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The Business Of Edible Landscaping

Jun 28, 2016

With growing concerns about pesticides and where our food comes from, more people are growing their own produce right in their own yard.

This "edible landscaping" has become the basis for some businesses.

At Sandhill Farm in Spring Hill where a landscaping business grows loquat trees, lettuce and more to sell to Floridians in the Tampa Bay and beyond,  Ian Bonnes drives a motorized cart to two towering piles of compost and mulch.

He scoops from both piles into a plastic bin. He needs it to plant a new species of banana tree to another part of the farm. If it grows well, it might get planted into a client's yard.

There are 36 varieties of bananas at the nearly seven-acre farm, and so much more.

Pete Kanaris founded GreenDreams, a landscaping company that helps clients grow their own food. He owns SandHills Farm, and it serves as both a nursery and a testing ground for plants he recommends to clients.

"We're really just learning to work with nature out here,” Kanaris said. “We have almost 750 fruit trees in the ground, almost 25 different clumping varieties of bamboo ... It's a research site."

Kanaris said when he first started GreenDreams, edible landscaping was almost unheard of. Now, six years later, homeowners all over the state call him to plant fruit trees, lettuce, herbs and other vegetables.

He's using principles of "permaculture,” which mimics natural ecosystems.

"I've really tried to take my background with standard landscape and the permaculture and really kind of mash the two together,” Kanaris said.

Occasionally, a client meets some resistance from their homeowners association, which may insist on certain types of grassy lawns.

A little-known Florida law overrides some of those HOA by-laws. Kanaris and his landscaping team know which low-maintenance plants qualify for a "Florida-friendly" landscape. They work with the homeowner to figure out which ones meet their needs, and also those of the HOA.

Kanaris provides a service that homeowners might hesitate to do themselves, according to Dell DeChant, a professor at the University of South Florida who studies agriculture.

He said many Floridians are not familiar with local policies.

“Folks are not informed, they're not aware of what can be grown, what the growing seasons are and they're hesitant to engage in urban agriculture because of fear of violation of municipal policies or county policies or state laws or something like that,” Dell DeChant said.

Landscapers aren't the only ones cashing in on edible landscaping.

So-called "urban farmers" are also starting businesses. Jim Kovaleski of New Port Richey said that on half an acre of land,  he grows hundreds of different types of vegetables, which he sells at the local farmers market, Tasty Tuesdays. The market accepts EBT and SNAP benefits and gives double value for produce purchased there.

“I am impressed that I'm probably feeding, for leafy greens, probably 75-100 families during the winter here,” Kovaleski said.

The garden in his yard ,which he calls Freedom House Farm, is his sole source of income.

"I'm taking care of land in an urban setting and it's taking care of me,” Kovaleski said.

Local realtors refer to Kovaleski's neighborhood as the "garden district" because of how his urban garden has caught on with his neighbors. There are now eight front yard gardens, some of which Kovaleski manages.

DeChant said until about the 1920's, these home gardens were the norm. Then public policy began separating towns and cities into residential, industrial, and commercial zones.   

"What that did was, in practice, was break up the community, break up economic activity, and introduce a series of prohibitions on lively economic activities that would go on in specific areas,” DeChant said.

Pete Kanaris of Green Dreams hopes more people go back to their roots with home gardens. He said homeowners can have a yard that not only looks good, but tastes good, too.