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Fleet Farming

Growing food and not lawns to re-invent sharecropping for the 21st Century through hyper-local urban agriculture.

Photo of Clayton Ferrara
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Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

IDEAS For Us

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small NGO (under 50 employees)

Website of Legally Registered Entity

www.ideasforus.org www.fleetfarming.org

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 3-10 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

Orlando

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

United States of America

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

Orlando, Florida is located in Central Florida and covers a total area of approximately 162.5437km^2.

What country is your selected Place located in?

United States of America

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

Our organization, IDEAS For Us, was founded in Orlando, Florida and we are globally headquartered here. The City of Orlando is our home and 100% of our paid staff live in the Orlando metro region or the city itself. Our Executive Director, Chief Operations Officer, and Chief Executive Officer were all educated in the City of Orlando for college. The President of our Board of Directors is the Director of Sustainability of The City of Orlando and the Vice President of our Board is the Director of Sustainability of Orange County. 

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

Florida is the third most populated state in the United States of America. The City of Orlando is a major metropolitan city and a melting pot for the United States, as one of the most diverse cities in Florida. Orlando holds the prize for being the most visited city in the country with over 75 Million visitors in 2018. Tourism and hospitality are the #1 and #2 largest employment sectors in Orlando and those jobs are also among the lowest wage paying jobs in the region (Under $22K annual income). The last decade (2009 - 2019) has seen an average of 1,000 people move to our region per day and we are on track to become a predominantly hispanic/latino community by 2030. Over 45% of Orlando residents were not born in the City of Orlando and we remain the #1 destination for climate refugees from the Caribbean and South Florida. Orlando is also a young city, with the average of residents being 32 years old for males and 33 years old for females. 2018 also saw over 50,000 climate refugees from Puerto Rico come to Orlando following Hurricane Maria and the devastation it left in its wake. Environmental destruction and urban sprawl have created the perfect storm for inflated real-estate prices and lack of green space that leaves residents dependent on long supply chains to fill in the gap of lack of local produce. There are hundreds of thousands of lawns in Orlando, Florida and they utilize over 60% of the cities drinking water to irrigate. In the summer months, this amount can rise to over 80% of a households water consumption. Additionally, those lawns do not produce edible food and the fertilizer/pesticide mix used to keep them green is the number #1 contributor to the decline of our groundwater, river, and spring eutrophication. Luckily, in 2018 there was a state preemption that lifted the ban on the farming of your lawn and now homeowners and renters are able to convert 60% of their lawns to edible landscapes. We believe this is an incredible opportunity for the hyper-localized urban agriculture and have acted on a pilot program since 2014 that has grown into a full blown enterprise in Orlando, Florida. The growing season in Florida is year round and the potential for food production in urban settings is significant. We grow over 15 different kinds of edible produce and give a special consideration to culturally relevant crops for African American and Caribbean populations we serve. Thousands of pounds of fresh organic produce produced on a farming plot of only a few hundred square feet is not uncommon. 

What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)

163

What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?

238300

Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

The food system of Orlando, Florida is complex. 75 million people visit our city every year and every one of them eats, utilizes energy, creates waste, and puts stress on the environment. We also struggle with groundwater conservation because 75% of potable water is used to irrigate lawns in the summertime months. The amount of fertilizer and the quantity of water used by residents and visitors is expected to increase from our current 2020 levels and by 2050, we are expected to have completely run out of drinking water in the city.

In 2020, diets of residents, especially those below the poverty line are nutrient poor and highly processed. Diabetes, malnutrition, and obesity are all above the national average for the neighborhoods of Parramore, Holden Heights, and Pine Hills (all neighborhoods located in Orlando). By 2050, the availability of healthy food, especially organic produce will have to be sourced locally, as we do not expect the supply chains to ship food across the earth with be cost effective. Meeting this need for food is a challenge exacerbated by a population rise in our region.

The city of Orlando is an economically strained city. 18.2% of Orlando residents live on an income below the federal poverty level and 80% of those residents rent homes, as opposed to own them. This ratio of poverty is increasing as 2018 numbers suggest that as many 23.6% of children in Orlando are under the poverty level. We are already the #1 worst city for affordable housing in the United States. By 2050, we hope to have solved that issue, collectively, through the building of tiny homes for aging residents and the diversification of environmental jobs, including farming through our proposed program.

Orlando is among the most culturally diverse cities in the United States. We have residents with relatives from 114 countries living in the City limits and we are a recognized "Sanctuary City" as of 2017. The culture of the city is certainly globalized and this is reflected in many festivals and the restaurant culture of the community.

