St. Pete Youth Farm’s new greenhouse fights food insecurity, teaches teens life lessons

Food insecurity impacts hundreds of thousands of people in the Tampa Bay area each year. It’s an issue especially in St. Petersburg where Feeding Tampa Bay reports more than 190,000 people in Pinellas County are considered food insecure. 

The St. Pete Youth Farm has worked since 2019 to address food and nutrition insecurity in the community after it lost two nearby grocery stores in a four-year-span.

"We're here, and our idea is that we are a part of the solution. We're not the sole solution. So, we work with our young people, but we really try to work with the community," Carla Bristol, collaboration manager at the St. Pete Youth Farm said.

A new greenhouse project will allow the farm to expand its work in the community. The new greenhouse will allow for both hydroponics and aquaponics farming and help college and high school students grow their knowledge of food production and build business skill.

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"So having that controlled environment to regulate the production of food, we can grow over 500 plants at one time in that greenhouse," Bristol said.

Thanks to the farm, the community can enjoy things like fresh lettuce, peppers and other fruits and vegetables, but the work also instills something in the teens that will produce results beyond anything physically planted.

"We've surveyed, our young people, and the number one thing that they say is this is the only place in their life where they feel like they're giving back to the community," Bristol said.

The Fresh and Local Greenhouse was made possible by a $25,000 grant from the Ford Motor Company Fund in 2020. USF’s St. Petersburg campus was one of only seven higher education institutions across the nation to receive a grant through the Ford College Community Challenge that year. 

Additional funding from USF St. Petersburg campus alumni and internal grants supported the greenhouse and the hydroponics and aquaponics system inside.