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Prototyping The Decentralized Food System Of The Future In The City Of St Petersburg, Florida.

We see the MakeSoil.org platform enabling a decentralized food system which is productive, resilient, and powered by everyday citizens.

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Lead Applicant Organization Name

MakeSoil

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small NGO (under 50 employees)

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

As you can see on the MakeSoil.org map here (https://www.makesoil.org/map?search=St.%20Petersburg%2C%20FL%2C%20USA), we are collaborating with so many local individuals and organizations that it would be difficult to include all of them!

Website of Legally Registered Entity

https://www.makesoil.org/

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

  • 1-3 years

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

Vancouver, Washington

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?

St. Petersburg, Florida

What country is your selected Place located in?

United States of America

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

In early 2019, MakeSoil launched its first local activation campaign in St. Petersburg, Florida. This campaign was spearheaded by MakeSoil founder Josh Whiton, and involved a series of community outreach events (e.g. talks and workshops) with local environmental enthusiasts.

As a result of this campaign, to this day, St. Petersburg is the one city in the world which has the highest density of ‘Soil Sites’ on the MakeSoil.org map - with each Soil Site representing a community education hub for neighbors collaborating to make soil and grow food locally.

After the campaign, a local organizer (Jen Andreani) with whom we connected at one of those events, became part of the MakeSoil team - leveraging her personal connections in the local urban agriculture scene to help grow the MakeSoil movement in St Petersburg. For example, Jen also serves as co-founder of Pinellas Community Composting Alliance, and as a board member of the Sustainable Urban Agriculture Coalition - all based in St Petersburg.

Given our already high level of traction in St Petersburg, plus the fact that one of our top team members is based there, we have a huge opportunity to prototype and demonstrate - initially at the city level - what a future, decentralized, citizen-led food system will look like.

Thereafter, given MakeSoil’s global reach and the universal scalability of our approach, we will be very well-placed to facilitate the replication of this new food system around the world.

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.

St. Petersburg is a city in Pinellas County, West Central Florida, USA. Its population of approx 265,000 - the 5th-most populous city in Florida - has grown recently, due to new residents wanting to live near a trendy, local business-focused downtown. House and rental prices have thus risen, putting pressure on lower-income residents, students and seniors. 

The population is predominantly white at 69%, with 23% black residents, and 7% Hispanic.

There’s a need for equity in the local food system. The city’s South side has a mainly black, lower-income community with higher rates of poverty and food insecurity due to economic factors and less access to grocery stores with fresh, healthy food. 

St Petersburg is a foodie town, with many new restaurants, and a town with it’s own southern cultural traditions. There are high-end restaurants, vegan, and soul food restaurants, and a popular collard greens festival in Spring. There’s also the Saturday Morning market, with two organic food vendors, and hundreds of prepared food/artisan vendors. 

The city is located on a flat peninsula on Florida’s West Central Coast, with hot, rainy summers and dry, mild, short winters. The summer is too hot and humid for most crops usually grown in the US. But uncommon varieties that grow in Central/South America and Southeast Asia, including subtropical and tropical fruit trees, thrive in summer. Thus the city has a year-round growing season. 

 With a thriving local art scene, several university and college campuses, innovation centers and co-working spaces, the city encourages innovative projects for social change and is growing as a tech hub. 

There are already lots of community composting sites and community gardens, run by schools, residents, businesses and nonprofits.

And Pinellas County is updating regulations to support urban agriculture further, while Clearwater, Dunedin and Oldsmar have all hired their first Sustainability Coordinators, with St. Petersburg hiring its second Sustainability Coordinator.

However, Florida’s native soil is mostly a fine, gray sand called Myakka. Iin order to grow common food crops in this soil, it’s essential for the soil to be supported with compost. 

As a coastal community susceptible to flooding, global warming and sea level rises are important to city residents and local government. Thus they hope to make the city more sustainable, by composting food waste to amend sandy soils for growing local food, and therefore having good access to nutritious food for everyone in the city. 

Poorer residents who miss meals or lack grocery stores that offer fresh food, or good transport to better stores, are left with poor-nutrition, convenience foods. This creates a negative health outcome that harms disadvantaged communities, children and the elderly.

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

356

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

265000

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

Current Challenges (2020)


Expensive Land Means Less Local Food: Most of the food people eat in St. Petersburg currently comes from outside of the city. This is largely due to land being expensive on the peninsula, compared with other agriculturally-rich lands in surrounding counties which are cheaper.