The city of Orlando is also a technological hub, with the University of Central Florida, Lockheed Martin, EA Games, Hanson, Honeywell, Siemens, and Harris Corporation all having a major presence in our community. We are also the site of the largest homeland security contractors in the Nation.

If there is one area that Orlando is thriving and being internationally recognized, it is for our policies and ordinances. Four landmark policies were passed between 2016 and 2019 that positioned Orlando to be the #1 most sustainable city in the Southeast and the 17th most sustainable city in the country. By 2050, we will have solved the lack of commercial processing kitchens with pop-up mobile kitchens housed in electric busses and co-working spaces. We will also provide seed funding for agricultural startups as part of the cities economic development policies. 

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

Our vision for a solution builds on the combined value of solving multiple challenges in our community with urban farming. The environmental issues are solved by converting toxic lawns into organic farms that do not utilize chemical fertilizers or pesticides. Labor on the farmlettes is accomplished by hired staff and volunteers who use bicycles for travel as a means of a carbon neutral transport. The organic farms do not use synthetic fertilizers and thus they do not pollute groundwater, rivers, springs, and our estuaries. We utilize drip irrigation systems on timers and we reduce water consumption as much as 80% on the farmlette and 30% overall. We have a strong commitment to permaculture practices and the natural rebuilding of soils.

By having a farmlette outside your house, you are reconnected to the earth as part of a food chain and ecosystem. Residents are able to eat as much of the farm as they like and the remaining produce is harvested by our team of staff and volunteers. Harvested produce is brought to farmers markets in food deserts and sold to local restaurants. This source of locally grown produce increases the consumption of fresh vegetables and repairs a multi-generational gap of food production that is pervasive in low income and urban communities. 

Our vision is also an economic one. We aim to train volunteers how to grow their own food in the front lawns of residential neighborhoods. This directly produces free food for the homeowner but also income for the farmers because they are paid for their labor from the revenues made from the sales of excess produce to restaurants, farmers markets, and distribution centers. We pay farmers a minimum of $12.50 an hour and strongly believe in expanding that workforce for people of all ages. 

Culturally, we aim to use Orlando's multinational population of residents to inform us what produce they would like to consume. Meeting people where they are and their desires first is the best way to expand their horizons to other foods as time goes on.

As a technological hub, our vision for a food solution will proliferate innovation. We have been exploring 3D Printing, the use of a farm robot to plant seedlings, and cutting edge greenhouse and biochar techniques to build soil and increase production yields and decrease growing time. As we grow our concept, the need for apps, monitoring, and ITO, will propel us to bring in community partners that can further refine and optimize our model.

As aforementioned, we are part of the team writing our regional food and agriculture policy. Our vision is helping to provide a framework for obstacles we encountered in the launch of our model and we are actively identifying and remedying those obstacles in a regional plan that can catalyze more startups, farming jobs, and sector development. 

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

We see an Orlando that is transformed into a food oasis. Our actions to remedy the cities specific environmental, economic, and health problems are solved by leveraging a hyper-local approach to urban agriculture that enhances cultural diversity and provides a pathway for technical innovation and policy. Our program is a model that can address similar challenges in communities around the world by adapting to make best use of existing resources, while building the next generation of American Farmers to focus on the urban environment as opposed to the rural heartland of the last century.

Citizens of Orlando, especially those in low income and minority communities of 2020 will find themselves living in a thriving urban agriculture economy by 2050. Starting in Pre-k, children will be exposed to the food chain and gardens as a ubiquitous staple of the build environment. They will be taught about healthy eating and diet all through their education and by high school they will be volunteering with our farmers to learn entrepreneurial skills needed to start their own enterprises. 

With such a high population of residents and tourists, there will be a significant need for fresh produce in the city and through the use of front lawns and green space, farmers of all ages will be part of a new hyper-local urban agricultural economy. A network of farmers markets, rooftop gardens, front lawn gardens, and community growing plots will provide a diversity of growing environments for pockets of activity to proliferate and maintain their cultural identity. Thus, providing the opportunity for new fusions and collaboration among growers. 

With improved diets and employment opportunities, entrepreneurial training, and a diverse cultural community, the opportunity for Orlando, Florida to transition into a garden city will be realized by 2050. 

