UF/IFAS, Pinellas Sheriff’s office create urban farms in Pinellas County

Loften Center students learning about gardening and nutrition on Thursday, May 21st, 2015.

GAINESVILLE, Fla.— Residents in a county on Florida’s Gulf Coast are getting the help they need to access healthier foods via a collaboration between the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension and the Pinellas Sheriff’s Police Athletic League. The two entities have teamed up to create an urban farm in Pinellas County.

Urban farms promote an abundance of food for people in need while raising awareness of health and wellness. “It is an opportunity to teach families and children the values of nutrition and establish a level of commerce for produce distribution,” said Mark Trujillo, a public health regional specialist for UF/IFAS Family Nutrition Program.

Trujillo introduced the executive director of the Pinellas Sheriff’s PAL, Neil Brickfield, to an empty U-Pick farm in Lealman, Florida, Pinellas County. After discovering the potential that the farm had to help the county, Brickfield then began to work with UF/IFAS to identify the needs of the farm and community.

Because Lealman, Florida is considered a food desert, the idea of an urban farm was essential for the area, Trujillo said. According to Brickfield, the citizens in Lealman are more than a mile from a local grocery store. “So, the urban farm is an opportunity for people to have fresh produce readily available,” Brickfield said.

The farm is currently operating on 10 percent of the land, and by fall it will be operating on 100 percent, said Brickfield.

The urban farm’s harvest will be used to increase access to healthy food for families of at-risk children participating in PAL’s after-school program and those who have low food access in Lealman and across Pinellas County. “The revitalization of this farm comes at a critical time where many children in PAL and across the community need greater exposure and access to fresh fruits and vegetables,” Trujillo said.

In addition to the weekly U-Pick available to those in the Lealman food desert, Trujillo said that PAL farm produce has been used in Cooking Matters Classes, and some produce has been donated to area food banks and other community organizations. Also, students are learning the science of farming.

“It is great to see that PAL cares about the health and well-rounded experiences of the kids that they serve,” said Trujillo. “PAL kids are watering seedlings, trying kale in their smoothies and watching several stages of plant growth in many different species.”

Trujillo also said that there are plans to sell produce through one or more mobile produce vendors, which may benefit low-income clients across the community.

“This program is important because it gives you a positive outlook with measurable results,” said Brickfield.

-30-

By: Brinkley Clark, 954-600-8257, brinkleycclark@ufl.edu

Sources: Mark Trujillo, 727-455-8746, mt@ufl.edu

Neil Brickfield, 727-692-0785, neil@pinellaspal.com