Imagine West Volusia: we have to grow our own food

Imagine West Volusia: we have to grow our own food

Life is full of uncertainty. We continue to face an ever-evolving pandemic. We wonder when the economic bubble will burst. We are dying because of the wars in Ukraine and elsewhere. And we experience ever stranger climatic phenomena every day.

Amid these and other forces beyond our control, supply chain disruptions appear as random occurrences of empty shelves in grocery stores.

After several months of internship last year at two local fruit and vegetable farms, I am now teaching a course called “Growing Food in Cities”.

For me, this is the most important thing we need to do to ensure food security in the short and long term. Growing food locally, whether for recreation and health in your own backyard or in a community garden, or as a business enterprise, should be seen as the foundation of community stability and cohesion.

Not to sound apocalyptic, but if all hell breaks loose, what do you need to survive? Not guns. You need water, seeds, and knowledge of how to make those seeds produce food.

We need to teach our young people how to grow food. Learning about soil health and basic plant biology should be part of every K-12 curriculum.

School gardens should be the norm and gardening teachers should be employed in each school to coordinate the learning of a variety of subjects in the garden. A few of these exist in Volusia County schools, but every school should!

Local farmers like Pauline Copello, Steve Crump, and John and Pat Joslin regularly host college interns on their farms to give students hands-on experience in growing food.

Pauline even wrote a little book sharing her farming “secrets” for organically growing the best lettuce in Central Florida! (Pick up a copy at his table at the Artisan Alley Farmers Market!)

We also need other venues for the multigenerational exchange of knowledge about how to grow food. Master gardeners could hold workshops in community gardens or at HOA pavilions, to share their expertise with neighborhood children and their parents.

In fact, across the country, a growing trend (ha ha) is that of “agrihoods”. With such explosive growth and development turning former farmland into homes, why can’t we do both? Grow food and families?

I’d like to see a developer come up with a new neighborhood in West Volusia that has a working farm in the center. In these planned agrihoods, one of the amenities owners receive for their HOA fees is a farm where young “farmers” are hired as HOA staff to run the farm, but residents can also voluntarily participate in the growing their own food, having programs for children around food production, receiving a weekly share of farm-fresh vegetables, and enjoying farm-to-table dinners where neighbors sit around large tables and eat food grown in their own community.

I’m not delusional: such things exist (eg Arden in Loxahatchee, Pine Dove Farm in Tallahassee, the Red Barn community in Bentonville, Arkansas, and more. Google them. You’ll see what I mean!) .

For those who follow my public comings and goings, you know I always push the devs and curators to give us something better.

I keep asking behind the scenes at agrihoods. I’m making it official now in a tag item. Could someone suggest an agrihood for West Volusia? (And the commissioners, when they do, make it work for them.) I have several students who are ready to be the “farmers” of your neighborhood!

Let’s grow more food in backyards, front yards, vacant lots, community centers, cemeteries, schoolyards, parks, and even in our HOA common areas.

By growing food together, we will be healthier, we will build community, and we will ultimately have a much safer food system than relying so much on imported food into our county hundreds or thousands of miles away.

When all else seems uncertain, having access to a secure food supply can ground us.

Anderson is a professor of science and environmental studies at Stetson University and chairman of the Volusia Soil and Water Conservation District Supervisory Board. She has been promoting sustainable community development for 20 years