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Rick Martinez


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Rick Martinez
Series Title:
West Central Florida land use oral history project
Physical Description:
1 sound file ( 55 min.) : digital, MPEG4 file + ;
Martinez, Rick, 1953-
Mansfield, Bill
University of South Florida Libraries -- Florida Studies Center. -- Oral History Program
University of South Florida -- Tampa Library
University of South Florida Tampa Library
Place of Publication:
Tampa, Fla
Publication Date:


Subjects / Keywords:
Organic farming -- Florida -- Hillsborough County   ( lcsh )
Land use, Rural -- Florida -- Hillsborough County   ( lcsh )
Oral history   ( local )
Online audio   ( local )
Oral history.   ( local )
Online audio.   ( local )
interview   ( marcgt )


Rick Martinez, head of the Sweetwater Organic Community Farm, talks about his experiences in organic farming. He discusses land development in Tampa, the affordability of land, problems with neighbors, Greenbelt exemptions, the food market, community farm outreach, the subscription model for farming, and farming education. He also discusses the community fallout over the spraying for Mediterranean fruit flies in the Tampa area.
Interview conducted July 12, 2007, in Tampa, Fla.
System Details:
Mode of access: World Wide Web.
System Details:
Streaming audio.
Statement of Responsibility:
interviewed by William Mansfield.

Record Information

Source Institution:
University of South Florida Library
Holding Location:
University of South Florida
Rights Management:
All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
aleph - 028708447
oclc - 206926435
usfldc doi - W34-00016
usfldc handle - w34.16
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C O P Y R I G H T N O T I C E T h i s O r a l H i s t o r y i s c o p y r i g h t e d b y t h e U n i v e r s i t y o f S o u t h F l o r i d a L i b r a r i e s O r a l H i s t o r y P r o g r a m o n b e h a l f o f t h e B o a r d o f T r u s t e e s o f t h e U n i v e r s i t y o f S o u t h F l o r i d a C o p y r i g h t 2 0 0 7 U n i v e r s i t y o f S o u t h F l o r i d a A l l r i g h t s r e s e r v e d T h i s o r a l h i s t o r y m a y b e u s e d f o r r e s e a r c h i n s t r u c t i o n a n d p r i v a t e s t u d y u n d e r t h e p r o v i s i o n s o f t h e F a i r U s e F a i r U s e i s a p r o v i s i o n o f t h e U n i t e d S t a t e s C o p y r i g h t L a w ( U n i t e d S t a t e s C o d e T i t l e 1 7 s e c t i o n 1 0 7 ) w h i c h a l l o w s l i m i t e d u s e o f c o p y r i g h t e d m a t e r i a l s u n d e r c e r t a i n c o n d i t i o n s F a i r U s e l i m i t s t h e a m o u n t o f m a t e r i a l t h a t m a y b e u s e d F o r a l l o t h e r p e r m i s s i o n s a n d r e q u e s t s c o n t a c t t h e U N I V E R S I T Y O F S O U T H F L O R I D A L I B R A R I E S O R A L H I S T O R Y P R O G R A M a t t h e U n i v e r s i t y o f S o u t h F l o r i d a 4 2 0 2 E F o w l e r A v e n u e L I B 1 2 2 T a m p a F L 3 3 6 2 0


Use Oral History Project Patel Center for Global Solutions University of South Florida Interview with: Mr. Rick Martinez Interviewed by: William Mansfield Location: Tampa, Florida Date: July 12, 2007 Transcribed by: Wm. Mansfield Edited by: Wm. Man sfield Audit Edited by: Jessica Merrick Audit Edit date: January 8, 2008 Final Edit by: Nicole Cox Final Edit Date: January 15, 2007 WM: Collections and the Patel Center for Global Mr. Martinez, we always get people to identify themselves by stating their n ames and telling us when they were born and where they were born. So let her go. RM: a third generation Tampanian, and this is the headquarters of Sweetwater Organic Community Farm. WM: Okay, well tell me what brought you to organic farming. RM: Well I was an engineer, back in the mid seventies and had become aware of healthier foods. Started going to health food stores. Started cooking and leaning towards a vegetarian diet a nd started gardening. WM: What kind of engineer [were you]? RM: Civil. WM: Ci vil, okay.


