As urban areas grow, the amount of green space people can access shrinks. The World Health Organization has found that green spaces are associated with improved mental health and reduced cardiovascular morbidity and mortality.
As Orlando’s population has expanded, there has been an increasing detrimental impact on the environment. In 2010, there were 2,327.3 persons per square mile compared to the state population density of 350.6 persons per square mile according to the US Census Bureau. That means more resources are trucked in to sustain the growing population and more pollution. It is estimated that a plate of food travels 1500 miles from farm to plate.
Several organizations have been working to grow the amount of green space in Orlando. Fleet Farming is one of these organizations contributing to these efforts, but they are approaching the problem in a unique way. Fleet Farming, a millennial-led organization, is utilizing unused space on people’s lawns by turning them into gardens, or farmlettes, to help address food insecurity in urban areas. They then use swarm rides, or volunteers that bike ride from farmlette to farmlette to tend to the crops. Their motto is “farming local for a cleaner world.”
I spoke with Lee Perry, the Director of Fleet Farming, about the organization’s purpose and the work they have been doing in out community. Perry has led the growth Orlando’s two branches, Audobon Park and Parramore. Her background working in the Seminole County Natural lands program and her experience with native plants have allowed Fleet Farming to incorporate cutting edge organic practices into their programs. Her goal is to teach the next generation of farmers and increase the access people have to knowledge of how to grow their own garden.
Perry’s ultimate goal is to “add awareness that we have a responsibility to steward nature and not use it for our benefit.”
Fleet Farming’s two branches in Orlando address very different needs of the two communities. Parramore is a food desert and many of the people living there do not live in close proximity to grocery stores and fresh produce. While Parramore has a strong sense of community, the people need access to healthier foods that the farmlettes can provide. Audobon Park is a wealthier community that has access to fresh foods, but they have a social need that Fleet Farming is trying to address. The farmlettes are a tool to try to bring these communities together through their swarm rides. Both branches aim to fill the specific needs of each community through their farmlettes.
Fleet Farming’s staff and volunteers tend to the farmlettes that are in biking distance to each branch. Homes that are outside of the area are encouraged to start their own garden. Fleet Farming is committed to ensuring that their garden continues to thrive as they can make special stops those location on a case by case basis for a small fee.
The owner of each farmlette is encouraged to eat the produce that their land provides, but there usually is an abundance of produce which households do not use. Fleet Farming partners with local restaurants and farmers markets to sell the extra produce. The funds raised go into their continued efforts as an organization.
Fleet Farming is growing green space while simultaneously meeting the nutritional and social needs of the communities that is serves. It is helping reduce climate change by reducing the distance it takes to get food on people’s plates. Fleet Farming is also saving homeowners the cost of buying groceries and providing the education and support for a garden for free.
Fleet Farming impact on Orlando communities aligns with several of the Sustainable Development Goals:
Goal 8: Promote inclusive and sustainable economic growth, employment and decent work for all
According to Perry, the City of Orlando is supporting more agriculture programs for people, which is increasing the need for people with an agricultural skill set. Fleet Farming has established a large internship program to attract and keep people in agriculture here in Orlando and keep up with the demands of the market.
Goal 11: Make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
In addition to building green spaces, Fleet Farming’s efforts have spurred other efforts, such as building more walk-able sidewalks to accommodate swarm rides.
Goal 12: Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
Fleet Farming is working to build more sustainable food sources closer to the people consuming it. It is also converting lawns into usable space. The average time that you mow a lawn expels 11 times more carbon dioxide than a car. Converting lawns into farmlettes is better for the environment in addition to the fresh produce communities have access to. Fleet Farming also uses naturally amend the soils and use natural pests deterrents and not pesticides.
Goal 13: Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts
The agriculture industry plays a huge role in climate change contributions. The energy it takes to grow, irrigate, and deliver food leads to large amounts of carbon dioxide. Fleet Farming is trying to create more sustainable farming practices that leave a smaller impact on the environment.
Goal 15: Sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, halt and reverse land degradation, halt biodiversity loss
Fleet Farming tries to create habitats that can be used as food sources by building ecoclimates around their farmlettes to help plants grow better. Around the edge of the garden, permanent agriculture methods are used. Trees are planted for shade like leafletter to help reflect radiation from the sun. Shrubs that are edible like cranberry hibiscus and Okinawa spinach are planted with ground crawling things like sweet potato and watermelon and squash. Sweet potato adds nutrients to soil for symbiotic relationship. In the center will be spin method crops such as salad so they can provide a consistent product to sustain the program. Herbs can be put around the border to help bees and other insects use to protect themselves and contribute to the farmlettes.
Speaking with Fleet Farming has many anecdotes of how the farmlettes has improved health and brought together families. They are tracking how many farmlettes they have and how many miles biked. Perry would like to eventually track how much money saved for households that get their produce from their farmlettes.
By 2030, Fleet Farming hopes to one day give everybody the capability to grow food in their own back yards. It also aims to give homeowners the ability to do so by giving free education that is provided each swarm ride. It also hopes to be able to buy the produce from their doorstep.
If you would like to be involved in the swarm rides, you can join the event listed on Fleet Farming’s Facebook page. You can also inquire about starting your own farmlette. Visit the Fleet Farming’s website for more information: https://fleetfarming.org/get-involved/