Orlando: An Environmentally Friendly City


with Chris Castro, Director of the City of Orlando Office of Sustainability & Resilience


Dec 31, 2018

Orlando, Fla., is shifting how the world eats through fleet farming – a small scale farming revolution to increase urban food access. As a result, the city is considered one of the eco-friendliest in the nation.

Chris Castro, director of sustainability and resilience for the City of Orlando, joins host Tetiana Anderson to discuss efforts to make Orlando a national leader in sustainability.

Produced by: National Newsmakers Team

Anderson: Most people know Orlando for its theme parks. It´s one of the most visited destinations in the country. But many people do not realize that Orlando is paving the way for a more eco-friendly and sustainable future. In fact, it´s ranked as one of the greenest cities in America. Hello, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I´m Tetiana Anderson. Joining me is Chris Castro. He is the director of sustainability and resilience for the city of Orlando. Chris is an honoree of Governing magazine´s 2018 Public Officials of the Year. Chris, welcome to the program.

Castro: Thank you, Tetiana.

Anderson: So, you started something pretty interesting in Orlando. It is called Fleet Farming, and it´s really taken off. What is it?

Castro: That´s absolutely right. We have tried to redefine what "local food" actually means. And the whole concept about Fleet Farming is to activate our lawns -- the homeowner lawns that we have, upwards of 40 million acres across the country -- that we can essentially activate and turn into these beautiful, edible landscapes. So, in Orlando, we´ve actually passed policy that allows homeowners to grow food in their front lawns and back lawns. And Fleet Farming is an incredible social enterprise that really has been developed to take advantage of that opportunity of growing food on people´s lawns and turning neighborhoods into agrihoods.

Anderson: So, this is great on a small level. It sounds wonderful, but we know that globally one-third of the greenhouse-gas emissions come from the food industry, come from the agricultural industry.

Castro: Correct.

Anderson: How much can Fleet Farming really make a dent in that?

Castro: Well, you know, we, in addition to just growing food on lawns, we´ve been using pedal power, or bicycles, to build, maintain, harvest, and distribute that produce to local restaurants and farmers´ markets. We have call it hyper-local food production. And the concept is, certainly we´re not gonna make a huge dent in just Orlando, but if we can create a replicable model for communities across the country and even around the world, we can truly collectively begin to make a substantial impact at minimizing the amount of food that we depend on in the industrial agricultural system, and start to create local economies. This is about improving public health. This is about minimizing the amount of food travel -- distance that the food travels -- and lowering the amount of energy and water use that goes into producing our food, at the end of the day.

Anderson: And we know, with Fleet Farming, it´s already caught on. It´s spread to cities like Oakland, California. It´s spread all the way to Africa. We also know this is just one of the things that is being done in the city of Orlando to sort of goose sustainability. What else is going on?

Castro: Well, 11 years ago, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer set us on a path of creating the most environmentally friendly, socially inclusive, and economically vibrant city in the country. Really looking at the triple bottom line -- people, planet, and prosperity. And the concept is, if we´re going to continue to move towards a sustainable direction, we need to look at transitioning our energy systems towards clean, renewable energy, we need to make sure that our waste systems are circular economies, and we move toward zero waste, we look at local food systems, multi-modal transportation, clean water, liveability, you name it. These are very critical aspects of creating sustainable cities and communities. And each one of those areas are what I have the honor and privilege of working on, every single day, to figure out how we can create the experimental-prototype community of tomorrow, and show the world how it can live sustainably.

Anderson: So, Orlando is making great strides in becoming that community of tomorrow. I´m wondering, how interested are other city leaders in what you´ve been doing? Are you getting flooded with calls and inquiries? What´s going on?

Castro: We are. We´ve been getting inquiries all over the country. And by the way, I´m incredibly impressed by cities around the country. Cities are really beginning to take ownership of some of these most pressing urban problems of the 21st century. I´m a part of a group called the Urban Sustainability Directors Network. It´s a group of over 300 of peers like myself who are working on cutting-edge, innovative technologies, policies, and programs to make our cities healthier, cleaner, more liveable, and more sustainable, at the end of the day.

Anderson: So, you´ve advised just about everyone I can think of on issues of sustainability -- academics, you´ve talked to companies, you´ve worked with governments. Over the years, how have you seen the interest level in this sort of thing shift?

Castro: There´s certainly a heightened priority and a heightened urgency for us to really address these problems. Global climate change, as a key example, is one that 10 years ago, certainly, wasn´t necessarily at the forefront of people´s minds. But today we´re realizing that the impacts are happening right now, they´re happening in our backyards, and we need to take the next step, as local governments and corporations, academia, and people in the community, to really come together and begin addressing these most pressing problems.

Anderson: Chris Castro, from the city of Orlando, thank you for joining us.

Castro: Thank you.

Anderson: And thank you for joining us, as well. For more great conversations with leaders in your own community and across the country, be sure to visit comcastnewsmakers.com. I´m Tetiana Anderson.

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