It started with a State of Our Foodshed Forum during Eat Local Week 2015, where we identified and prioritized a wide variety of issues related to local food and farming. Then, at Sarasota County's Sustainable Communities Workshop last December, we decided on a single focus (expanding land access for local farmers) and developed preliminary ideas for how to tackle it (see notes below). Now, as part of the first in a series of Sustainable Sarasota Community Partnership Meetings next Thursday, February 18th, this discussion will begin to move into action.
As you may be aware, Sarasota County's agricultural lands are coming under intense pressure from developers at the same time as the demand and need for locally-grown foods has never been higher. The purpose of this meeting, which is open to anyone regardless of whether you participated in the past or not, is to zero in on a clear next step and solicit volunteer support.
Please register to attend next week's meeting and share this post with any individuals or organizations that might be interested in helping to address what is perhaps the most critical challenge facing our local food movement today: expanding land access.
Form a task force to investigate what lands are available and to match lands with those who want to grow.
Incorporate edible landscaping into county lands.
Establishing gardens or food forests within established communities (neighborhoods, church groups, etc).
Create land trusts and utilize conservation easements, funded by county or private investment or crowdfunding.
Changing land-use and zoning policy to permit more urban agriculture.
People who will manage and provide education for garden, including master gardeners.
Local restaurant owners who might provide capital.
Local foundations, especially the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast.
Sarasota County staff and elected officials.
Managers of existing community gardens or school gardens can be a good resource for setting up new ones.
Natural Resource Conservation Service can help with soil-related issues.
Underutilized county-owned lands.
Form-based code at city and county levels.
Property tax breaks for agricultural lands.
Investigate best practices where this has already been done around the country.
Research potential grants to help with acquisitions or infrastructure improvements.
Interview aspiring farmers to find out what kinds of arrangements would meet their needs.
Inquire with the county's property appraiser about currently available properties.
Find an existing organization that would be willing to house this project, or create a new organization for this purpose.