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

The population of the world is steadily urbanizing. By 2050, two thirds of the world’s population will live in cities. The Americas lead the world with the largest proportion of city-dwellers with over 80% today and 90% projected by 2050. The rapid expansion of cities has brought significant challenges including poor living conditions, increased inequality and a lack of access to basic services. The poverty and marginalization that many urban residents face take a toll on their physical and mental health and erode their sense of community. Inner-city children grow up consuming processed foods and are disconnected from nature, missing out on the psychological and physical health benefits of balanced and nutritious diets.

However, in many urban areas, community food gardens have flourished and serve as supplementary sources of fresh produce and as a way to unite and empower communities. These small urban oases allow people to be directly involved in how their food is grown and consumed, fostering a sense of community and connection between people and the planet.

The time to grow food in urban environments is now. 3,000 acres of productive farmland are lost to development each day to build low-density suburbs, where lawns are taking over and threatening the global food supply. Today, lawns make up 40.3 million acres of the conventional U.S. land. These lawns are consuming about 800 million gallons of gasoline for mowing and uses an average of 30-60% of our cities freshwater. In addition, lawns also present growing environmental concerns, leading to more than 50% of potable water consumption for irrigation to nutrient pollution and runoff devastating local water-ways. The typical American Meal travels an average of 1500 miles from farm to table. As a result, we put about 10 calories of fossil fuel energy in, for every calorie of food we get out. This entire system attributes to %30 of human caused CO2 emissions. There is a growing urgency for cities to agriculturally utilize urban spaces to the fullest extent while engaging community members in local food systems. We believe Fleet Farming is a solution to these central challenges.

Fleet Farming is a revolutionary urban farming program whose mission is to increase local food accessibility by transforming underutilized land into productive farms with zero emission community engagement. Our model creates a hyperlocal decentralized food system throughout neighborhoods, transforming lawns into 100% organic farms. Participating landowners sharecrop a portion of the produce, and the excess is sold at local venues by bike. Zero emission transportation is a vital component of sustainable cities, decreasing CO2 emissions in the cycle of local food production and distribution.  

Our target community are community members who are hyper local to where the produce is grown, typically within a 2-3 mile radius of the Fleet Farming micro farms or “farmlettes,” with a focus on low-and-moderate income communities. Community members can engage in urban farming through free educational farming bicycle rides called “Swarm Rides” that are open to the public. Here, our team can connect with the community providing a safe space for physical and mental health while collectively working towards Sustainable Development Goals 2 (Zero Hunger), 3 (Good Health and Well-being), 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities) and 15 (Life on Land). Fleet Farming also engages local communities by providing fresh produce to local restaurants and SNAP Certified Farmer’s Markets. Fleet Farming is dedicated to educate, engage, and empower community members with our local food systems, redefining how we produce and distribute local food in our community. 

To increase urban farmers in the industry, Fleet Farming hosts an internship program that educates primarily college students to assist with urban agriculture as they earn college credit. This aspect of our program seeks to reduce the average age of American farmers as the average age of a U.S. farmer is 58 yrs old (USDA ‘12 Census). With these staggering characteristics of the average U.S. farmer, it’s evident that the industry faces significant challenges in marketing a career of farming to next-generation farmers. Perhaps the aforementioned statistics could be correlated to the fact that only 2% of U.S. farmland is used for fruits and vegetables and the majority left for commodity export crops (UCS USA). We believe that our farmers need to be in our communities, growing for our communities and supported by our communities. To do this, we must recruit, train and mobilize the next generation of farmers and fundamentally redefine the agriculture sector. We also pride ourselves on paying our farmers a living wage. All farmers are paid a minimum of $12.50 an hour for part or full time work. 

In 2016, Fleet Farming expanded into the public school system of Orlando, Florida to create a series of gardens in Tier 1 schools. These schools represent the highest levels of impoverished children in the county. By building school gardens we are creating a model to indoctrinate and improve the diets and cultural connection to farming among children. This is key because farming is directly seen as an element to the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade in depressed and predominantly African American communities. Additionally, we have developed a series of entrepreneurial programs to train students, especially non-college bound juniors and seniors, to become farming entrepreneurs through a program at local high schools. 

These programs complete the model to re-introduce farming as a means of job creation, healthy eating, cultural inclusion and identity, a source of technological innovation, and pro-farming policy. 

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Conference/event
  • SDG American Cities Summit at Ford Foundation in September 2019

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Photo of Dr. Kelly Gehlhoff
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Super inspiring! We don't have such a lush climate in Colorado but we are trying to create something similar here called the Pueblo Urban Farming Network. Kudos!

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