Disconnected Communities: Many neighborhoods in St. Petersburg are not yet well-connected socially. This lack of community, coupled with poverty and poor mental health in some sections of the city, means it can be difficult to launch and sustain more local soil-building and food-growing initiatives.

Sub-optimal Eating Habits: Food is opt-in - you can’t force someone to eat a healthy diet. For many St. Petersburg residents with a less nutritious diet, food is largely emotional and convivial first, and habitual. Some people have a desire for flavor and food diversity, and thus purchase things that are neither seasonal to the region nor grown in Florida. These habits challenge the local food system, because in order to thrive, it will need as much ‘buy-in’ from residents as possible.

Economic Lack: Food systems and economic empowerment go hand in hand. In order to have an equitable food system, there needs to be economic equity. And so in order for the food system in St. Petersburg to be equitable and sustainable, there needs to be a long term plan to provide ongoing economic opportunities to those in need. Because this is not yet the case, local individuals and groups who are building soil, growing food or organizing people to do so, are often at risk of burnout, unable to receive enough income to keep making their contribution.


Future Challenges (2050)


Growing Population: Both the city of St. Petersburg and Pinellas County peninsula’s land will only get more expensive as the population keeps growing. And as the population grows, more food will need to be grown to feed it.

Continued Economic Lack: Economic forces and continued development pressure may present a challenge to the local food system as well, as residents in low income areas continue to struggle in the future without a plan for economic equity. 

Government Failure: Challenges could arise due to future City administrations' potential lack of consistency on pursuing economic and health equity initiatives as it relates to the food system. 

Climate Change: St. Petersburg is in USDA zone 10a, which makes it subtropical. Thus changing climate patterns may cause undesirable heat-related effects on the crops that can be grown here. Future weather, storm, hurricane and rainfall patterns may negatively affect crops as well. 

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

Expensive Land > Less Local Food: No matter how expensive land is, MakeSoil sees every spare piece of land - whether in peoples’ yards, workplaces, or community spaces - utilized for local soil-building and local food-growing.

Disconnected Communities: MakeSoil sees communities come together to turn their food waste into rich soil that allows for growing healthy food locally. Research shows that community composting sites and gardens connect the community. Of community garden managers surveyed, many spoke of the emotional benefits and community growth - building social networks and social capital.

Sub-optimal Eating Habits: MakeSoil transforms - through the personal witnessing of how nature turns food waste back into soil in which more food is grown - residents’ awareness of/relationship with nature - leading them to eat healthier, and more local, seasonal food. 

Economic Lack: MakeSoil sees a new, regenerative economy where citizen soil-makers and food-growers are supported by those they serve. Through the MakeSoil platform, they receive payments from neighbors who contribute food scraps, for the service of processing the scraps. This is a new artisanal industry - like coffee and craft beer before - where people pay for local, sustainably-produced compost and food - creating thousands of new jobs.

Growing Population: By getting the whole population participating in the food system - whether contributing food scraps to a local soil-maker, or being a soil-maker or food-grower themselves - a growing population will no longer be a liability. No longer a big population, disconnected from farming, depending on a few large, industrial farms. But rather, a decentralized, resilient food system, where each citizen is connected to, participating in, and feeling responsibility for, their own local food system.

Government Failure: MakeSoil transforms what was once a municipal liability (i.e.residents’ food waste), into productive soil and local food, but also new green jobs for citizens, while also re-connecting neighborhoods. And it does it by bringing along local government, not by lobbying, but rather by having city officials take part in the process in a personal capacity - themselves giving their scraps to a local soil-maker.

Climate Change: MakeSoil - due to the positive impacts of local community composting and farming - mitigates the negative effects of climate change. Due to first order effects such as emissions reductions from less industrial agriculture when locally-made soil is used to grow food locally, or carbon sequestration from more plants/gardens being grown. However, the second order effects are greater, because when individuals are transformed by participating in soil-making and food-growing, they make more eco-conscious consumption choices. With the near-universal participation that MakeSoil enables, this could have a huge impact.

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.

Everyone in the city will be within walking distance of, and personally connected to, a local soil-maker or food-grower who manages a community composting or urban farming site.

And everyone will be participating in the local food system, whether just contributing their food scraps to a local soil-maker, or being a local soil-maker or food-grower themselves.