2 WM: So you got fed up with being a civil engineer and went to organic farming? at it and decided there was something a little bit more down to earth that I wanted to do. WM: Okay. So did Is that when you started Sweetwater Farms? RM: No I was involved in several different efforts. Uh I started growing sprouts, which operation. My farming experience at that time dealt mostly with niche markets, such as star WM: Okay, so when did you start Sweetwater Farms, here? RM: Sweetwater was incorpor WM: Okay, well tell me about the process of getting the farm located here and the steps you had to go through to RM: I had my sprouting operation out in Lutz and ah there was a change in ownership, and that sort of thing and I deemed it a better idea to have that whole operation in town; in Tampa. So I bought a piece of commercial property across the street from the farm and got to be friends with the lady that owned this property. Then she had informed me [that] she was interested in selling it. So I bought it and I started farming on here. It was twenty years ago. I started a small niche market farm on this property at that time. So what would that be WM: Uh huh. RM: Then about 1990 this whole organic certification thing took off and I got involved in that. I eventually became the president of the Independent Organic Inspectors Association, which is an international association, and I sta rted flying all over the world. idea of a community farm, I had read about it never been to one. At that time there


3 So we were the first CSA [Community Sustainable Agriculture] in Florida. And I think ms of membership numbers number of members. hundred and fifty members for this next season. WM: Wow. What was the landscape around here like in ninety ere before you started RM: Sweetwater. WM: Yeah. And that was in? WM: Okay, so what was the landscape like around here in 1987? it even has more trees than it had at that time. We really are into taking care of our trees. WM: What about like out on Hillsborough [Avenue], was it as developed? RM: No, it was not nearly as developed. There was huge chunks of land that were still un developed. That big GTE Center that passed was just woods. A lot of these complexes these streets there were a lot more empty lots. These lots have all filled in within the last five or six years. There was a lot more empty land on these same streets. Wish I had bought it. WM: Uh huh. RM: And so you know here since we started our operations here. And so th ings have changed significantly. Martin Luther King [Boulevard], which is a major thoroughfare that goes in front of [Raymond James] Stadium it stopped at Havana [Aven way to Dale Mabry. There was a horse riding stable and a little cattle ranch, right there where the stadium is and where all of those office complexes are. Even where Tampa Bay Mall used to be, I used to go to ride horses.


4 WM: So that has changed a lot. RM: Yes. WM: Well, what kind of challenges did the in fill, the development around here present to the farming operation? RM: Well, you know, it removed some of the rare opportunities to have more land. Thinking back, if I had bought a couple of these lots that were together, we could have had another couple of acres, right here convenient [to the farm]. So, it removed that opportunity. In hindsight I learned that we made a mistake by not taki ng advantage of those main challenge. You know, for our farm, really the population density is really an advantage; because we offer the community an opportunity to tak e part in what we do. Also a lot of CSA farms It would be nice if so not [the] reality of where we are any more. Florida and how it affects agriculture. I mean, the next generation of farmers are not going to be able to afford land; are not going to be able to get themselves started. They are going to have to go to some other place to farm. Unless some government program or some wealthy philanthropist decides they wan t to let this young person farm on their land. $10,000 an acre and make money farming. WM: People have told me that it is really cheaper to sell out to the developers th an it is to continue farming. RM: Not only cheaper, but much more profitable. WM: Yeah, a lot more profitable. So, being here, surrounded by neighborhoods is an advantage to you all? you asset to the community.


5 WM: Tell me about the reaction of your neighbors to having a farm right here. RM: In general the reaction has been good. There is always going to be that one neighbor But in general everyone else our next door neighbor just loves it. You know, her kids ids any more, but they come over and they are part of our farm family. They come over and have meals with us and are very much involved in what we do. We have a neighbor across the street who actually lets us use part of her land to farm on. You know and t here are a few other neighbors who come down to our Sunday market. There is not a big buy in from this neighborhood, because, really, frankly, there are not the demographics that have become aware of organic [food] and have made it a priority in their lif e. So there is some participation, but not large. Most participation comes from other neighborhoods, from Carrollwood, from South Tampa, from Seminole Heights, Pinellas [County]. Excuse me. Tell me about the contentio us neighbor. What kind of issues do they bring up? RM: I You know, it can be any little thing. Somebody parks out in the street even though he runs his car waxing business in the trying to get people to park on the other side of the bridge. Um even the fact that, that bridge is there, has been a more of a neighborhood, but some people like dead end street feel. So I would say more traffic than anything [else]. WM: What are some of the other steps you take to accommodate residential neighborhoods around here? You said you try to ameliorate the traffic problem. RM: Yes, we have you know we have 9 8 percent of our traffic come in from Hanley [Road]. So therefore it avoids the neighborhood. They use the pedestrian bridge to access es pecially since everything is coming in from the commercial side.


