fleet farming

Fleet Farming Audubon Park staffers create an edible garden for the Mayflower retirement community. The garden features drip irrigation; raised, wheelchair-accessible cedar-wood beds; and composters, so residents can now grow food. / Courtesy of Fleet Farming

For Floridians, especially those in crowded Central and South Florida, a bicycle is hardly the preferred mode of transportation. Nevertheless, some hardy and forward-thinking Orlando residents are using this pedal-yourself method to reduce fossil-fuel use and to provide nutritious food to locals.

“We envision a farm-to-table production line,” says AJ Azqueta, who grew up in West Palm Beach, moved to Orlando to attend Rollins College and now serves as the installation coordinator for Fleet Farming. He is majoring in environmental studies and sustainable urbanism at Rollins, a private college that he expects to graduate from in May.

Lots of energy used, pollution generated

Azqueta provides some sobering figures about U.S. food production. Consider: “The typical American meal travels an average of 1,500 miles from farm to table,” he explains. “And with 40 million acres under cultivation, they (lawns) absorb 3 million tons of chemical fertilizers and 30,000 tons of pesticides, and they use 800 million gallons of gasoline for mowing per year.”

Fleet Farming Orlando’s “bike-powered fleet eliminates nearly all fossil-fuel consumption during production and transportation,” says AJ Azqueta, installation coordinator.

Fleet Farming (FF), which began as a concept in 2013, has a plan: to convert lawns and unused greenspaces to “farmlettes.” By February 2014, FF Orlando had converted five lawns; by August 2015, it had 15 farmlettes; today, that figure stands at 26.

Members of FF Orlando have pedaled 4,362 miles and harvested 4,644 pounds of produce so far, Azqueta says.

The efforts of those involved with Fleet Farming are not confined to Florida. Though based in Orlando, FF also has a chapter in Oakland, Calif.; and another in Uganda, in west-central Africa.

Fleet Farming’s co-founders, Heather Grove and Chris Castro, have moved on to other careers, though both still focus on agriculture. Grove now works on sustainable agriculture and rural-development projects abroad while helping to establish new branches of Fleet Farming.

Castro is aide to Orlando mayor

Since June 2016, Castro has served as the full-time sustainability director to Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer. Castro helps to develop policies and programs to support the sustainability, energy and climate-related goals of Green Works Orlando. One of its ambitious goals: Within 17 years, the city’s government operations will be fully sustainable.

An aerial view of a “farmlette” in Orlando.

By 2030, Castro says, Orlando should be “running 100 percent of our city operations from renewable energy and fuels.” He adds that by 2040, the city expects “to have 100 percent green buildings, commercial food-waste collection, 40 percent tree canopy and urban forest, and more.”

Dyer “launched Green Works Orlando in 2007 to transform Orlando into one of the most environmentally friendly, economically and socially vibrant communities in the nation,” according to www.cityoforlando.net.

Code compliance not an issue

Transforming lawns into farmlettes hasn’t caused a problem with the city’s Code Enforcement Department, Installation Coordinator Azqueta says. “We comply with the code enforcement of that district. For example, our branch in Orlando’s Audubon Park (a residential district) is allowed to have 60 percent of a home’s front yard to be used for cultivating fruits and vegetables.”

In the long run, Green Works Orlando? Notes Castro, who heads the city’s Office of Sustainability and Energy: “to create a model to make a smart and sustainable city that enhances the quality of life of our residents and visitors; drives job creation and economic prosperity; and ensures we become a socially inclusive and equitable city, regardless of age, social standing, gender or physical ability.”

For more information, visit fleetfarming.com; email [email protected]; or call 929-269-3276.