You'd love to have homegrown organic produce, but you don't have a yard for a garden, or the time and energy to grow your own food.
That's no reason to accept expensive grocery produce shipped from other parts of the world.
There are lots of ways to enjoy the local harvest, from supporting community organic farms to dining on veggies with like-minded people. The Tampa Bay area offers a variety of healthful options, and we've found local farms, community gardens and other businesses to help you get started (see information at right).
For a membership fee, you can enroll in a community-supported agriculture program — a new name for what used to be known as an organic co-op. Members buy shares in the farm for a season, then share the harvest. It's a community relationship where the risks and rewards of farming are shared by all, supporters say.
At Gateway Organic Farm, a 3-plus-acre urban farm in Pinellas County, farmers are growing 40 types of vegetables and herbs, including green beans, carrots and basil. When harvesting begins in November, a typical weekly share will feed a family of four for about a week, says Pamela Sindlinger, who owns and operates the farm with her husband, Hank.
"Whatever the garden has that day we will harvest, rinse it, put it out market-style and let people know how much to take," Sindlinger says. Members, who range from students to professionals to retirees, can volunteer on the farm but it's not required.
One of the oldest community-supported organic farms in the area is the 6-acre Sweetwater Organic Community Farm in Tampa, where the 300 members and supporters are asked to volunteer at least four hours during the season. "It's a community farm. People can come here and learn and see what we are doing. It's a real community adventure . . . with people depending on each other," says associate director Michelle Huang. "It's not like going to the store where everything comes from all over the world and you don't know who grew it."
Sweetwater's weekly member share of salad and cooking greens, root vegetables, herbs, vegetables and occasionally fruits typically fills two to six grocery bags, varying with what's harvested that week.
Rent a plot of your own
Another option is joining a community garden where you rent a small plot on which you grow your own produce. There are a handful in the bay area, including one operated by the city of St. Petersburg at the Azalea Recreation Center, the recently formed Bartlett Park Community Garden in St. Petersburg and the Freedom Lake Park Community Garden in Pinellas Park.
Community gardens typically allow gardeners to grow fruit, vegetables and flowers, but don't allow shade-producing trees and shrubs or invasive plants. Gardeners share a water source and are expected to keep individual plots in good order.
The new garden at Bartlett Park is $25 for a one-year membership. Other community gardens charge from about $10 to $30 for six-month periods.
Yvonne Swanson is a freelance writer in St. Petersburg and a master gardener for Pinellas County.