Dan Kolb sees the future of the world on a 1-acre plot of land in Hudson. In one corner, an enormous head of cabbage sprouts from a four-story hydroponic nest. In another, tilapia swim 2 feet off the ground.
"I see many of these gardens in the vision I have," Kolb said.
His garden is the seedbed for a rapidly sprouting grow-local movement in Pasco and Hernando counties, and he's one of the volunteer partners in a new, larger, anyone-is-welcome "grow-op," the Auro Community Garden, that is just getting started on 6 acres off Powell Road south of Brooksville.
For a $10 membership fee and an hour of work a week, volunteers can participate, learn and put healthy food on their own table.
While growing food is part of the process, the group has two larger goals. One is to teach others how to grow food themselves — even on a small bit of land; the other is to provide a space that brings together people from across the community, said grow-op founding member Dr. John Hill, a clinic director with Access Healthcare in Spring Hill.
The grow-op, which operates under the auspices of the Auroveda Foundation of Brooksville, which is affiliated with Access and owns the land, hopes to be an educational center.
"Our goal is to provide healthy foods, to be a learning center, even a place for field trips for schools," said William Ford, who has been hired to manage the grow-op. "We want everybody to be able to participate; we want to teach everyone in the county to go back and grow a garden in their own yard."
Kolb, who with his wife also operates a food ministry, is sharing both seedlings and knowledge with the grow-op, which is designed to maximize space and resources. One acre of hydroponics can grow the equivalent of 10 acres of conventional crops. His raised tilapia pond recycles water and nutrients into the hydroponic drip system.
The gardens won't just grow typical foods one might find at Publix or the local market. They will also grow unusual, global foods that match the latitude and weather of Florida.
One example is an edible plant called moringa, or miracle, that originated in India. Kolb has more than a dozen of these bright green plants, which are said to be high in protein and nutrients.
"The foods best for a person are usually those that are grown in a geographical region when they are in season," said Hill. "There are a lot of things that grow here that people don't usually think about. Instead of chocolate, vanilla and strawberry, we're going to create Baskin-Robbins."
"Our very survival I think very much depends on tuning back in to nature and thinking in terms of sustainability," he added.
Back at Kolb's place, a rollicking band of chickens is in charge. A few have just knocked over a bunch of PVC pipes, reducing his next plan to a clatter of squawks and feathers.
"They're like children," Kolb says with a tolerant smile. He breaks off a piece of broccoli and nibbles on it.
It's just another day saving the world.