Bree Cheatham started her community outreach mission by delivering local honey from the back of her Volkswagen van.
The past two years, Cheatham’s idea has grown to become the Dunedin Harvest Food & Garden Co-op, which is a network of Tampa Bay-area gardeners who sell produce and other natural goods to the community. She also offers workshops on gardening and recently started a program called the 1-percent Food Project.
“Our goal is to help create a truly sustainable community, where people are able to produce, supply and buy organic food and plants,” she said.
The program also encourages people to stop wasteful behavior and helps reduce dependency on national chain stores.
“We’re working to create a sustainable local food source that creates food security for our community… if there was a disaster or a reason we couldn’t get food,” she said. “There’s a lot of interest but people don’t know how to do it. There’s plenty of demand for the (locally-grown) food but we don’t have enough of it.”
Dunedin Harvest & Garden Co-op member Lynda Mink and some other local residents had approached the City of Dunedin to start a . When that didn’t happen right away, she started her own, ripping out the traditional landscaping from her front lawn with the help of some neighbors.
“My goal is to start at ground zero and spread out from there,” said Mink, whose “Whinot Garden?” has tripled into a 70- by 10-foot area that now reaches the street. She’s learned — thanks to Cheatham — which things grow well in the shade versus the sun. She now grows cabbage, carrots, radishes, lettuce and herbs such as tarragon, rosemary, sage and parsley.
Mink received the City of Dunedin’s environmental activist award for 2011.
“Bree is awesome. I attribute most of my success to her,” Mink said. “She is a purist, she is all about organic and getting it right and getting it healthy. She helped me so much to get me on a better path. She devotes — It’s all about education, getting people connected.”
Another member, Pat Dilotta, has a 900-square-foot garden at her home, sharing excess produce with the Dunedin Harvest & Garden Co-op.
“Personally, I think eating local organic food is better for your body’s immune system and dealing with allergies, versus something grown in a place like Mexico,” she said. “I think (the co-op) is an outstanding idea, I like that it doesn’t force you to take whatever the farmer has that month. You control your choices, you can choose to buy a little or a lot.”
Cheatham helps people start small. “We just want people to start gardening, it doesn’t matter how small, producing instead of consuming, connecting with Mother Earth and themselves and realizing they can have independence in producing food,” she said. Some will end up wanting to produce more for themselves and their community. She’s received a lot of requests from handicapped people wanting to learn how to garden, and she hopes to be able to offer them support.
Dunedin Harvest is co-sponsoring a two-day event this weekend to promote and raise money for sustainable living and food growing. The on April 23 and 24, which also coincides with Earth Day on April 22 (also co-hosted with ), raises money specifically for two of Cheatham’s projects: her new 1-percent Food Project, a campaign which aims to get 174 homes, or one percent of all the homes in Dunedin, producing food (of some sort), and “Planting Seeds,” a free organic gardening workshop series that Cheatham offers to the public, with topics including Florida vegetable gardening and other sustainable living practices.
Cheatham said her time and resources aren’t meeting the demand for the workshops. Fundraising from the upcoming festival, she said, should help.
“We believe that small, diverse, family-owned farms contribute to society’s overall health,” she said.
Want to Buy?
Produce and other items from the gardening co-op are available on her website. It requires a $20 annual membership fee, although she’ll work with those on limited incomes. Products rotate depending on availability, but include baked goods, eggs, fresh herbs, vegetables, natural ointments, shea butter, raw almonds and mulberries.
At the beginning of each week, a list of available products is emailed to all registered co-op members, and people can also browse through items on this website. Order must be placed by Wednesday at 10 p.m., when the online market closes for the week. The minimum pick-up order is $10.