6 WM: Well um the farmers I spoke with in eastern Hillsborough County talked about people would complain about the aroma of a farm. RM: Uh huh WM: The real (laughs) smells of a farm. RM: Co mposting, animal waste. WM: Yeah, animal wastes and such. the rest of our farm So, you know one time we were doing honey on the other side of the creek and the school over there complained about the beehives. Not that anyone got stung. Just someone saw them there and tho ught it could be a problem for the kids. (laughs) WM: The location of the compost area was that were you all thinking about accommodating the neighbors or did it just happen by a good accident? RM: I think it is just the best spot for all of those reason works good there. and they took steps to accommodate their neighbors. So I was curious about what you did to accommodate your neighbor s. What about have any fears. What do you tell them? RM: Well in general I kind of ha ve a good neighborly relationship with most of the neighbors anyway, so I just invite them to come out on Sundays, to our market when it fruit from her trees, so she always felt good about having somebody next door she could call in case of an relationship I have. The other neighbors, next to past the church.


7 On the other side I have the woman across the street who is actually part of our operatio and family, you know, pretty much. And the guy next to her, she fights with him endlessly as well. WM: (laughs) Is he the guy that fights with everybody? oking for a fight. WM: Well some folks are put together that way. RM: Right. And then the house next to him then th ey move. WM: Okay. RM: (laughs) So, no one ever stays there very long. they bu flaw that makes it hard to sell. The couple of house s next to that never really gotten to know. All the houses those next two houses I never really have never gotten to know those people. know him. He comes over once in a while and chats. And the next several houses down, I know the people in there and have good same relationsh ip with them. WM: Well what about working with the county and city planners to have agriculture right here in Tampa.


8 relationship with Hillsborough County. Not so much with the planners but Hillsborough County actually purchased a three or four acre piece of land [in Carrollwood] for us to farm on. And that land is sitting there. Recreations Department. So they purchase the land as part of a part of a Really the whole drive for buying that piece of land came from the Carrollwood get sold to developers to have more traffic and more this and more that. So t hey convinced the County they put together conceptual management plan, to buy this and that we would start a community farm there. The County said fine and spent half a million bucks, for three (laughs) or four acres. WM: Wow. RM: They bought it. So we So we put a conceptual management plan together; came in at $1 80,000.00. We gave it to a would be a onetime cost and from there on out it would be our burden. WM: Uh huh. wha tever they call those things a pre fab home modular home ah you know a Katrina Home, for a care taker to stay in. A tractor, just a few basic odds and ends. get in li it for us to use eighty grand to start up a new farm. So that has been our experience with the county up to now. You know the County Extension S held this was a field trip visit for their last in service training. The in service training is a state wide training [program] for extension agents. So they brought a bunch of them out here, back in Januar y, as part of that in


9 here and they occasionally refer people here and occasionally refer people here to me for consulting services. h county planners. And How do we go off the record? WM: I can turn this off. RM: Yeah. p ause in recording So your relationship with county planning has been very comfortable, comfortable and minimal. Like I said we actually have people members [of Sweetwater Community Farm] that are county planners. We have people that are members who have run for county government. We had a mayoral candidate that was a member. WM: Uh huh. eople out here call me and you know, ask my opinion on things. and what kind of information they are trying to get. RM: Well, Kat hy Castor called me. At one point, on the other side of Hillsborough [Restaurant]. And next to that is a ten acre tract and to the south of that is a twenty acre co unty park. On the other side of that of the creek, from the other side of that thirty five acre tract, there was another ten acre tract and then to the west of that there was a five acre county park. WM: Uh huh. RM: So I submitted a proposal to Swiftmud 1 [Southwest Florida Water Management District] and ELAPP [Environmental Land Acquisitions and Protection Program] and everybody that I could get on board with Hillsborough County to create a seventy five acre county park, right here on the creek. Spent a lot of time at it, and forgot about it. 1 Swiftmud is the unofficial nickname of the Southwest Florida Water Management District. The official acronym is SWFWMD.


