County's new urban agriculture ordinance is a healthy measure for all

Published July 12, 2017

Pasco County changed for the better on June 20, when the County Commission adopted an urban agriculture ordinance — technically, an Urban Agriculture Ordinance for Community Gardens, Market Gardens and Community Farms. The ordinance is far-reaching and will have numerous positive impacts besides promoting increases and improvements in the country's food system.

The ordinance adds to a growing network of locally focused food security policies and projects, including municipal urban agriculture ordinances in several Pasco communities, locally supplied organic produce markets at the New Port Richey Library and West Pasco Habitat for Humanity, the establishment of a Food Policy Council for the county and an Environmental Committee in New Port Richey, annual local-food celebrations (the Kumquat Festival in the winter, Loquat Festival in the spring and Okra Occasion in the summer), a one-of-a-kind "food system assessment," and increasing numbers of residential and community gardens in urban areas. There is rightful enthusiasm for these many distinctly Pasco policies and projects — all points of pride for our often-slighted county.

Easily overlooked, however, is the way in which these projects enhance our quality of life and cultural ecology. Our progressive food polices are changing the narrative of Pasco County and its municipalities, which are too frequently identified with undesired social phenomena, including challenges related to crime, transportation, irresponsible development, education and general leadership. We are better than those oft-cited challenges suggest, and our food system initiatives stand as a powerful correction to those less positive features, reminding local residents and those from the big cities to our south that Pasco is a trendsetting community with creative and innovative agrarian projects that rival and surpass those of other counties in the state.

As community-focused projects, these new and expanding initiatives are about more than food. In the finest sense of agrarianism, they promote cultural health in a comprehensive sense. Yes, there will be more locally produced food available. But there also will be more local growers, more backyard vegetable gardens, more urban mirco-farms, community-supported agriculture enterprises and community gardens. And this is just the beginning.

As a result of having more farms and farmers, gardens and gardeners, there will be more fresh food markets and marketers, increased economic activity in and around the food production systems, more property put into productive use rather than dedicated to growing and mowing grass and weeds.

Urban agricultural activity will mean a healthier local environment with decreased use of chemicals and poisons in residential areas. There will be more birds, butterflies, and bees in areas with active food-producing gardens. There also will be more people out and about since urban agriculture reduces crime, increases property values and promotes neighborliness.

Most of all, yet perhaps least obvious, is the sense of place that is emerging out of and through this system. As more and more of us become aware that we can produce our own healthy food, more and more of us are coming to realize we also can produce our own healthy community. A place committed to local food production is a place where everyone can grow.

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Dell deChant of New Port Richey is chairman of the Environmental Committee of the city of New Port Richey, a founding member of the Food Policy Council of Pasco Country, a member of the board of directors of Ecology Florida and the steering committee for Friendship Farms & Fare. He is chairman of the department of religious studies at the University of South Florida.