LAND O' LAKES — You're never alone at the corner of Hale Road and Collier Parkway.
There are honeybees, snakes, alligators, spiders and other insects. Some goats and chickens, too. The signs on the property announce their presence and a few suggestions.
"Please respect them and they will respect you.''
Respecting the environment is the goal at this site, known as the Rosebud Continuum. It is a sustainability education and research center that has a working relationship with the Dr. Kiran C. Patel College of Global Sustainability at the University of South Florida and with other non-profits. But its physical location is the heart of Land O'Lakes, on 15 acres owned by the Bishop family, the project's founders.
To passing motorists, the most visible identifier might be the teepee facing Hale Road. But the Rosebud Continuum, which began about two years ago, includes three bio-digesters to turn food waste into energy and fertilizer, a greenhouse filled with hydroponics, beehives, a classroom and a nature trail meandering through a meadow of 200 varieties of native plants and wildflowers.
The project was host to a community open house on May 12, part of a planned outreach to make the center more available to the public for classes, farmers' markets, even lake-side weddings or other special events.
The idea is "to change the mindset of how we treat nature and how we do things to be sustainable,'' said Jerry Comelias, the site's educational director.
School kids already are part of the process. About 20 environmental science students from the Academy of the Lakes High School come every other week as part of their curriculum. Blake High School students visit on weekends to earn extra credit.
Maryann Bishop recounted the continuum's genesis, spurred by a visit from staff from the Southwest Florida Water Management District. They were trying to locate a particular invasive plant and thought they had spotted it from the air on the Bishop property.
They didn't find that plant, but they told Bishop they found a huge Brazilian pepper and recommended she have it removed.
"How do I know what's good and what's invasive?'' she said. "And then I thought how nice it would be to pool our knowledge and help everyone understand, and that's how it started.''
She talked with the Florida Native Plant Society and that brought the involvement of Dr. Craig Huegel, an environmental landscape consultant and teacher at St. Petersburg College, and Lisa Boing, a Pinellas County master gardener and board member of the Florida Botanical Gardens. They combined to turn the west side of the property into the nature trail, removing and documenting 22 invasive species.
Maryann's husband is Sonny Bishop, owner of Bishop Construction Co., and for eight seasons, a professional football player in the former American Football League. He provided plenty of muscle to turn the jungle into the lake-side serenity attracting butterflies, bees and birds.
The project takes its moniker from the Native American heritage of Sonny Bishop and his children. A Lakota Sioux born in South Dakota, Bishop named the center for the Rosebud Sioux Tribe.
The land across the driveway, toward the northeast side of the site, is under the purview of Dr. Thomas Culhane, a professor of environmental sustainability and justice at the Patel College for Global Sustainability at USF.
He, students and volunteer researchers there built three bio-digesters, turning food waste into bio-gas to produce electricity, cook food and for other uses. A Beef O'Brady's restaurant provides a half-barrel of food waste — paper and plastic aren't included — each week as the energy source. The bio-digester can turn a full barrel of food waste into enough bio-gas to cook for 20 to 30 hours or run a generator for eight to 10 hours, Culhane said.
"You can do everything with bio-gas that you can do with natural gas,'' he said.
The continuum still needs volunteers and donations. Its website is rosebudcontinuum.org. Last week, a restaurateur approached Maryann Bishop about producing farm-to-table food supplies. She was glad to hear it, because that is one of the challenges ahead for the Rosebud Continuum, a non-profit agency.
"If it's going to be sustainable,'' said Maryann Bishop, "it has to be sustainable economically, too.''
Reach C.T. Bowen at email@example.com or (813) 435-7306. Follow @CTBowen2