Victory gardens growing in popularity with the help of local community-run farms | The Rebound Tampa Bay

Posted at 12:22 PM, May 01, 2020

TOWN 'N' COUNTRY, Fla. — The COVID-19 crisis has forced some larger farms to let their food rot in the fields. That's not happening at Sweetwater Organic Community Farm in Town' n' Country.

The farm has become an invaluable resource for the community.

"We've been selling out of produce every Sunday," Chris Kenrick, the Volunteer Director and Board President for Sweetwater-Organic Community Farm, said. "People are really starting to see the value of locally grown organic food and how do we grow our own food, seed companies are all on backorder."

Kenrick said the focus of the farm is on educating and helping others learn how to grow.

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"We are not trying to ship our products across the country," Kenrick said. "We are trying to serve our local community. And, if you have SNAP and EBT, you come here we can double your snap dollars, we can double your organic produce. You spend $40; we give you $80 of local Florida fresh produce."

The six-acre farm, in the heart of Town' n' Country, was established in 1995 as a nonprofit community-supported urban organic farm and environmental education center. Last year, Kenrick said the fate of the farm was in jeopardy.

"It was going on the market it would have been sold, and it probably would have been developed just like all the land around us is being developed," Kenrick said.

Kenrick and others stepped in and saved the farm.

The goal now is to get the farm designated as a Community Land Trust so it can be preserved forever.

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"We are talking about 30 years of organic soil. You can't even put a price on that," Kenrick said.

ABC Action News reporter Michael Paluska visited the farm on Earth Day.

We watched as Kenrick and Farm Manager Joni Spencer planted a mango tree. We learned the key ingredient they use to keep their USDA Certified Organic rating.

"Here are some remnants of the zoo poo right here, rhinoceros maybe," Kenrick said, holding up a clump of dirt. "That's a giraffe," he said joking. "It's been there for a year, so its soil."

The farm gets multiple weekly deliveries from the zoo — steaming piles of manure waiting to turn a tomato seed into a thriving fruit providing plant.

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"We take all the plant-eating animals, and we are thankful to Zoo Tampa," Kenrick said.

Working with the community is one way Kenrick said the farm could get precious resources needed to run the farm for free.

One way he says families can rebound stronger after COVID-19 is by planting a Victory Garden.

The gardens were first popularized during WW II to support the war effort. They've been a constant theme in American life during times of crisis. During the 2008 housing crisis, families began planting recession gardens.

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"We don't have enough farmers to be able to supply that demand, so we need more farmers, we really need people who want to learn how to farm and grow," Kenrick said.

The farm is quieter than usual. The volunteer program to harvest crops is suspended until further notice because of the pandemic. The farmer's market has limited hours from noon to 2 p.m. on Sunday.

But, Spencer tells us she is finding a silver lining through dark times.

"I definitely feel a little more proud," Spencer said. "And, usually, I don't feel that way. So, I feel proud to be serving the community, something that is very essential."

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