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Let St. Petersburg's community gardeners sell their produce, Karl Nurse says

ST. PETERSBURG — When St. Petersburg allowed community gardens in 2009, the city banned urban farmers from hawking produce on the land.

Growers now have only two options: Keep the food for themselves or give it away. City Council member Karl Nurse wants to change that.

Nurse thinks allowing community gardeners to sell their produce could help them thrive, which in turn would help rejuvenate neighborhoods and provide training for children.

"You can create a lot of part-time, after-school jobs," Nurse said. "It will bring some life into underused communities."

The sales also could provide healthier food choices in poorer neighborhoods.

"Kids will eat what they grow," Nurse said. "It's magical. It's building a community."

He said there are at least 10 community gardens in St. Petersburg.

Kip Curtis, assistant professor of environmental studies at Eckerd College, established the Edible Peace Patch Project (peacepatch.org) with his students and created an organic garden at Lakewood Elementary School. The garden has become part of the school's science and nutrition curriculum.

Curtis started a second garden at James B. Sanderlin IB World School and is in discussions with the school district to create a farm on 4 acres at the long-shuttered Southside Fundamental Middle School.

If the ban is lifted, produce could be sold to schools and hospitals, Curtis said. The profits would be put back into the farms, he said.

"The kids would be growing their own lunches," Curtis said. "It will also help promote a flourishing garden movement in St. Petersburg."

He envisions an urban farm and a commissary that could be used to teach job skills and provide work for unemployed residents. Neighbors of nearby farms often volunteer to help maintain the gardens, he said.

In 2009, a city staffer working on the ordinance didn't want growers selling the produce at the sites, Nurse said.

When the council passed the legislation, speaker Gail Eggeman urged them to reconsider, saying, "Don't make vegetables contraband!"

St. Petersburg lags behind its national counterparts when it comes to urban farming, Nurse said, pointing to the Rust Belt.

Cleveland used the fallout from the foreclosure crisis to transform hundreds of vacant lots into 215 community gardens and 36 for-profit farms, according to a published report. Many popped up on land that had been dumping grounds for trash in depressed neighborhoods.

Now, they're bustling with green leaves, mulch and sprinklers. The city allows the farms to hawk products between 8 a.m. and dusk.

Residents can sell plants, produce, eggs and honey produced or grown within 1,000 feet of the property. Prepared foods also can be sold if the main ingredients are grown on the urban farm.

St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster said he would support the ordinance change as long as the farms meet city requirements.

Community gardens are a part of a nationwide trend to grow food locally.

The movement embraces healthy eating and community building. Its disciples employ rain barrels, create worm ranches and build compost piles with everything from vegetable scraps to coffee grounds.

"There is a need to connect young people with good food that will not lead to heart disease and other obesity-related chronic illnesses," Nurse said. "Urban gardens are one of the ways to teach people to appreciate, enjoy and afford good food."

Mark Puente can be reached at mpuente@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8459. Follow him at Twitter at twitter.com/markpuente.

Let St. Petersburg's community gardeners sell their produce, Karl Nurse says 07/21/12 [Last modified: Saturday, July 21, 2012 4:30am]
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