Published in 83 Degrees Media, 11.27.12
Described by its owners as “3.19 acres of urban paradise,” the 100-feet-wide by ¼-mile-long Gateway Organic Farm is nestled between Highway 19 and Roosevelt Boulevard in Clearwater, an unlikely place for a farm.
Hank and Pam Sindlinger bought the property with the intention of simply using the existing greenhouse to cultivate Pam’s herb garden hobby. Little did they know it would turn into the only USDA-certified organic family farm in Pinellas County, serving more than 100 families each week through community supported agriculture.
Originally from Manfield, OH, the Sindlingers had large gardens and farms throughout their lives but originally chose the corporate world when it came to their careers. In 2003 their lives changed abruptly when their grandchildren, Stephen and Stephanie, came to live with them. A desire to settle down and to retire in the Sunshine State ultimately led them to choose Clearwater as their home.
Their introduction to Florida gardening came in 2004 when they bought a small landscape nursery next to their house. Pam’s involvement in local and statewide gardening groups introduced them to the concept of community supported agriculture (CSA), which allows the public to buy “shares” of the farm and then benefit from the harvest.
“We wanted to expose the children to the way we were raised — getting back to our roots, both literally and figuratively,” says Pam Sindlinger, farmer and co-owner of Gateway Organic Farm.
Six years later, they have never looked back. After the CSA families benefit from the harvest, any abundance is sold to local chefs at restaurants such as the nearby Café Ponte, Parkshore Grill in St. Petersburg and Island Way Grill in Clearwater. They also host charity events, such as the fall festival for All Children’s Hospital, which brought over 600 people to the farm.
Recently, they engaged in a community partnership with the High Point Neighborhood Family Center and Pinellas Technical Education Center’s (pTEC) Culinary Program to create the first USDA certified organic community garden in Florida. The project, titled “Seeds2Soup,” allows low-income families served by the Center to grow their own food at the farm. Children visit on a regular basis for farming and education, and their families receive hands-on classes in meal preparation through pTEC, using the food they grow.
“I’m just impressed seeing the kids learn so much about life,” says Margo Adams, executive director of the Center. “They’re learning everything you would think of when you want to teach people to be self-sufficient or to eat healthier.”
“We want to teach them how to fish, not just give them a fishing pole,” says Caroline Brown, program director for the Center. The idea is to instill self-sustainability so the families can continue to use the skills they have learned.
Families who participate in Seeds2Soup receive long-term benefits, with many still growing food in their homes.
“The parents are so happy to be able to grow food in their back yard and then actually have their kids enjoy eating vegetables,” says Brown.
The project earned the farm the Florida Innovative Farmer Award for 2012 from the Florida Small Farm and Alternative Enterprise Conference. The award is based on achievement, innovation, leadership in supporting viable communities and effective outreach about sustainable agriculture.
“We would never have imagined things like this would come from growing turnips,” reflects Sindlinger.