Fleet Farming’s Bike-Riding Garden Warriors Make Lawns Productive

Fleet Farming puts the "green" in vegetable delivery.

Lawns: Most everyone has one, but very few people actually care for their little outdoor could-be oasis. Well, there’s a company that would like to put an end to dreaded, dead lawns by turning them into tiny urban farms.

We recently caught up with Michele Bumbier, program manager at Fleet Farming, the company that “saves” un-used lawns via bicycle.

Image of Fleet Farming at work via Facebook

Fleet Farming crew members at work.

Organic Authority: When and how was the company founded—who was involved?

Michele Bumbier: In Orlando, Florida in December 2013, John Rife, owner of East End Market, first pitched the idea of Fleet Farming at The Hive Orlando, an IDEAS For Us “think and do tank” that calls on citizens to come up with solutions to global challenges. Over the next few months, Rife and other members of IDEAS For Us streamlined the concept.

In February 2014, Heather Grove and Chris Castro piloted the Fleet Farming program by converting five lawns to farmlettes. By summer of that year, Healthy Central Florida Foundation had awarded the program a $5,000 grant to help it expand.

Then, by January 2015, the program had received an additional $10k in grants from 1% For the Planet and the Clif Bar Foundation. And in August 2015, Fleet Farming Orlando was on its way to having 10-plus farmlettes and had sold over $7,000 in produce. Without considering any of the grants received, Fleet Farming recouped all start up costs in the first year and profited. We are now at 15 plots and will have 20 by the end of the year!

OA: Explain what your company does, and the company’s different aspects.

MB: Fleet Farming transforms unproductive, wasteful lawns into community-driven urban farm plots. Rather than traveling 1,500 miles from farm to plate, our produce is hyper-local. Everything we grow is sold at local farmers markets and restaurants within a five-mile radius!

Our bike-powered fleet eliminates nearly all fossil fuel consumption during production and transportation, not to mention it reduces the emissions that would have been produced from mowing lawns. Lastly, we are reducing pollutants in our community by cutting the use of harmful pesticides and fertilizers on lawns and using organic methods to grow food instead.

The Fleet Fruits aspect of Fleet Farming was created to help reduce the amount of fruit wasted by harvesting it and selling it to local cafes, restaurants, and farmers markets.

The Swarm Rides are community bike events that we host. During these rides, we bike from farmlette to farmlette, seeding, maintaining, weeding, and harvesting with volunteers. These events are like workshops and we teach volunteers about our growing methods and various gardening techniques.

Our Educational Presentation was created so that we can share our model and story with schools, programs, clubs, and other communities so they can one day have a Fleet Farming Branch in their areas. And the Installation Program is essential to our program because it allows people who are not within our Branch’s range of operation to have a productive raised garden bed that grows food and herbs. These are installed by us and then maintained by the homeowners. We want to empower people to get outside and cultivate their food.

OA: How has the community embraced your organization?

MB: The community support of Fleet Farming is all-embracing. We have many regular volunteers who bring new friends every time we have a Swarm Ride, exposing many more people to our urban farming program. The excitement is electric! Our hub is at East End Market—this is where people interact with us in the gardens as we tend to the raised beds out front. They light up when we offer them a tomato or cranberry hibiscus leaf! When we bike throughout the neighborhoods, we always have people waving, smiling, and even stopping us for a chat about the program. It is such a blessing to have so many friends and supporters everywhere we roll.

OA: Where would you like to see the company in the next five, 10 years?

MB: The Fleet Farming program now has global recognition. We have inquires from Spain, India, Australia, Canada, Guyana, Thailand, and South Africa… not to mention all over the U.S. So, we see Branches of Fleet Farming sprouting up in every community. In five years, we hope to have the program established in food deserts across the world, where people really need wholesome food sources.

In 10 years, we see Fleet Farming as a globally sustainable business model that provides jobs for hundreds of people, paying farmers what they deserve to be paid, educating thousands of people about health and food, and leading the way for urban farmers everywhere.

We are so grateful for all of the amazing effort our volunteers have put into this program to make it what it is today. We can only imagine how epic things will get as time progresses.

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Image of bike via Shutterstock