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Urban farmer seeks Parramore lot for teaching farm

The Municipal Planning Board will review a request to farm this parcel in Parramore on Tuesday.
The Municipal Planning Board will review a request to farm this parcel in Parramore on Tuesday.

Brent Buffington hopes to turn a quarter-acre lot in Orlando's Parramore neighborhood into an oasis of healthy food in the middle of what he says is a food desert.

The founder of Growing Orlando is asking the city to allow his group to create an urban garden of produce on the city-owned parcel that will not only help introduce healthier food to the area, but also serve to instruct others into how to become urban farmers and grow their own healthy food.

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Buffington, a video producer and director at Red Harbor Media, also calls himself an urban farmer who wants to spread the gospel of urban gardens to areas that don't have easy access to fresh food, inner city areas where residents don't have transportation to get to a store that sells fresh produce, areas often dubbed food deserts.

On Tuesday Orlando's Municipal Planning Board will vote on whether to allow Buffington's group to use the city-owned parcel at Hicks Ave. and South Street. It was a two-story apartment building until it was demolished in 2005.

Hicks' organization started in January as a non-profit urban farm organization. It has three goals: Growing food, teaching people how to grow food themselves, and then, eventually, expanding that to growing food for others.

"We want to incubate future farms and farmers," he said.

Growing Orlando is asking the city for a conditional use permit to grow food on the plot.

"The primary use of the Urban Garden shall be instruction on how to grow produce for personal use, with the sale of harvested produce at local farmers markets or produce stands considered an ancillary use. Owing to the residential character of the zoning of the area, if the instructional element of the garden ceases, then the CUP shall be suspended and the garden de-established, the city's rules say.

Dean Grandin, city planning division manager for Orlando said the city does not encourage agriculture inside urban Orlando, but, that said, it has been issuing conditional use permits for those who want to have community gardens. The city also passed an ordinance allowing city residents to plant vegetables in front lawns.

Buffington's idea is a bit different since it is chartered as a teaching experiment, though Buffington plans to sell the vegetables at the Lake Eola farmers market at fair value and it is exploring paths to selling the produce for less to those who can't afford it. Proceeds will be plowed back into the program, allowing expansion. His long-term vision is to find similar sites across urban Orlando to farm.

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"It's not just about us, it's about the entire food landscape in Orlando," he said. "We want to incubate future farms and farmers."

If approved, Buffington plans to start seeds in August to be transplanted by early September onto the lot for the fall growing season. He plans to plant a variety of vegetables. However, because of the size of the site large or sprawling plants such as pumpkins, watermelons, potatoes and corn won't be grown.

The city has strong guidelines for maintaining the site and operating the enterprise.

For instance no farm animals will be allowed. No sales of produce at the site will be allowed. There will be no storage farm machinery or fertilizers and pesticides other than those needed for the garden. Composted organic material storage, except that for the garden is prohibited.

When the garden is fallow seasonally it is required to be mulched. Signs can be no larger than four square feet.

Hours would be set from 7:30 a.m. to sunset Monday through Sunday.

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tburney@growthspotter.com or 407-420 6261

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