Are most of people living in Florida today just here looking for our own piece of paradise, never to care what happens to the natural environment? If most people who live in Florida aren’t originally from here, does that make us less likely to care about movements like local food, local energy, and local business?
Sadly, that’s the status quo, according to Karen Fraley of the Florida West Coast Resource Conservation and Development Council, who spoke to a group of Pinellas County residents on Monday about sustainable community development through small scale farming and buying locally grown foods.
But that careless, disconnected attitude about Florida can change with a few key shifts in our thoughts and our habits, Fraley told the group, which meets monthly at the Seminole Library to discuss issues of sustainability.
What needs to change?
• Creating a sense of Florida as Home for its residents, whether we’ve lived here all our lives or are one of the 100 who arrive on average daily (down from 1,000 per day before the housing bust) as new residents.
So how do we make Florida “Home,” with a capital “H”? We must know the history of the place where we live and understand how our choices affect its future.
To that end, Fraley gave a presentation about the first residents in the Western Coastal area, five Native American tribes, and what they ate – no need for farming here way back then; plenty of fish, wildlife and gathering to sustain the population.
Once the Spanish explorers came looking for gold, the native population was wiped out, leaving a gap in the history of the land that remains today.
“We lost their stories and that vital connection to the land,” Fraley said.
Now it’s time to reconnect with the land before it’s too late. Much of our food is now shipped from thousands of miles away. Some of Florida’s counties that were plentiful in farmland saw that land being scooped up during the housing boom. With 900 exotic species of plants growing in Florida and 400 of those invasive, as well as the invasive animals such as snakes that have made the news lately, Florida’s land is in need of care and connection by its residents more than ever.
“The process of reclaiming Florida is now beginning,” Fraley said.
What else is being done to help create a local food and more agricultural-based land economy?
• The Florida West Coast Resource Conservation and Development Council has two community farms in the Bradenton and Parrish areas south of Tampa Bay that supplies food to co-ops and that are teaching apprentice farmers how to create entrepreneurial, small-scale local farms. One of the current apprentices is from Pinellas County.
The Geraldson Farm (Bradenton) and Gamble Creek Farm (Parrish) are also home to the Center for Integrated Agriculture and Earth Box Research Center.
Fraley said the more that people find farms like these to source from for local food, the better our entire local economy will be. She said 90 cents of every dollar goes directly the local farmer when making a purchase from them; but when purchasing produce from a traditional grocery store that’s sourcing from far away, 79 cents of each dollar you spend goes to transportation and marketing, and only 21 cents goes to the farmer who produced that food.
So Locally Grown News Tampa Bay challenges you to find out the history of your town, your neighborhood. Was food grown in your area way back when? Was your yard once a forest, or a wetland? Are the plants in your yard native, exotic or downright invasive? How much of your produce comes from Florida farms? Can you commit to buying more local foods?
"We will creat the future through our action and our inaction," Fraley said.
For more info on the Seminole Sustainability group contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.