By: Natalie Costa
A shift in sensibilities
In Orange County, which spans 13 cities in Central Florida, the value of agricultural products sold in 2007 reached $270 million, according to the USDA Ag Census.
In fact, in the state of Florida, which is commonly characterized by tourism and theme parks, there are 47,500 commercial farms according to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
A farm, as defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), is any place from which $1,000 or more of agricultural products were, or normally would be, produced and sold.
Co-operatives, farm shares, and community markets all make up in part what is known as the Slow Food Movement.
Slow Food Orlando, a nonprofit in Winter Park, FL, defines this Movement as “connecting Central Florida to food that is good, clean, and fair.”
Kendra Lott, publisher of Edible Orlando, notes Slow Food Orlando’s movement away from the term “organic” to characterize locally sourced food.
She says, “One of the questions we were most commonly asked [at Edible Orlando] was, ‘is your magazine only about organic food?’ And now, after more than three years in publication, we almost never get asked that question. There has been a shift in sensibilities and a real paradigm shift in the way people think about food.”
So, could an entire household or even community sustain on eating only locally sourced goods? And if so, how can this money be used to facilitate a stronger, healthier economy?
Green thumbs bring produce to the palate
The USDA’S November 2013 data offers a snapshot of the average low-cost food plan for a single family home. The report indicates that the average plan is $484 per month while the cost of joining a CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture, in Central Florida is $200 dollars for a weekly half share for 10 weeks.
For the consumer who prefers her vegetables to be homegrown, patriot gardens are a viable option.
Give-Back Gardens and patriot gardens have become more and more prominent in Central Florida as local community members begin to embrace the Slow Food Movement.
Although local homeowners faced pushback from the city initially for their patriot gardens, the community has found more support recently.
On October 8, 2012, Jennifer and Jason Helvenston of College Park received a notice from City of Orlando’s Code Enforcement, citing agricultural uses in residential zones as the offense. The notice stated that the Helvenston’s would face $500 in fines per day if the garden was not removed.
After seeking legal counsel, the Helvenston’s inspired a movement garnering 10,000 signatures in their petition against the ordinance.
The city has since dropped the code enforcement violation and apologized.
As a sign of the changing times and sentiment toward community gardens and local agriculture, the City Council voted to permit Maitland residents to house backyard chickens in October of 2013.
From farmers markets to restaurants to patriot gardens, Central Florida’s Slow Food Movement is taking root.
Local co-operatives offer affordable weekly shares
One co-op, Maya Papaya Organic Farm in Oviedo, FL, offers seasonal, organic produce including romaine lettuce, beets, parsley, cucumbers, and kale, to name a few. In addition to vegetables, the Farm also offers organic, GMO-free tilapia for an additional $6 per pound.
Community markets and co-ops are not an option for all locavores, however. Kristin Benbow, an Environmental Specialist for Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection, says, “I put a premium on organic foods as a mom to be. I’d rather eat a chicken that’s hormone-free because I’m feeding that to my kid too.”
Benbow shares that Lake County is very rural, and there is nothing within walking distance “unless I want to buy my fruits and vegetables from a truck on the side of the road.”
Audubon Park community members, on the other hand, are host to one of the most highly trafficked community markets in Central Florida.
A Local Folkus, LLC, a food events company based in Central Florida, published a report conducted by a third-party nonprofit called marketumbrella.org measuring the financial impact of Audubon Park Community Market in Central (APCM) Florida in June of 2013.
According to the report, the APCM had an annual combined economic impact of more than $960,000 on its vendors, neighborhood, and community.
In a survey of 138 market attendees, the average dollars spent per shopper totaled $20.50 per market visit.
That’s less than $200 per month for a single-family household, which is nearly half of what the USDA reports the average household spends on food.
Instead, Benbow makes the 20-minute drive to Publix where she says she spends approximately $250 dollars, which lasts about a week for her family of three.
As a former resident of College Park, she recalls that shopping at places like Eat More Produce, a small, organic food shop, was “substantially cheaper.”
Although substantially cheaper to consumers like Benbow, the dollar yields more growth according to a separate study conducted by marketumbrella.org, which reports that $73 out of $100 total dollars spent in the community stays in the local economy while only $43 stays local when spent at a chain.
To reinforce this point, the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Research and Extension Program (UF/IFAS) published an economic impact report in 2010, which cited, “for every $1 of public investment in agricultural research and extension, there is a $10 benefit to producers and consumers in terms of greater productivity and lower food prices.”
According to the report, in Orange County alone nearly 160,000 full- and part-time jobs were created as a result of UF/IFAS’s investment in natural resources and related industries, which produced a value added impact of $8.67 million and $8.3 billion in revenue.
The next USDA census data will be released on February 20, 2014.