Therefore, everyone will have access to affordable, fresh, locally-grown, seasonal food. And given their new connection to, and participation in, the local food system, they will all be more inclined to eat a diet that includes more of this type of food, and thus become healthier.

Residents will also be more connected socially with their neighbors, colleagues and fellow citizens. As a result, the mental and emotional health of the population will be improved also.

Many residents who have become soil-makers or food-growers will be earning income from their work. For some, this will be supplementary, while for others it will constitute a new job.

In times of emergency such as natural disasters (potentially exacerbated by climate change), the new decentralized, resilient local food system now in place, will help people to survive - without necessarily depending on outside aid. The new food network and the surrounding social ties, will provide the physical nourishment, practical and emotional support required.

By virtue of its officials having also been involved and taking part in the local food system in a personal capacity, the local city government will be more aware of, and thus responsive to the needs of its citizens - particularly with regards to health, poverty, and food insecurity.

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

From Gandhi to Martin Luther King Jr, the most inspirational visions and movements, have been those which have invited and unlocked mass participation. This is the insight on which the MakeSoil vision is founded upon. Because every single person - whatever their colour, background or income - finds themselves in a decision-making position over their food system several times per day, whenever they prepare or finish a meal. Because this moment, this choice, is a very significant one. What we do with our food scraps determines a great deal.

When instead of scraping our food scraps into the trash to be trucked away to landfills, we reverentially save them to be composted locally in collaboration with our neighbours at a community composting site (what we call a ‘Soil Site’ on MakeSoil.org), we enter into a new relationship with food, nature, the local food system and our local community. Therefore, because the MakeSoil vision is a universal one that can truly include and engage everyone, with points of engagement with every individual that come several times every single day, we have a unique opportunity to unlock the mass participation required to be truly inspirational.

For this very same reason, the MakeSoil vision is incredibly rooted in the local community. Because it’s the locals - by acting as soil-makers and food-growers using the MakeSoil platform and its educational and movement-building resources to engage their neighbors - who are the ambassadors and leaders of the movement. It’s a bottom-up, grassroots vision. As a result, the everyday micro-decisions that determine how the vision will be manifested, will be taken by the local people, based on their own up-to-date, locally-informed experience. Not only does this ensure that what’s actually needed, is what is actually provided, but it also encourages a sense of local agency that creates spillover benefits beyond the food system.

The MakeSoil vision is transformative in the sense that it transforms the local food system of St. Petersburg from one that is dependent on a few, non-local, non-organic, industrial farms, to one that is decentralized, resilient, local, and more organic - neighbors feeding neighbors. No more food deserts, rather the city will become a green oasis of many urban micro-farms, overflowing with an abundance of fresh, local produce - all grown in rich, locally-made soil.

However, it’s also transformative in a personal sense for each individual citizen in the city. Because participating in the regenerative process of seeing your food scraps turned into soil and then being used to grow more food, has a transformative impact on individuals, in some way ‘re-programming’ them for what we call ‘Earth empathy’ - a natural desire to be kinder to the planet and live more in harmony with nature. Time and time again we see this happen, whereby people begin to lead drastically more eco-conscious lives following this experience.

The MakeSoil vision is systems-focused because it addresses the interlocking issues at play. By leveraging our cutting-edge technology platform, to transform the production of food into a mass, participatory, citizen-led experience, we start to shift the habits and the culture of the people of St.Petersburg as a whole. As people feel directly connected to their food, eating habits improve, and new city policies emerge to reflect and enable this positive change. 

Our vision is also systems-focused as it considers the more fundamental systems in which all the above takes place i.e. the broader environmental and economic conditions. The MakeSoil vision is one where wealth, and food security, can become more evenly distributed by enabling a new wave of regenerative jobs - local soil-makers and food-growers who are being supported by regular payments from their neighbors via the MakeSoil.org platform. 

What’s more, the decentralized food system envisioned and enabled by MakeSoil may soon prove essential, given the potentially sudden impact of climate change on local food security. This requires close-knit social ties, not only to guarantee the practical cooperation needed to respond in order to maintain a flourishing food system, but also to provide the emotional and mental health support systems - i.e. the community - that we all need to feel truly nourished.

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Email

Attachments (1)

MakeSoil Donor Impact Report 2019.pdf

Although this reports on our global impact, it still gives a sense of the MakeSoil vision and approach, which is being manifested on the ground in many places - and in St. Petersburg especially.

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