pauline copello

Life is full of uncertainty. We continue to deal with an ever-evolving pandemic. We wonder when the economic bubble will burst. We agonize over the wars in Ukraine and elsewhere. And we live every day through ever-weirder climate phenomena.

Amid these and other forces outside of our control, supply chain disruptions appear as random occurrences of empty grocery-store shelves.

After several months last year interning on two local fruit-and-vegetable farms, I am now teaching a class called “Growing Food in Cities.”

To me, this is the most important thing we need to be doing to ensure short- and long-term food security. Growing food locally, whether for hobby and health in your own yard or a community garden, or as a business enterprise, should be considered the foundation of community stability and cohesion.

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

We need to be teaching 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 garden teachers should be employed in every school to coordinate learning of a variety of subjects in the garden. A few of these exist across Volusia County schools, but every school should be doing this!

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

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

We need other venues, too, for multi-generational exchange of knowledge about how to grow food. Master gardeners could be hosting workshops in community gardens or at the clubhouses of HOAs, to share their expertise with neighborhood kids and their parents.

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

I’d love to see a developer propose a new neighborhood in West Volusia that has an operational farm at the center. In these planned agrihoods, one of the amenities homeowners enjoy for their HOA fees is a farm where young “agriculturists” are hired as part of the HOA staff to run the farm, but residents can also voluntarily participate in growing their own food, have programming for the kids around food production, receive a weekly farm share of fresh veggies, and enjoy farm-to-table dinners where the neighbors sit together around big tables and eat food grown in their own community.

I am not delusional: Such things exist (for example, 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 goings-on, you know I am always prodding developers and commissioners to give us something better.

I keep asking behind the scenes for agrihoods. I’m making it official now in a Beacon article. Would somebody please propose an agrihood for West Volusia? (And commissioners, when they do, make it work for them.) I have several students who are ready to be your neighborhood “agriculturists”!

Let’s grow more food in backyards, front yards, vacant lots, community centers, churchyards, 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 more secure food system than depending so much on foods imported into our county from 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 environmental science and studies at Stetson University, and chair of the Volusia Soil and Water Conservation District Board of Supervisors. She has been promoting sustainable community development for 20 years


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