10 longer viable. got intend ed purposes. One [lot] has already been built on. They built a school, which is not bad. The other thirty five acres have been bought by a school. And that ten acre piece is just a gorgeous piece [of land]. The County really should buy it and add it to t just gorgeous And um but any way, she had called me for that. And then ten years ago, 1997 when did you arrive in Tampa? RM: Well in 1997, something pretty prolif ic happened. They found three Med Flies [Mediterranean Fruit Flies]. You know what Med Flies are? WM: The Mediterranean RM: The Mediterranean Fruit Flies. WM: They infect fruit. RM: Right. And all hell broke out. They sprayed two hundred square mil es of the metropolitan Tampa area [from the air], including playgrounds full of children from the air. Just a horror story. The farm became the rallying place for all of the people who were against this. And there were so many people who were really upset Their kids were getting [sprayed]. People who had children who were ill had gone to all of this trouble to remove toxins yards and everything. So, immediately thous ands of people started getting involved with this organization called CRAM, Citizens for Responsible Alternatives to Malathion. Within weeks there


11 was thousands of people stepping up contributing to a legal campaign and we challenged the spray. We actuall y got the spraying stopped. It was the first time history that a Med Fly emergency spraying program had ever been stopped. And uh So all of a sudden, politicians were ca lling and wanting to meet with us, to hear our complaints and things like that. So that was another point in time where I got an opportunity to meet a lot of politicians; Commissioners, state government representatives and all kinds of bureaucrats. WM: A nd how did you use that opportunity to influence land use planning? just trying to get that craziness stopped. WM: Okay. So you were more concerned with the Malath ion than pushing that any further. WM: Okay. School that owns the piece to the we st, across the creek. They plan to put administrative offices and that sort of thing there. WM: What about the city and county tax structure? How has that affected the farm? But one of the things it seems like (laughs) I almost hate to say it and become a buzzing fly. d they since. you know a very small tax on this land. WM: Well, for the could you explain that?


12 RM: A Green Belt Exemption is a very low tax status for land that is used for agricultural purposes. So we pay pennies, compared to what residential land would be t axed at. So the tax on this land that we use for farming, you might be a $100.00 a year. Where as if it WM: What about working with zoning ordinances? Is that something you pay attention to? RM: No WM: Just assume that since you all are here that they are not going to try and we have thousands of t are doing. children come to this farm as part of our education program, every year. So we really are an asset to the community in a lot of ways. have come out on the school field trips [that] we do. So you know I think the county would be shootin g themselves in the foot if they raised any kind of questions about what county] is undeniable. Whether some bureaucrat sees it that way or not might be another story. Bu WM: So you have a broad base of support within the RM: A very broad base of support. WM: Okay. Well, this would be a good time to for you to tell me about what you do at Sweetwater Farms. You sa operation. We do elementary school field trips. We have home schoolers that come out here on a regular basis. We have lots of kids; young adults come out here to do their service hours. Hundreds of people come every Sunday. We have a live music series at that m arket. We


13 neat. We have a lecture and workshop series for adults. You know, f or learning about soap making, for learning about medicinal herbs. Learning about all kinds of topics you know raw food preparation. Juicing workshops. So we have a wide range traditional Chinese medicine. A woman from China, who is a practitioner of acu going on. WM: And the field trips a re to educate kids about farming practices? package. WM: (laughs) Okay. R just pulled a radish out of the ground. WM: Tell me about the farming aspect here. I read something about supplying garden stuff for one of the res taurants in town. know twelve acres or something? So we manage that farm for them, as well as do some Benjamin [Road]. everything else. them, in exchange we use part of the land for our production as well. WM: Okay. Tell me about the crops you raise here.


