Sitting peacefully across the street from a busy auto body shop and tucked behind fencing within the Allison Hill neighborhood of Harrisburg is the Pennsylvania state capitol’s only operating urban farm. The customary city noise becomes a distant memory as a symphony of tree-perched birds welcomes you through the farm’s gates and onto the lush, green organic vegetable farm.
Farm Manager Kirsten Reinford lovingly calls Joshua Farm an oasis amid a lively, sometimes troublesome section of the city. She started the urban farm in 2006, as a program of The Joshua Group, a nonprofit organization that works with at-risk youth. Through the mentoring group, Joshua Farm brings fresh, organic food and positive energy to a neighborhood with the highest poverty, unemployment, violent crime and school dropout rates in Harrisburg.
The land is dotted with vacant and abandoned homes. The economy is in tatters. Unemployment, infant mortality, poverty, crime, and drug abuse are major challenges facing the dwindling population.
This is the land capitalism left behind.
A new enterprise combining urban farming, substance abuse rehabilitation, and an alternative economic model is attempting to provide that recovery on the many fronts in which it is needed.
It is no longer just nonperishable items consisting of canned vegetables, pasta, or packaged meals filling the shelves of food banks in the city of Seattle, WA. Instead, canned food is being supplemented with produce grown on local urban farms and neighborhood P-patches. The shift in the food system toward growing local, sustainable produce is carrying over into the emergency food world and “providing healthy food for our neighbors” is now just as important as providing supplemental food assistance, says Sam Osborne, executive director of the Rainier Valley Food Bank.
This food bank is one of 27 within the city of Seattle and is the third or fourth busiest, according to Osborne. Three paid employees, two Americorps members and 20-35 volunteers served over 124,000 clients last year with an average of 10,000-11,000 clients visiting the food bank each month. Osborne describes their clients as representing a “microcosm of the planet” because the Rainier Valley neighborhood is recognized as the most diverse zip code in the nation.
When you think of New York City, you think of an urban cement jungle of taxis and crowded people – antithetical to a peaceful world of green gardens and fresh produce. Not Zach Pickens. When he followed his wife, a theatre producer, to the Big Apple from his Ohio roots, he figured it was just the time to start his rooftop garden business: Rooftop Ready Seeds.
Pickens, a political science major, wasn’t exactly trained for urban farming. When he saw an empty rooftop on his apartment building in Brooklyn, he relied on memories of his grandparents’ backyard gardens to guide his effort to ‘green’ the asphalt plot.
Eventually, he was hired as the farm manager for Riverpark Farm, supplier for Riverpark restaurant, and one of the largest urban farming models in New York City (they launched their rooftop farm on the site of a stalled construction site).
The City of Detroit, once the wealthiest city in the United States, saw its population peak in 1950 at 1.8 million. In the sixty years since, population declined by 60 percent to approximately 713,000 in 2010.
As a result, the city’s once bustling 139-square miles contain an estimated 200,000 vacant parcels comprising a quarter of the city’s land area, according to the Wall Street Journal. The vacant land stretches for miles, forming vistas across urban prairies interspersed with abandoned structures.
Urban farming has become increasingly popular in recent years as a way to deal with vacant property, revitalize neighborhoods and provide job skills and nutrition to remaining local residents struggling with poverty and a lack of access to fresh produce.
“Vertical farming isn’t futuristic; it’s already here,” says vertical farming visionary, Dr. Dickson Despommier. “In 2004 we put the idea on the internet and only got three hits on Google.” Eight years later that same search query on Google now yields 29,800,000 hits.
Although recently retired from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, Dr. Despommier shows no signs of slowing down. He continues to spread awareness to universities, municipalities, architects and agricultural specialists on the importance of ecological principles in vertical farming design and introduce his sustainable vision for our future cities.
I recently sat down with Dr. Despommier to discuss his vision for vertical farms, whether certain locales are better suited for farms of this type, his studies on the correlation between unsustainable cultivation and rapid deforestation, and more.
Like many neighborhoods in Detroit, Boston-Edison, once home to Henry Ford, has seen better days. Abandoned, burned out structures are interspersed with vacant lots. Although an intact historic district survives, much of the neighborhood suffers from the post-industrial poverty and neglect that plagues much of rest of the city.
