Advertisement
  1. News

Urban agriculture takes root around Tampa Bay, but rules haven't kept up

New Port Richey urban farmer Jim Kovaleski packs fresh produce into a bin at his home along Virginia Avenue. Kovaleski, who splits his time between Pasco County and a tent near the Maine shoreline, New Port Richey has cheap land, low taxes, free compost, an urban agriculture ordinance and a free year-round farmers market. Local planners are looking at ways to encourage urban agriculture in other parts of the Tampa Bay area. CHRIS URSO   |   Times (2017)
New Port Richey urban farmer Jim Kovaleski packs fresh produce into a bin at his home along Virginia Avenue. Kovaleski, who splits his time between Pasco County and a tent near the Maine shoreline, New Port Richey has cheap land, low taxes, free compost, an urban agriculture ordinance and a free year-round farmers market. Local planners are looking at ways to encourage urban agriculture in other parts of the Tampa Bay area. CHRIS URSO | Times (2017)
Published Sep. 8, 2018

Urban agriculture, by definition, tends to be a small-scale enterprise, but the Tampa Bay area has a vanguard of city-based farmers, with more expected.

Their plots range from nonprofit community gardens tended by volunteers to a field of greens and root vegetables growing a block from Lowe's to an indoor hydroponic operation with six-figure start-up costs.

Trouble is, local rules — can you grow food in a commercial district? can you sell your produce where you grow it? — haven't kept up.

When Shannon O'Malley and Brad Doyle wanted to start Brick Street Farms, a hydroponic business where every five weeks they harvest a 10-acre crop of herbs and leafy greens grown inside four shipping containers, they couldn't go to a commercially zoned property in St. Petersburg. So they had to find a site zoned industrial, then get the city to approve a special exception for it.

"The reason why we had these challenges is because there is no current definition of agriculture for the city of St. Petersburg," O'Malley told a group of planners, community development officials, gardeners, urban farmers and others this week at the Florida Botanical Gardens in Largo.

Planners in St. Petersburg and Pinellas County want to make sure land development rules create opportunities for urban agriculture. The benefits are many, they say: from increased social interaction and community building to promoting healthier diets and reducing food deserts.

Robyn Keefe, an urban planner for the city of St. Petersburg, compares urban agriculture to Windex — specifically, the way it was used as a cure-all by the father of the bride in the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

"If you want to create green infrastructure in your community, spray a little urban agriculture on it," she said. "If you want to create a healthy community, spray a little urban agriculture on it."

It's not just about growing nice things, but creating local alternatives to industrial-scale agriculture, with its long-distance transportation energy consumption. One analogy is that urban agriculture is to factory farms what solar panels are to coal-fired power plants.

"We're looking at de-centralizing that and bringing production to the point of consumption, whether it be through community gardens or indoor agriculture," O'Malley said.

So St. Petersburg officials have been working on a proposed comprehensive update to the city zoning code to expand opportunities for on-site sales of produce and innovative forms of urban agriculture. The goals are both broad (to make St. Petersburg the culinary capital of the Southeast) and specific (to have a community garden with a quarter-mile of any resident).

For now, however, the write-through of the code is on hold. That's because Florida's Right to Farm Act prohibits local governments from regulating farming.

Meanwhile, some developers are looking at incorporating urban agriculture into their projects as an amenity to attract millennials and other prized tenants and customers.

At Water Street Tampa — the $3 billion Jeff Vinik-Cascade Investment redevelopment project near Amalie Arena — executives in 2016 discussed the idea of devoting a sizable part of a parking garage roof to urban agriculture. (Having space for recreation, bars, dog parks and landscaping is a main reason Water Street Tampa is building a central cooling plant for the whole district, rather than putting air-conditioners atop every building.)

Nothing has been announced since then, but developers discussed the idea of having 18,000 square feet of planting beds, maybe with professional gardeners farming part of the space and part of it being a community garden. They also have talked about the idea of hosting weekend farmers markets as part of the programming for the parks in their district.

