June 25, 2016

The bike powered local food movement

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Without the pack of bicycles swarming the streets of Orlando, Florida, Fleet Farming would be a garden-variety horticultural club.“The bicycle has made Fleet Farming what it is—a bunch of somethings going somewhere,” said program manager Michele Bumbier. In this case, the somethings are a few employees and a swarm of community volunteers, and the somewhere is a series of “farmlettes”—front lawns that have been transformed into small plots of high-yield crops. With all farmlettes within a two-mile radius, it’s local food on a micro scale.
“It takes the average plate of food 1,500 miles before it gets to your plate,” Bumbier said. “We really want to reduce those numbers.”

A homeowner donates a portion of his or her yard—at least 500 square feet and not more than 60 percent of the lawn, in accordance with a local ordinance. After a black plastic tarp is left over the area for several weeks to kill the grass, the plot is then topped with mushroom compost to amend the existing soil and planted with an array of vegetables. A $500 donation—far less than the cost of landscaping services, Bumbier noted—covers two years of maintenance, including composting, irrigation, and seed transplants, and property owners get first dibs on 10 percent of the produce in return.

The Fleet Farming squad plants high-yield produce, primarily gourmet greens, that can fetch top dollar at market. After harvest, the greens are transported on the back of the Fleet Farming bicycle trailer to be washed and processed at the East End Market and then sold at farmers markets or cooked up at Orlando restaurants.


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