It is here that Noah Link and Alex Bryan, recent University of Michigan graduates, launched Food Field, an organic farm, in 2010. After working on several area farms and gardens, the pair was inspired to join Detroit’s burgeoning urban agriculture movement. Together, they drafted a business plan and applied to purchase land through the Michigan Land Bank Fast Track Authority, a state-operated clearinghouse for tax-reverted public property. The Authority approved the plan, and after soil tests found no contamination (a common issue in post-industrial urban landscapes), they purchased a 4-acre parcel that was the former site of an elementary school.
A wastewater treatment plant as the site for an urban farm may seem unusual, but for Michael Boyle, a professor at Seattle University in the Environmental Studies department and director of the Urban Farm, the pairing is a natural fit. “In our time, there can’t be waste,” Boyle explains, and it is only fitting that GroCo, a locally-produced biosolids compost whose material originates at the treatment plant, is used as fertilizer.
On two acres tucked away in the southern portion of King County’s South Treatment Plant sits Urban Farm, a joint venture between Seattle University and King County Waste Water Division. The partnership came about in 2010 when Casey Plank, a former student working in the Waste Water Division, approached Boyle with the idea of developing a community project.
News Release – Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Growing Power, a leading local urban agriculture organization, today announced the launch of Farmer’s for Chicago, a new program that will make available up to five acres of City-owned vacant lots for urban farming activity, and help expand the supply chain for local neighborhood-level food production and wholesale. The city lots will be prepared for local nonprofits that will be able to install food growing equipment, and train up to 20 people in urban farming and skills.
“Once made available, these vacant lots will help stabilize communities by bringing productive activity to areas that need it around food deserts,“ said Mayor Emanuel. “Farmers for Chicago will give local residents a chance to not only learn how to grow food in their communities, but also build their own food enterprise.”
In many urban areas across the nation, access to fresh, locally grown and produced food is difficult to come by, and South Florida is no exception. Seeing an opportunity to address challenges to local food availability in this area, The Urban Farmer, a Pompano Beach, Fla.-based organization that grows and sources locally grown food, was launched to meet the demands of South Florida residents for locally and sustainably grown food. While The Urban Farmer is still in startup mode, it’s garnering support and keeping afloat because of its founders’ love of educating – and feeding – Floridians awesome, local produce.
I recently got in touch with Stephen Hill, a principal at The Urban Farmer, to find out how and why the organization was founded, how Urban Farmer serves Florida and what the organization has planned for the 2013 season.
Farmscape, a company that installs and maintains urban gardens throughout Los Angeles, CA, decided to take two spectacular things – fresh produce and a dinosaur – and create an app out of them. The app, Agrisaurus, is designed to take the guesswork out of small-scale gardening and farming, and help farmers plan and plot produce sites.
On March 12, Agrisaurus became available for anyone to download. I recently got in touch with Rachel Bailin of Farmscape and Agrisaurus, and found out why Farmscape’s founders thought the app would help gardeners, and how the app works.
Brooke Salvaggio, founder and owner along with husband, Daniel Heryer, of Kansas City, Mo-based Urbavore Urban Farm, started farming in Kansas City when she was 24 years old. She grew up in suburbia, surrounded by fertilized lawns, SUVs and plastic bags. “I was a bit jaded as a teenager,” Salvaggio said.
When she turned 18 years old, Salvaggio started traveling. “I was looking for answers and thought I might find them in older parts of the world,” she said. “I experienced simple living off the land and I was hooked.”
Just a couple of bad seeds
When Salvaggio returned to Kansas City, she started to grow gourmet, market crops on a 1/4-acre and founded BADSEED, a “green” event-space in downtown KC. She sold the produce she grew at farmers’ markets. In 2009, Heryer, co-owner, joined Salvaggio and began working at the farm.
Urban Farm Collective Converts Vacant City Lots into Edible Gardens, Exchanges Food for Hours WorkedMarch 7, 2013 | Susan Botich
It all started with a simple idea: bring neighbors together to transform vacant city lots into neighborhood food gardens. Why? To improve the quality of food available to the community. From that little seed, the Urban Farm Collective (UFC) has grown into multiple working gardens throughout the Portland, Oregon area.
“In the seed stages, it was very much just a handful of friends,” says Urban Farm Collective Director Janette Kaden. “We had yards and we thought we’d share them and turn them into gardens.”
But it took some creative thinking to cultivate that seed idea into the strong community network it has grown to be.
“In 2009, we started with one garden,” Kaden says. “About a dozen people came to the table to talk about this idea of transforming vacant lots into gardens. But, out of that, only one or two people would show up at the garden to work.”