Urban Agriculture Movement keeps New Port Richey Growing Healthy
How can you plant one seed and see it grow into hundreds of varieties of plants and trees, bushes, and herbs, produce, duck eggs, and dog treats – foods of many kinds?
The New Port Richey City Council pulled this magic trick when it passed an ordinance allowing the sale of locally produced farm and garden foods in residential gardens in 2016. In 2020, Jacob Freid was hired as Marketing Specialist for the City.
Passionate about his job, Freid promotes the New Port Richey’s broad-based efforts to ensure people lead longer, stronger lives through a growing environmental, nutritional movement called urban agriculture.
“We’re removed from the ways we sustain ourselves,” he explained. “We’re trying to increase all parts of the urban agriculture system, which attracts new residents to the City. It’s important when folks come to this city that it’s a sustainable, healthy place for us all to live. Our health and wellness are about how you feel and sustainability.”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports urban agriculture, urban farming or urban gardening refers to cultivating, processing, and distributing food in a developed, populated setting. It can include animal husbandry, aquaculture and aquaponics, soil-free greenhouses, beekeeping, horticulture, flowers, and vertical farming designed to maximize available green space in metropolitan neighborhoods.
The advantages are many. Technological farming innovations and improved techniques allow small-scale growers to produce fresher, higher-quality fruits and vegetables for a local market that keeps the money in the community.
Participants note they also get a spiritual benefit from their closer connection to Mother Earth and the knowledge they have a necessary, noble vocation without which mankind would perish: feeding people.
There are other gifts. For one, growing native plants and beekeeping increase pollination of flora throughout the town, and photosynthesis increases the level of breathable oxygen in the air. Both transportation costs and damaging runoff from heavy Florida rains are slashed.
Food Security and Sustainability are Part of the Program
Sustainability includes programs meant to answer not just current environmental and nutritional questions, but tomorrow’s challenges as well. Food security in the future will become as vital as food safety is today. Freid notes future plans include establishing a downtown gardening club to accommodate new growth, increased use of reclaimed water for irrigation and the Cotee River Kayakers group cleaning up the once-pristine Pithlachascotee River.
“It may be a social movement for sustainable communities, where organic growers, ‘foodies’ and ‘locavores’ form social networks founded on a shared ethos of nature and community holism,” according to Wikipedia.
That’s why the USDA has supported urban agriculture in its farmers market programs, rural cooperative grants, child nutrition agencies and research services through its local cooperative extensions. Significant money was approved for urban farming by the 2018 Farm Bill, which made the following advances possible:
- Pushing emerging urban farming methods like indoor cultivation
- Giving the USDA the authority to issue grants to finance metropolitan food production, especially new, modern methods.
- Establishing sanctioned pilot projects in counties and cities that have a large number of urban producers, like New Port Richey.
The city’s downtown website DowntownNPR.org notes many peppers are not grown in Florida, so your supermarket variety likely traveled three days over thousands of miles after a bath of preservatives or heavy use of chemicals during cultivation. A whopping 1.6 million peppers are picked annually from exhausted farmland, and one might cost you as much as $3.49 at a mainstream supermarket.
Local Gardens meet Residents’ demand with Freshness
It may seem futile to try to meet such demand with small-scale gardens, but Freid says it can be done if you create enough of them. “For instance, residents are allowed to have up to five chickens in their back yard,” he said.
“No roosters, though. Let’s keep the peace.”
That’s one reason, in New Port Richey, city gardens are sprouting up like watermelons in harvest season. The City’s website notes under “Environmental Initiatives” that “The City of New Port Richey is dedicated to our greenspace and natural amenities. Over the year, the city has been a leader in local agrarian program and environmental initiatives.”
This isn’t an empty promise.
Urban Gardens, Markets, and City Services to meet the Vision
Community Gardens: New Port Richey has several community gardens giving residents a chance to volunteer while turning out fresh, healthy produce for their needy neighbors. They include:
- the CSA Garden on Illinois Avenue
- Grand Gardens of New Port Richey on Grand Boulevard at Georgia Avenue
- a greenspace grove of fruit trees where Main Street and Old Main Street meet. Plots are available to be rented.
