An All-Volunteer Squad Of Farmers Is Turning Florida Lawns Into Food : The Salt Perfectly manicured lawns are a bit of an obsession in Florida. But one Florida man is working on a project that's turning his neighbors' lawns into working farms.
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An All-Volunteer Squad Of Farmers Is Turning Florida Lawns Into Food

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An All-Volunteer Squad Of Farmers Is Turning Florida Lawns Into Food

An All-Volunteer Squad Of Farmers Is Turning Florida Lawns Into Food

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/477036910/478148989" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We head now to the Sunshine State, Florida, where homeowners have traditionally taken their landscaping seriously. They've taken particular pride in the green carpets of grass in front of their homes. But one Florida man is working on a project that's turning his neighbors' lawns into working farms. Catherine Welch from member station WMFE has more.

CATHERINE WELCH, BYLINE: Chris Castro has an obsession - turn the perfectly manicured lawns in his Orlando neighborhood into mini-farms.

CHRIS CASTRO: The amount of interest in Orlando is incredibly surprising.

WELCH: Surprising because he's asking Floridians to hand over a good chunk of their precious yards to volunteers who plant gardens full of produce. His program is called Fleet Farming, and it's starting off small, with 10 of these yard farms. Most of them sit smack in the middle of the front yard. Lawns are a thing here. Urban farms? Not so much. And so far, no neighbors have complained.

CASTRO: We've been lucky.

WELCH: Castro squeezes this project around his day job, working on sustainability in the mayor's office. Castro's parents are palm tree farmers in South Florida, and he has a degree in environmental science. It's a perfect combination for his day job and side project. Thanks to his work in City Hall, he knows Orlando allows residents to farm on up to 60 percent of their yard. Castro makes sure every garden is meticulously maintained, like Gary Henderson's.

GARY HENDERSON: I just think that the whole idea of lawns, especially in a place like Florida, is absurd.

WELCH: The Fleet Farming program is bike-powered. All the volunteers only ride bikes, going from garden to garden to harvest the produce. They were just at Henderson's garden.

HENDERSON: The Fleet people came in on a swarm of bicycles. There were probably 15 people here, and they harvested lettuce and kale and arugula and - gosh, I'm not sure what else they had there - oh, some Swiss chard.

WELCH: Henderson donated the use of his yard after noticing other Fleet Farming gardens on his block.

HENDERSON: If you look across the street there, there's a garden, and that's my partner's daughter's house. Look the other way and there's one at the church. And so this might be something really good to get involved with.

WELCH: Because Fleet Farming's volunteers ride bikes, Castro keeps the yard gardens within a mile of the local farmer's market, where they sell most of the produce.

MICHELE BIMBIER: One bag, awesome. Four dollars is your total. Do you want to do cash or credit card?

WELCH: Michele Bimbier works the booth, selling produce she and a few volunteers picked and washed just that morning. Lisa Delmonte saw Bimbier riding her bike to the market and stopped by for some veggies. She's a fan for two reasons - it's local, and she says it tastes better than produce that's bumped around in the back of a delivery truck.

LISA DELMONTE: I think the things that I buy at the grocery store, even the organic things at the grocery store, just don't have flavor.

WELCH: Fleet Farming has spread to Oakland, Calif., selling produce to local restaurants. Homeowner Gary Henderson thinks the concept will take off nationwide. As he looks out over the rows of veggies growing in his front yard, he offers this advice to anyone thinking about replacing their lawn with a garden.

HENDERSON: You know, I would say give it a try. And once you get to the point where you realize that you can eat your lawn, I think it makes a whole lot of sense.

WELCH: And so do 300 other Central Floridians. That's how many people are on the waiting list, ready to eat their lawns instead of having to mow them. For NPR News, I'm Catherine Welch in Orlando.

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