14 RM: Oh wow. We have sixty five varieties of fruits and vegetables. You know fourteen varieties of lettuce; five varieties of kale; to matoes and peppers and eggplant and basil. There is a whole list on our web site, I think. WM: If you could, for the record, talk about the members and the subscription and how that works. RM: Our subscription we have a hundred and forty five full member ships available. We sell about seventy of those and full memberships. The other seventy five get split into two, so then we have a hundred and fifty half memberships. So if you add seventy and a hundred and fifty, then you get what? Two hundred and twenty ? Oh farm this fall in Clearwater. There is a three acre pi ece over there and the family that owns it; they are totally on board. They want to do this there. So next Tuesday we have a board meeting to ask for final approval to move ahead. If that to farm. WM: Okay, so the people buy a membership, or a half membership. So what comes with that? RM: It comes with either a weekly or every other week pick up. They are able to come week. They show up in our barn. Everything is already harvested and there is a black board in there and it will say, bag, or take a shopping bag that somebody has brought for recycling here and fill up [with] their stuf f, check their name off the list and go home. WM: So they get the produce


15 WM: How does it change through out the season, because RM: It usually starts with all o f your cool sensitive crops. Your eggplant and basil and peppers and squash and all of that stuff starts first. Then your lettuces are following closely behind. Then all of your broccolis and carrots and cauliflowers and, you know cabbages. All of that stu April. t available again in March, April, May. And then we phase out. WM: So when they come [to pick up their food] are they just going to get etimes three, just full of stuff. WM: But it is a variety of things? WM: Okay. RM: Sometimes twenty, sometimes twelve. WM: And am I remembering correctly that you all have cooking classes, or classes on how to prepare t he food? RM: Sometimes, sometimes yeah ojector and farm. WM: Uh huh. RM: So we have a really neat farm family thing going on you know were we eat together regularly. These interns come and go during the season. We require a three have, out of the twelve, some of those are employees and some are interns. Some of those interns will come and go. So ever y time one leaves, we have a going away party. And the


16 And some of our farm members become part of that farm family, like two or three or four of them, during th (phone rings) If you need to take that I can pause this. R M: Let me see who it is. pause in recording intention, from the beginning was to c reate an educational experience here from a working farm that gave people access to [freshly grown] organic food and also created a sense of community. And you know being in this big ugly city, I think it is a real important thing that people have a place to go, to feel a part of, to feel some ownership WM: Uh huh. that we got going here. I mea n we have people to walk on here for the first time and go, ] And so there are people that will move here, from out of town, and they are looking to good that way. They hook into a like minded group of people that they feel at home with. And it really is the basis to what we do. That community part of our name is really a WM: I just want to make sure I understand you, but bringing people together and nourishing the soul, I guess, is as important to you all as um providing food to nourish the body? The Patel Founda tion was here yesterday. WM: Okay.


17 really you know giving people a place to be and a place for kids to run around outside and swing on a rope swing and get muddy and see chickens and pull carrots from the ground. All of that. WM: You said that there are some people that want to start a similar operation in Clearwater? RM: Uh huh. WM: Okay. ed in learning how to farm. not interested in having their own operation. All we care about is that there is more food and there are more people doing this thing matter if they branch off on their own or not. RM: Right. You know to make money off of them. I want to break even and to cover our costs and for people in Pinellas not to have to drive to Tampa get their darn organic produce. WM: You said you put together a proposal Could you tell me about that?


18 RM: Yeah, we put together a little budget. We did a conceptual management plan for this Carrollwood project that was quite comprehensive and we just borrowed a few aspects of that that. The main thing is we put together a little budget proposal, how the finances would work, what part of our operation would we expect to be impacted by and the expenses to be covered by from the income of those memberships over at their facility. So um alented board. We actually have a guy who is a financial expert. He works at a company that handles multi million dollar deals every us put a budget together for i t. I went and had a meeting with him yesterday in the Barnett Bank Building on the thirty third floor, overlooking the entire Tampa Bay. He makes his [office] there available for e of their resources available to us. WM: That does help. take it up to the next step. I funded the start up of this thing out of pocket. So n things. WM: But you put together this proposal and was this just for the people who were providing the land or did you have to go to the county? ing the land. We just put a proposal together so they clear [about] how much money is going to come in from their operation and how it is going to be spent and how much they are going to end up with for working hard. involved with something like this. RM: Uh huh. WM: and I think this is going to become more important as time progre sses.