Local and organic food markets: Grown by local residents, including business owners, these “pop-up” markets and brick-and-mortar shops carry fresh produce right off the vine. They include
- the Tasty Tuesday Community Market and Second Helping Saturday markets, held on those days from 10 a.m.-noon at the New Port Richey Public Library, located at 5939 Main Street.
Fare includes everything from just-baked blueberry scones to duck and quail eggs, and shoppers are welcome to ask growers about how to produce items, or related programs like Fresh Access Bucks, which give buyers matched funds for locally grown produce.
- Wright’s Natural Market and Farmer’s Market: For decades this program has served the city with fresh foods from local urban cultivators; both are now held at 5800 Main Street.
The all-day natural market is open Monday-Saturday 8 a.m. through 8 p.m. and Sundays 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. The farmers market falls on the second Sunday of each month 10 a.m.-2 p.m.
Brush to Mulch Program: The city’s Public Works Department collects residents’ yard debris for free, grinding it into mulch for gardens. The department will assist residents in getting the compost, including large amounts. Call (727) 841-4536 for details on removing debris or placing orders for mulch.
Monarch City: New Port Richey lies within the natural migration routes of native Monarch butterflies searching for sunshine in the colder Winter months. It has made a commitment to plant milkweed and nectar plants within its boundaries, providing stepping stones as stopovers on their journeys. Consequently, the city was named an official MONARCH CITY USA in 2020, and tips are available for residents wanting to know how to attract these iconic butterflies to their yards.
Tree City: For 31 consecutive years the city has been designated a Tree City, emblematic of municipalities that encourage the planting, proper maintenance, and preservation of trees. The program is placing trees in the city, and holds annual event celebrations to spread the word.
And the word is getting around, thanks to the urban agriculture movement.
Residents and Visitors Love New Port Richey’s Urban Markets
“Many commercially grown tomatoes are harvested and transported while still green. To help them turn red before selling, food companies spray them with ethylene gas, which inhibits their natural flavor and results in tasteless tomatoes,” Andrea Figart, New Port Richey Library Director, once said. “Locally grown tomatoes taste better because they ripen naturally.”
“It’s been another wonderful day at Tasty Tuesday market. Got some tomatoes carrots, white sweet potatoes, broccoli, bananas, zucchini spirals and garlic parmesan butter and some chocolate chip cookies. Even got some doggie treats for Jack Daniels, my service dog,” supporter Carola Votta Fisher stated recently. “Fun, Florida, friends and farmers…life is good.”
New Port Richey’s Urban Agriculture Movement is a Passion of its Residents
Such success is due to the efforts of folks like Dell deChant, a leader of New Port Richey’s FarmNet chapter. A spokesman for the agriculture movement, Dell lobbied the city council to pass their ordinance five years ago.
As an Associate Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of South Florida, deChant said his interest in agrarian projects is an extension of the spiritual principles he researches as a teaching professor.
FarmNet is dedicated to quickening the rise of a healthy, resilient community and surrounding environs based on agrarian principles and practices and “food sovereignty”. Its network of more than 100 volunteer member businesses and private individuals are making this happen citywide, including annual special events. The goal: Creation of an agrarian vision for New Port Richey, now and forever.
“I’m a facilitator joining business, government, individuals, cultural and social groups together because they’re all connected. FarmNet fills all the gaps in the agrarian system and nature,” he said. “We increase the awareness about the sources of our very existence and living accordingly.
“Networking is simply the 21st Century term for community; we make the community aware of how people can restore, revitalize and regenerate life systems all around us. As one example we have a seed project growing so locals can grow and sustain vegetables in any season,” he concluded.
Another link in the educational chain is Jim Kovaleski. His botanical interests started when he got a job in a greenhouse at age 12; now 59, he was interviewed at 3 p.m. May 12 near Eastport, Maine in 48-degree weather while the mercury in New Port Richey hit 90-plus. Jim was there to harvest sweet potatoes and winter squash for the long trip back to sell them to New Port Richey residents.
“I was perhaps the first one to start this up in New Port Richey 15 years ago by farming in a few front yards,” he recalled. “I’m an urban farmer who makes his living off the land, providing good food in return for money.”
Like many in urban agriculture, Kovaleski’s greatest contribution is in teaching this science to students: “I try to increase the viability of this way of life. I try to teach others all the time, to give something back. You have to do the work yourself, though.”
Links for more details about New Port Richey’s Urban Agriculture Scene include: