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Ensuring food, water and energy security in food deserts: Converting underutilized lawns into farmlettes and building resilient communities


Description

Summary

With the average plate of food in the U.S. traveling up to 1,800 miles, the global industrial food system contributes to ~30% of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. Meanwhile, there are 40 million acres of lawn in the U.S., an underutilized resource with the potential to disrupt modern food production. Currently, we are using between 30% - 60% of the freshwater in U.S. cities to irrigate these unproductive crops. We need to fundamentally transform our agriculture systems to more resilient, sustainable and local ones; and a solution is right in our own back (and front) yards.

The Fleet Farming model creates a decentralized Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) system that converts underutilized land and resources into community assets. Under the farmlette program, Fleet Farming transforms backyards, front lawns and vacant space into mini-organic farms, called farmlettes. In exchange for land use, residents receive a percentage of the harvest. Fleet Farming then uses zero-emission bicycles with trailers to maintain, harvest, process and distribute the produce to local restaurants and farmers markets. Revenue from produce sales finance the training and employment of neighborhood farmers while stimulating the local economy.

Fleet Farming has been a wildly successful program, gaining national attention from NBC Nightly News,  NowThis Media, NPR All things Considered, Huffington Post, and many others. Over the past three years, Fleet Farming has managed to successfully launch branches in West Oakland, CA; Riverside, Jacksonville; and Audubon Park, Orlando, FL. Our combined impact amounts to: 26 lawns converted to farmlettes actively sharecropping with 24 families and 2 congregations, 4 full-time and 2 part-time employees hired, 55+ farm apprentices trained, 2500+ individuals educated and engaged through Swarm Rides, and 6,000+ lbs. of hyperlocal food produced.


Is this proposal for a practice or a project?

Project


What actions do you propose?

As Fleet Farming expands its operations into the Parramore neighborhood, a food desert, we are targeting these areas of impact to ensure a resilient food secure community:

  1. Convert 15 residential lawns into farmlettes by 2019

    • Reduce chemical fertilizer runoff and gasoline consumption required to maintain lawns

    • Add 20,000 sq ft of biodiversity in our landscapes while building soil structure and sequestering carbon

  2. Create transformational opportunities for community members to engage with their local environment and food systems

    • Install experiential education community-assets (farmlettes) at family residences during bi-weekly Swarm Rides

    • Solidify the invaluable presence of local farmers in our neighborhoods through the addition of 1 full-time farmer, 20 farm apprentices and 5 administrative interns

  3. Further the availability of sustainably grown, hyperlocal organic produce in the community

    • Increase food access and security for 15 families through sharecropping

    • Grow 4,000 lbs of food on the newly cultivated 20,000 sq ft and lower the number of community members struggling to find fresh produce


Who will take these actions?

Fleet Farming is fueled by citizen support and we are actively recruiting Parramore community members to join the team as paid staff and volunteers, as well as finding families to sharecrop with. Anyone in the community can be a Fleet Farmer by attending one of our bi-weekly community events known as “the Swarm”. During Swarm events, Fleet Farming staff and dedicated apprentices lead an intergenerational group of community members on a bicycle ride, stopping at various farmlettes. Volunteers receive hands on experience forming beds, installing irrigation, seeding and harvesting, while learning about healthy eating, soil building and creating biodiversity in our environment.

The Fleet Farming program came about during a design thinking workshop known locally as The Hive Orlando. This workshop is hosted monthly by IDEAS and it was during the Hive when community members began conceptualizing the Fleet Farming business model, which has become IDEAS flagship program.

Intellectual Decisions on Environmental Awareness Solutions For Us, also known as IDEAS, was initially created as a student club at the University of Central Florida in 2008 to help the University President take immediate action on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and implement a plan to go climate neutral. Since then, IDEAS has grown from 1 student organization into a volunteer-driven, grassroots network of more than 200 clubs at community colleges, universities, K-12 schools and communities across 25 countries worldwide.

Today, the mission of IDEAS is to develop, fund, and scale local solutions to the world’s most pressing environmental and social challenges. We build chapters on campuses and in communities to foster local action around the Sustainable Development Goals, with a focus on five overlapping themes: Energy, Water, Food, Waste, and Ecology. The methods at which we take action are through projects, programs, or campaigns. These channels place an emphasis on interdisciplinary education, community engagement, and youth empowerment.


Where will these actions be taken?

Actions will be taken in the Parramore District Neighborhood of Orlando, FL. Parramore is an 819-acre, blighted, and predominantly African-American community located just west of Orlando’s Central Business District.  The neighborhood is characterized by pervasive poverty (38 percent compared to the City at 19 percent) and no grocery stores for a five mile radius.


In addition, specify the country or countries where these actions will be taken.

United States


Country 2

No country selected


Country 3

No country selected


Country 4

No country selected


Country 5

No country selected


Impact/Benefits


What impact will these actions have on greenhouse gas emissions and/or adapting to climate change?

We will evaluate the success of the Fleet Farming Expansion Project through the following metrics through 2019:

  • # of lbs. of CO2 displaced via emission-free production/consumption

  • # of new farmlettes established (square footage, etc.)

  • # of lbs of food produced

  • # of lbs of food sold through Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)

  • # of community members engaged through bi-weekly Swarm Rides

  • # of apprentices/farmers trained

  • # of new customers

By producing measurable results that can be applied to new branches around the world, the expansion to the Parramore District Neighborhood will have a high-impact with compounding benefits throughout hundreds of communities.


What are other key benefits?

Through creating a localized agriculture system, Fleet Farming drastically reduces the miles from farm to plate for West Orlando locals. Using bicycles instead of gasoline for trucks, planes and trains, the Fleet Farming model is reinventing the typical American meal which takes ~10 calories of fossil fuel energy in, for every 1 calorie of food we get out. We transform underutilized land into experiential education community assets and use sustainable management practices such as drip irrigation to conserve water for production.

The Fleet Farming program allows community members to engage with their food system and social systems. Working with homeowners, we are able to build relationships based upon a common necessity we all share, food. Localized agriculture systems not only improve community health but also support the beautification of a community's environment while creating biodiversity and building soil. As farmlettes are developed throughout the community, the personal engagement that participants and neighbors have provides a unique catalyst for growing, preparing and consuming fresh food.

While homeowners sharecropping receive a percentage of the harvest, volunteers receive a discount on produce at the market. Fleet Farming’s first and main branch Audubon Park, in Orlando, FL currently hosts at least 25 unique volunteers at our bi-weekly Swarm Events, is supported by 20 dedicated apprentices and is managed by 2 part-time farmers. Following the same approach in the Parramore district neighborhood, Fleet Farming is actively scouting for apprentices through local high schools, colleges and community centers. We pride ourselves in farming farmers and ensure our apprentices are learning the necessary skills and foster support for young farmers.


Costs/Challenges


What are the proposal’s projected costs?

IDEAS projects Fleet Farming’s expansion to Parramore to cost $120,000 over the next three years. This projection includes the salary of a full-time branch manager and a part-time farming coordinator over three years, along with the material and tool costs for the 15 farmlette expansion. 

IDEAS has received funding for the salary positions but is in need of funds for the material and tool costs totalling $25,000.


Timeline

Design and Planning Phase (1 Month)

  1. Target the most effective growing spaces based on family need, plot size, sun exposure and proximity to existing farmlettes

  2. Design plot exterior to accommodate native species, a pollinator garden and appropriate fruiting trees

  3. Acquire necessary tools, materials, seeds and nursery plants for installation

Experiential Education Phase (11 Months)

  1. Months 2-7: Install farmlettes during our Swarm Rides and community events with a multigenerational group of community members led by farm staff and apprentices

  2. Months 8-12: Host educational farmlette tours, ideal for school groups, garden clubs, etc.

Harvest and Maintenance Phase (Continual)

  1. Produce will be harvested weekly by apprentices and farm staff, bi-weekly at Swarm Rides and through various experiential education events

  2. Seasonal maintenance will include removing previous crops, preparing and amending beds, seeding, weeding transplanting seedlings, composting and trellis building


About the author(s)

Hayden Haffey is a volunteer Proposal Writer, Fundraiser and Farmer for Fleet Farming


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References

1 - http://www.cuesa.org/learn/how-far-does-your-food-travel-get-your-plate
2 - http://www.annualreviews.org/doi/pdf/10.1146/annurev-environ-020411-130608
3,4,5 -http://scienceline.org/2011/07/lawns-vs-crops-in-the-continental-u-s