Problems associated with nutrient pollution in Florida have been documented for many years. Addressing this problem is a complex endeavor as it involves a large part of the state from the Chain of Lakes area in central Florida to Lake Okeechobee to the coastal communities impacted by effluent discharge from Lake Okeechobee to both the east and west. These communities include Stuart, Fort Pierce, Fort Myers, Naples and many others. The push for returning water flow from Lake Okeechobee to the south pursuant to Everglades restoration intersects with resource and water management concerns involved in addressing nutrient pollution. Lake Okeechobee is a central component in water management and for addressing nutrient pollution in the southern half of Florida.
IN ST. LUCIE COUNTY, FLORIDA
St. Lucie County Florida is located on Florida’s east coast. It combines both the rural and beachside qualities of the Sunshine State. It offers many secluded beaches along its 21 miles of coastline and is the historical heart of the grapefruit industry. Incorporated in 1905 it had a population of approximately 320,000 as of 2018. Most of St. Lucie County residents live in Port St. Lucie, a rapidly growing sprawling city in the southern half of the county. Fort Pierce, the town in the northern part of the county has a population of about 46,000.
HYPEREUTROPHIC CONDITIONS IN FLORIDA
Hypereutrophic conditions occur in Florida waters when large amounts of nutrient pollution enter Florida waterways usually linked to large rainfall events. Typical sources for these nutrient pollutants are fertilizer and animal waste runoff from farms combined with human waste from both septic systems and faulty sewer systems. In recent years biosolids have become a significant problem. Biosolids are the solid product resulting from the treatment of sewerage sludge. They are nutrient rich and have been used as a soil amendment for agriculture. From a resource management perspective biosolids connect agriculture and human waste pertaining to nutrient pollution.
In 2020 Ft. Pierce resident, Sean Reif, came to Wyoming to join the Leap Lab Wyoming crew to excavate a partial triceratops skeleton. This skeleton will become the centerpiece for the future Leap Lab Florida science center.
There are many stakeholders involved in this mosaic. These include hotel / restaurant / tourism interests, agricultural concerns, environmental organizations, governmental agencies at both state and federal levels and of course politicians. These stakeholders have to some extent competing interests and have in many instances taken an entrenched adversarial approach to addressing these broad concerns. The ultimate stakeholders are the citizens of Florida who want both the agricultural industry and the hotel / restaurant / tourism industry to flourish while nutrient pollution is reduced to the point it is no longer a threat to the Florida environment.
Leap Lab Florida intends to address this issue by connecting with various stakeholders, providing educational resources to the public and becoming part of the water resource management conversation at the local level in Fort Pierce, Florida.
Food insecurity was a problem before the COVID 19 pandemic especially in less affluent communities in the United States. As a result of the pandemic the reliance on food banks has skyrocketed with many seeing a 50% or greater increase in demand for their food as middle class families have begun to feel the economic repercussions. In pre-pandemic Florida 1 in 8 people and 1 in 5 children experienced hunger. 38% of households receiving benefits through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP had children.
In addition to children elderly suffer from hunger at a higher rate. Many elderly lack the computer skills to get through the SNAP application process.
The risk of food insecurity is more prevalent in communities experiencing poverty. Lincoln Park is a 90% African American community located in northern Fort Pierce. Lincoln Park has a proud cultural tradition that includes the Highwaymen artists, the author Zora Neale Hurston, and a strong academic history. The population of Lincoln Park is approximately 9,000. Lincoln Park has a high rate of poverty. Pre-pandemic 57% of Lincoln Park residents lived below the poverty level. As a point of reference the average annual household income for Lincoln Park is about $16,000 while the average St. Lucie County annual household income is about $42,000. The annual average income is about $60,000 for the US.
This is to say that Florida in general had a high rate of food insecurity prior to the pandemic effects. The Treasure Coast, which includes Okeechobee, Martin, Indian River and St. Lucie Counties, had 91,000 people experiencing hunger as of 2018. 26,000 of these were children. One third of food insecure people were not eligible for SNAP benefits and relied on food banks to supplement their food needs. St. Lucie County has more residents experiencing food insecurity within the region. Within St. Lucie County Lincoln Park residents have the highest risk for food insecurity. To add a final barrage of statistics about 30% of Lincoln Park residents reported experiencing hunger in a recent year. Over two thirds reported eating less than they felt they needed and about half reported not being able to afford balanced meals. Lincoln Park residents also indicated in a recent survey that they wanted more fruits and vegetables but had limited access to fresh produce partially due to their expense and lack of grocery stores in the immediate area. This data was derived from surveys from a few years prior to the pandemic. The food insecurity situation in Lincoln Park is no doubt more dire today than when this survey data was obtained.
Lincoln Park is only one of many thousands of communities at greater risk of food insecurity across the country.
Leap Lab Florida will address food insecurity by establishing Horticulture Production and Demonstration Sites in Lincoln Park and elsewhere in St. Lucie County to educate folks on how to grow their own vegetables. We also plan to work with the city of Fort Pierce to establish food forests in appropriate places within the city. The first pilot scale vegetable production site is being established in cooperation with the not for profit Save Our Children on Avenue D and 9th Street.
At Leap Lab we believe everyone’s thumb is green and we are all capable of growing our own food. That is how we evolved. We need to return to these roots to answer the challenges of our time and respond to future risks of food insecurity due to climate change.