Pasco County wants you to eat your fruits and vegetables.
It wants to give you the chance to grow them, too.
Maybe some ornamental plants, as well.
A proposed ordinance, already approved by the county's Development Review Committee and awaiting commission action, will ease the way for community gardens, particularly in urbanized west Pasco.
"It builds community and it give us good food,'' said Dell deChant of New Port Richey, a member of Pasco County's Food Policy Advisory Council. "It also shows how citizens can work together with their government.''
The genesis for the proposed ordinance, which provides design, operations and maintenance standards for community gardens and makes public space available for them, dates to the 2013 Harbors west market redevelopment plan. That county document identified urban agriculture as one of the ways to encourage environmental stewardship, economic prosperity and social responsibility within west Pasco.
The idea is that food grown and shared locally is less costly and better for the environment because it cuts down on required transportation and other commercial considerations. Food policy advocates estimate food travels an average of 1,500 miles from its point of production to your plate.
Community gardens also are touted for offering an improved quality of life because of the shared experience of seasoned horticulturists and would-be green thumbs learning and passing along information.
Two years ago, the county formed its Food Policy Advisory Council — one of only four in the state, according to the Florida Food Policy Council — and the group helped draft the proposed ordinance to encourage food production within local neighborhoods and on county space. There was plenty of inspiration. Zephyrhills, New Port Richey and Dade City already have community garden ordinances.
Two community gardens have sprouted in New Port Richey since its ordinance went in place in 2013, including the Grand garden project on Grand Boulevard that attracts about 20 gardeners. Habitat for Humanity's Kinship Urban Farm also is thriving, said deChant. Dade City, meanwhile, currently is planning two gardens — one on private property and the other in Watson Park.
Commissioner Kathryn Starkey has been the board's biggest advocate for the county's community gardening ordinance.
"For many people gardening is a sport and a social activity and if we could take land that's not being used and put it to good use, teach how and where our food comes from, that's a good thing,'' Starkey said.
The difference between the cities' and county's ordinance is the sheer size of available space. The proposed ordinance is countywide, but its initial intent zeroed in on west Pasco where the Harbors west market redevelopment plan covers an area from Pinellas to Hernando County and from the Gulf of Mexico to Little Road — 90 square miles that is home to roughly 200,000 people.
"This is just wonderful for people who want to grow their own food,'' said deChant. "This is what people are clamoring for all over America.''