Supporters ask Hillsborough County to support zoning for Sweetwater Organic Farm

02/16/11 Zack Baddorf
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Sweetwater Organic Farm in Tampa was recently issued a code violation for conducting agricultural activities on residentially-zoned property. The non-profit farm has been operating since 1995 and has received an agricultural exemption. Tuesday night, the farm asked Hillsborough County for the property to be rezoned in order to continue their organic farming.

About fifty supporters of the Sweetwater Organic Farm showed up at the zoning hearing and stayed for hours until it was time to present information about the rezoning request.

Bobby Bacon is one of the folks who showed up. He’s 8 and he came wearing his Cub Scout uniform.

“I am a bear.”

He also came with a sign.

“It says SOS. Save our Sweetwater Farm.”

“So why do you want to save Sweetwater Farm?”

“Because last year when I went as a Den, we went on something called a Go See where it’s like a field trip but with the Cub Scouts. And we like learned about the ecosystem and like how you plant stuff and we ate lunch there and we got a private tour and it was on a weekend. It was a nice place.”

Bobby says the organic farm is important because it teaches farming to people like him.

“We planted I think it was a vegetable that we planted. We went up and took a plant and clumped dirt and set it and a hole and water. And the lettuce that they grew there, we made fresh salad. They just chopped up the lettuce and we put apples and stuff in there and the cool thing is we got to eat clovers, little three leaf clovers. It tasted a little lemony.”

Bobby’s father, Bob, is also his son’s den leader. He recommends that other schools and scout groups come out to the Sweetwater Farm.

“The kids need to learn about this and learn how to conserve and how to protect the environment. Right now, it’s a serious issue. It’s a serious problem. You’re seeing a lot of the farms use high levels of pesticides and it is destroying our food. If you eat organic food you can tell the difference in the course of about six months. I think you feel better and I think you’re a lot more healthy.”

The Bacons eat only organic food at home.

Rick Martinez, the farm’s executive director, says the number of people who showed up indicates to him the amount of support in the community.

“Because they appreciate the work we do."

In addition to teaching more than 3,000 elementary school kids where food comes from, there are also hundreds of farm “members.”

“We have over 400 families who are members of the farm. Then we have our music series. And we have lots of people come out for that. And we have other vendors who come and sell at our Sunday market. So it’s pretty widely supported.”

Beverly Britton, a local artist and photographer, is one of those members. Like the others, she’s required to volunteer four hours per season on the farm. She said her experiences there are better than she could have ever imagined.

“To actually get locally grown food by farmers that care about the community, that care about the farm, being able to eat vegetables that are picked right out of the ground that day is an experience that I think more people should be able to benefit from.”

Another member, John Sexton describes himself as a “foodie.” And he’s concerned about food that’s not organic.

“A lot of people who are concerned about the health and safety of our food system don’t want genetically modified foods, don’t want herbicides and pesticides in their foods. They don’t want their foods shipped via fossil fuel from half way around the world. The fact that we have local, sustainable organic farming here in Tampa is a very precious commodity.”

The Tuesday night hearing was just about collecting information. On April 12, Hillsborough County Commissioners will meet. They’ll make the decision on whether Sweetwater Organic Farm will be able to stay open.

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