Green Events

Group Farm Taking Root

By RON WHITE - -7-06-09

Correspondent - Daytona Beach News-Journal

LAKE HELEN -- After two years of what seemed like a dream, Elisha Lee "woke up" one recent Saturday in a cow pasture off King Street. She literally basked in the sunshine as she stood in the field and pounded another fence post into the soil.

"It finally feels real. I'm so excited," said Lee, co-organizer of Community Roots, a Lake Helen nonprofit group seeking to build a community farm on six acres of leased land in the city.

Organizers of Community Roots want to provide low-cost organic produce for the local community. Lee and Roots co-founder Chris Baker envision selling shares of the crop to individuals who then will stop at the farm each week to pick up a cache of fresh food.

For two years, Lee and Baker have been involved in the painstaking task of raising funds in a down economy. This Saturday in June marked their first concrete progress.

The registered nonprofit group raised $3,500 for the fence project with an April 25 pancake breakfast and silent auction, and a crew of volunteers battled the weekend's sweltering heat to complete the project to enclose 3.5 acres.

Autumn Andersen, who lives in Port Orange, contributed her time to the fence-raising effort.

"I already have an organic farm at home, so I'm really interested in organic food," Andersen said. "Before I started my own farm, I spent a fortune on organic produce."

Baker said he's looking forward to the day when he can start putting crops into the ground. That might come this fall.

"We just need water before we can start planting," said Lee.

Community Roots has received two bids for a well system. The cost is roughly $5,000, and the organization still needs to raise the funds before it can drill a well.

Lee and Baker have established a Web site -- community-roots.org -- and hope members of the public will provide additional financial support.

"We have a wish list," said Baker. "What we need most are cash donations."

Perhaps the biggest necessity is a propagation house, where Baker plans to grow plants from seed before transferring them to the soil.

"We're hoping someone will donate that," said Baker. "We'll take it down and put it up. There are a lot of growers whose business is slow. They're not producing as much these days. So, it's conceivable that they'd have a greenhouse to donate."

Someone already donated a tool shed, and local residents also have volunteered the use of tractors. Baker said Community Roots wants to purchase its own tractor at some point. Community Roots is leasing the six acres for $10 per year from a local resident.

Lee and Baker said they also are working on grant possibilities. The federal farm bill includes $4 million for Florida that must be used for a specific purpose, said Lee.

"It's perfect for us," she said. "It talks about teaching people how to grow their own food. Everything that is part of our vision fits into it.

"We're really hoping that one big grant will bring an end to our little fundraisers, but we have a few more coming up."

Community Roots also raised money via a public tour of the Earthship House on June 27. The Lake Helen home at 2088 E. Kicklighter Road, owned by Community Roots board members Lyn and Tom Jalving, was built almost entirely from recycled materials and dirt.

"I'm happy to be involved in this project," said Lyn Jalving. "It's just the sort of thing that is dear to me. There is so much garbage in the food these days. It's nice to have an organic alternative."