What may look like a small scattering of background gardens is a much larger network of growers and buyers that are helping to make sustainable living in West Pasco and North Pinellas a reality.
Five local gardeners with a desire to sell what they were growing in their backyards to the public started the Suncoast Co-op in April 2012. It has grown into an online community and marketplace that meets regularly to garden, sell locally grown produce and educate the surrounding community about permaculture, a form of eco-friendly horticulture, and chemical-free food.
"It seems a really tiny thing to buy food from someone's garden, but it can transform a community," said founding member Audrey Voss.
"If we could really get the word out and just designate 10 percent of what we purchase to our local community, that would bring millions of dollars locally," said Barbara Sullo, another founding member. "Keep it here, spend it here, use it here. With politics being so fraught with disdain for one another, we all feel helpless. This co-op could empower us, encourage cooperation and encourage community support. We could actually start a food revolution."
Community members can register online at www.sun coastco-op.com as a grower or a buyer. Members who pay the $25 annual fee get priority on waiting lists for specific produce and don't have to pay the 10 percent surcharge. They're also given a share of the company.
The co-op brings low-cost, healthy food to the community, said Sullo, a nurse by profession.
"It's all about the community's health," Sullo said. "We truly want to help the people in our community eat healthy, nutritious and poison-free food. The pesticides that we are spraying on our conventional foods are poison that hurt the human body."
The co-op also partners with organizations like the Habitat for Humanity ReStore in New Port Richey to develop community gardens where members can tend their own plots. Kinship Garden, located behind the ReStore on Madison Avenue, has plots filled with Swiss chard, kale, lettuce, beets, broccoli, strawberries and more, all free of pesticides, chemicals and genetic modification.
The online market opens Sunday through Thursday at noon. The co-op obtains orders from local growers and makes them available for customer pickup from noon until 2 p.m. Saturdays at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore, 4131 Madison St.