That goes to another key point made this week during a discussion at the Botanical Gardens sponsored by the Suncoast section of the American Planning Association and organized by Forward Pinellas, the county's land use and transportation planning agency. Urban agriculture, participants said, is not merely about growing, but is more of a system whose parts include:

• Composting. Florida soil is poorly suited for farming on its own. In Pinellas, solid waste officials are working on a master plan targeted for mid-2019 to explore the feasibility and market potential of large-scale composting of food waste, which decreases the efficiency of the county's electricity-generating incinerator because it's so moist.

• Sales. Current Pinellas land use and zoning regulations prohibit on-site sales in some locations, especially residential neighborhoods, but county officials are looking at the idea of allowing on-site sales as an option allowed at the discretion of local governments.

That would be good, said Bill Bilodeau of the Sustainable Urban Agriculture Coalition of St. Petersburg.

"It can be a real frustration to have a big garden and have to truck all the stuff off-site to go sell it," he said. "When you have a lot of people coming through to tour the garden, it's nice to be able to sell it there."

MORE: Go here for more Business News

Contact >Richard Danielson

• • •

TAMPA BAY TIMES COVERAGE: Urban agriculture in the Tampa Bay area

At St. Petersburg urban farms Wunderfarms, growing and giving back go hand in hand (Jan. 31, 2018)

Columnist C.T. Bowen: Curbing hunger one garden plot at a time (Jan. 31, 2018)

Urban farm could be late addition to Tampa's Encore project (Dec. 26, 2017)

Urban farming takes root in New Port Richey front yards (March 23, 2017)

Tampa Bay farmers markets are lacking in just one thing: Local farmers (April 13, 2016)

• • •

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is seeking for information about a man accused of killing a duck at a Town 'N Country apartment complex in Tampa. Anyone with information about this incident is asked to call Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-3922. [Bay News 9]
    He used bread to lure the bird in before killing it. A complaint was filed with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
  2. Visitors head to Florida's Old Capitol building on Tuesday, the first day of the annual session. The same day, the advocacy group Equality Florida denounced four bills filed by Republican lawmakers, calling them “the most overtly anti-LGBTQ agenda from the Florida legislature in recent memory.” [SCOTT KEELER  |  Tampa Bay Times]
    Most of the bills try to eliminate local ordinances, and Republicans say they’ve been unfairly labeled.
  3. Check tampabay.com for the latest breaking news and updates. [Times]
    A man university police believe was target shooting near campus was not located, the university said.
  4. A beer is pictured in the outdoor games area of Park & Rec on Wednesday, May 22, 2019 in St. Petersburg. [LUIS SANTANA  |  Tampa Bay Times]
    The Towers of Channelside condo association has filed a lawsuit against the bar, as residents complain about noise.
  5. People waited overnight to be the first customers at the new Jollibee Pinellas Park location. It opened Friday. [SCOTT KEELER  |  TAMPA BAY TIMES]
    Long lines, happy dances, hot Chickenjoy. Pinellas Park scores the chain’s latest restaurant.
  6. Luke Carl Neimi was arrested Thursday after Pinellas deputies said he was caught doing 145 mph on the Bayside Bridge. [Pinellas County Sheriff's Office]
    He told deputies he was just “having some fun,” according to an arrest report.
  7. Gary Hudge, 54, paid an undercover detective to kill his brother, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office. [Pinellas County jail]
    Gary Hudge also offered to buy the hitman a bus ticket, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office.
  8. Rocky Johnson, a member of the WWE Hall of Fame and a resident of Lutz, died Wednesday. [OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times]
    Johnson thought he had flu. He went to the doctor the day before he died.
  9. Former state senator John Legg has not ruled out a run for Pasco County schools superintendent. The district is the nation's largest to elect its chief executive.
    Short answer: Maybe.
  10. Yacht StarShip, a dining and water taxi company, has added the Lost Pearl pirate ship to its fleet just in time for Gasparilla. [Yacht StarShip]
    After years entertaining tourists in Virginia Beach, the Lost Pearl is settling into its new Tampa Bay home.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement