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Catalyze 2024: Carla Bristol

Bill DeYoung

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Although the year gone by saw the St. Pete Youth Farm expand its output, its presence and its outreach,  director Carla Bristol said there are even better things to come in 2024. Established on six city-owned lots in 2019, the south side urban agriculture initiative provides fresh vegetables, fruit and more to the community.

Funded by South St. Petersburg Community Redevelopment Area (CRA) program, Career Source and by donations, the (just under 1-acre) farm employs teens from the area, age 14 and up. They’re paid for their efforts, and quickly develop a strong work ethic, sense of pride in helping provide nutrition to their families, friends and neighbors.

The five-year anniversary is coming in June, and the staff is looking forward to a processing center (essentially, for washing and refrigeration) and the inauguration of a large community compost center (paid for by a $10,000 donation from Localshops1).

In 2023, St. Pete Run Fest donated a working brick oven. Bristol’s hope is they will build out a commercial kitchen – adding a grill and counter space to the brick oven.

“We cook for ourselves now,” she said, “but maybe we’ll be doing more of the outward-facing culinary experience for folks.”

Fruits and vegetable are distributed, free of charge and no questions asked, to visitors 3:30-6 p.m. Mondy through Thursday (during the school year).

In September, the Youth Farm expanded its mental health and wellness initiative – in partnership with New Visions – to include the community. Mental Health support has been available to area youth since the project’s earliest days. A licensed therapist visits every Monday.

“We cannot address the lack of access to nutrition and not understand there’s a lack of access to other things – housing and jobs and other aspects,” Bristol explained.

“We stayed forward-moving at all times. We stayed listening to, and being informed by, both our teens and the community. I didn’t go into doing the work thinking that we would have such a heavy focus on mental health and wellness, but that’s what we were told by the community that this is a great need. And we’re grateful that we took the leap.”

Bristol has given away more than 500 mini-gardens, with four seedlings from the farm, in soil harvested from the on-site compost heap, in a foot-square crate. She also teaches workshops, once a month, on cultivating mini-gardens.

Helping the community be more self-sustainable is the ultimate goal. “You can grow at home, where you are,” said Bristol. “That means that somewhere, in every community, someone is going to be growing something.

“Four and a half years ago, I would have been the person saying ‘I don’t have a green thumb,’ and here I am being able to grow food and teach people how to do it as well.”

Herb boxes are stationed outside the outer fence, with their contents available free, at any time. “So if you’re cooking and you’d like to have fresh herbs, you should be able to walk up and access them.”

Bristol doesn’t think the St. Pete Youth Farm will outgrow its six-parcel home. It’s fulfilling its mission from where it’s been since 2019, and expansion really wouldn’t add anything.

“I think St. Pete Youth Farm is essentially a hub,” she said. “As a hub, you put the spokes out into the community. Otherwise we wouldn’t be giving away any gardens to people. It comes back to access, and if I want people to access what we have, it just means that we go where people are.

“And to go where people are, you just provide them. That includes the knowledge, that includes the actual soil.

“I think you have to be busting out of a place and the need has to be so great … but I honestly feel that access needs to be where people are. I just think we can do it more effectively, and I don’t think effectively means doubling the cost.”

The St. Pete Youth Farm is at 1664 12st Street S. Those looking for produce are asked to call Carla Bristol at 727-565-3930.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Avatar

    S. Rose Smith-Hayes

    January 1, 2024at8:33 pm

    I love this story, I love this concept and I love Carla Bristol.

  2. Avatar

    Polita Glynn

    December 29, 2023at8:28 pm

    Carla Bristol and the St. Pete Youth Farm are a gift to our community. Thank you for your vision, inspiration and voice.

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