19 RM: Yeah, you got to budget and you got to plan. businesses over the years, this is a little different kind of animal. t mind. How many people are on it and what kind of on our board. We got a financial analyst on our board. Which has been just the cream on the top. We hav e a strategic planner on the board. We have me on the board. accounting people, over the years and different things. Great people! We have a surgeon on our board, a retire e from Tampa Electric also. WM: And what kind of issues does the board deal with? of managing all the little operational details of our operation. But we have really b een slowly moving away from that model and empowering our staff to to manage those things and trying to get the board more geared on, you know, strategic planning and I think we are really poised, right now, to explode. We sell out [our memberships] before the season is even up; we sell next year out. So I think our next step got that really happening. But now we need to grow the next step. We need to expand our education. We need to fund that expansion. I think we really are a great asset to the community that has not been fully utilized. kids in need. And I think tha funding and for trying to get the entities that be to see what a nice experience this is for the kids. I mean there are forty agri science programs in Hillsborough County and not one of them comes here. There are kids in forty schools and half of them are learning about farming in


20 WM: Have you approached them about were kids fishing on the bridge one day and I started talking to t yeah, we take ag know Webb had an ag Side 1 ends; side 2 begins science teachers that have contacted me. But WM: Oh ye agriculture, I suppose. RM: Right. WM: Tell me but tell me w hat you see for the future here. RM: I see for the future, us really expanding; number one our education and not just for children but just for all parts of our community. Through workshops, through wellness kind of workshops and workshops in every way. So I see education being th e big the big place for us to move; and also for our internships. Our internships are just a little bit, sort of non them become more structured. See, [if] that became funded m that are actually in other places of the impact through that program.


21 here. He has And then I could see us expanding to other farms, or helping other farms get started in Hill Eventually, we need to just quit mowing that land and start growing local food on that land. And I see us poised to be the technical entity that can assist in transforming some of these lands that are just planted in frigging Bahia grass, or Bermuda grass, getting converted to local community farming operations, you know? WM: Well what kind of interaction do you have wit h mainstream agriculture? It seems like organic farming is still relatively new. Service has really started showing interest. There has been kind of a changing of the really resistant. In fact, they only recently forgotten how mad they were at me about the whole Malathion thing because, we really got into an adversarial relationship wi th them over that whole deal. You know, I was on just about every television show you can imagine; CNN [Cable News Network] Dan Rather, Good Morning America. And [at] every point along the way I was saying [the] Extension [Service] is putting out false an d misleading information. I would pull out their own environmental assessment and show where they had given false information on television to people about the dangers related to this material they potent. And they were telling people they could swim in their pools. pretty bad. RM: (laughs) Right. So we went head to head on [that] organization in this area. And I was real active internati onally for a long time in my role. So I was known around the world. I was on NPR [National Public Radio] last week and I got phone calls from all Minnesota all heard me on NPR.


22 ve been group of youn g kids who are coming in over there and are more oriented [to sustainable potential for small farmers. d. WM: You said you were on NPR, when was that? RM: It might have been Monday o r Tuesday. I can probably send you the link. WM: So last Monday, or Tuesday? whe rever she performs. WM: Is that Adriane Young?? ? RM: Adriane Young?? WM: We heard her at WM: Yeah. RM: I was there that night. WM: Yeah, that was a good show. ? If you were there at the very beginning of her show. to the restroom or getting beer at that point.


23 RM: Yeah, she invited me up to speak. And they did a thing on N PR about her on Monday or Tuesday. So I had a little ten second blurb in the middle of the [program] they did on her. WM: Ten seconds of your fifteen minutes [of fame]? WM: Okay great. u here for about the past hour or so. Is there anything you that. scholars for research, so we need your permission for them to have access to it. RM: You have my permission. WM: Okay great. And it being government work, there is a release form I have to ask you to sign. WM: Okay RM: I sign my tax form every year. WM: Okay great. Let me again thank you for talking to end of interview

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West Central Florida land use oral history project
Rick Martinez, head of the Sweetwater Organic Community Farm, talks about his experiences in organic farming. He discusses land development in Tampa, the affordability of land, problems with neighbors, Greenbelt exemptions, the food market, community farm outreach, the subscription model for farming, and farming education. He also discusses the community fallout over the spraying for Mediterranean fruit flies in the Tampa area.
Interview conducted July 12, 2007, in Tampa, Fla.
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