Fleet Farming: Bringing pedal-powered produce to people

Produce starts as seed, harvested when mature

By Melodi Smith - Multimedia Journalist

ORLANDO, Fla. - Farmlettes, or mini-farms, are popping up all across the country, thanks to one group's mission to transform underutilized land and resources in the community. The group pedaling on bicycles around cities across the country is Fleet Farming, which was founded in Orlando over three years ago.

Jen Yeskey and her husband knew they didn't want to plant sod in their yard and learned about Fleet Farming from one of its founders, who was a neighbor of theirs.

"Fleet is an urban agriculture program that turns lawns into farms, and we are powered by IDEAS For Us, an environmental, United Nations accredited nonprofit organization that develops funds and scales environmental solutions in the world," Caroline Chomanics, Fleet branch manager, said.

The Yeskeys knew that they wanted to be a part of Fleet Farming's idea and to teach their 2-year-old, Oliver, all about food about where it comes from and how it grows.

"A garden has a lot of maintenance, but we loved the idea that they would be maintaining it for us, and that it would be an edible landscape as well, and we'd be able to harvest food from it, and it's been a really fulfilling experience with them,"Yeskey said.

Volunteers riding bicycles came to harvest the Yeskey's yard, picking the salad greens for Elegance Mix, Asian Mix and Vibrant Mix, which were all grown from seeds in the yard. While other yards in the neighborhood as just composed of grass, the Yeskey yard includes bok choy, kale and other seasonal vegetables.

So how does Fleet Farming work?

A homeowner can go online and submit an interest form on Fleet Farming's website. The homeowner will be contacted if his or her yard would be an optimal growing spot. If the yard is selected, a site assessment will be scheduled, followed by an installation.

Each homeowner signs a two-year agreement with a donation of $500 to get the farmettes started.

“The thing that’s awesome about Fleet is that together, as a collective movement together with the community, you can get a lot done. If you plan it out, you can do a huge farmlette in just a couple hours if everyone pitches in a little bit of labor," Lee Perry told News 6.

Homeowners get to eat a portion of what is grown, and Fleet Farming maintains the plot, but the host pays for the water usage.

Volunteers deliver hundreds of pounds of produce to local farmers markets and restaurants, including The Sanctum café in Orlando.

News 6 spoke to the owner to get her perspective on why the restaurant decided to work with Fleet.

"We first got connected with them through a farmers market, and we brought them home, and they were, these were the freshest tasting greens I've ever had and as a chef, I am always trying to find the best quality ingredients and then alter it as little as possible. I knew instantly that I wanted to serve them in my restaurant," Chelsie Savage told News 6.

Is there a science to what the grow? Perry is the farming coordinator for Fleet Farming. She is in charge of charting what the group grows and planning the farmlettes and installations.

“I am the one who plans out our season, what we’re going to grow. I look back at what we’ve sold in the past and what has brought in revenue and I try to plant it in, based off what is in season. I also plan for the deliveries and what our vendors want, and I try to make sure I keep up with the consistency of the product, so I’m constantly thinking about the next upcoming weeks and what people are going to buy and I make sure that we provide it," Perry said.

The lineup for Fleet Farming changes every season with salad greens, saute greens, roots, herbs and flowers and fruits. Perry shared a little more about the composting process.

Savage is not alone. Hundreds of people are on the waiting list just in the Audubon Park neighborhood of Orlando to have their land transformed into a mini farm.

"Right now, we currently have 16 farmlettes in Orlando, and we are rapidly growing more and more,because we are really seeing the community wants local agriculture," Chomanics said.

Fleet Farming expanded to 26 farmlettes across their three branches, in Jacksonville, Orlando and Oakland, California, in 2016.

Next, they plan to expand in the Parramore neighborhood to help make healthy food more accessible to the younger generation.

Yeskey said that's key, and this has been a great learning opportunity for her son.

"Having a 2-year-old to be able to experience everything also and learning about gardening... and how things grow and where things come from is probably one of the most amazing things that I can give him. We are luck to be a part of Fleet Farming," she said.

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