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.
Jeff and Laura Hamons manage Synergistic Acres, a sustainable livestock farm in Parker, Kan. Neither Jeff nor Laura grew up on a farm, but the couple decided to go into farming because they believe everyone in the Kansas City-area should have access to healthy, humanely-raised meat.
Synergistic Acres has been operating for a year and the family’s farming lifestyle has synched with their personal belief system. “We had not even considered living on a farm two years ago,” Jeff Hamons said. “We have tried to get a fast start without growing too fast too soon. We had a great first year and connected with a lot of families searching for the same food we raise.”
Last year, the farm raised around 500 broilers, 75 turkeys, breeding sows, a boar, four grower pigs, 18 cattle, and a flock of 70 layers. The Hamons keep livestock in a natural setting. The farm’s animals live their lives outside on pasture.
When high-school sweethearts Matt and Carissa Visser left Michigan in the mid-nineties to attend college in Oregon, they never dreamed they would eventually return to Michigan to start a small-scale organic farm.
But in 2009, that’s exactly what they did.
“We simultaneously came to a point in our lives where we were looking for a new direction,” says Carissa. “We wanted to find a career in which we could own our own business, work together, and feel good about our jobs.”
Employing web-based social networking technology to simulate old school neighbor-to-neighbor information share, Farm Hack is a farmer-driven, collaborative project that develops, builds, documents and shares tools for resilient, small-scale agriculture. The secret behind it all is its use of an open source web platform that allows users to edit all the pages on the site – it’s basically a wiki site for farm technology and innovation – resulting in a user-driven community that self-evolves according to the needs of its members.
“It’s not a new thing for farmers to repair their own equipment, adapt their equipment or design new tools – this is something that’s been happening for centuries on small family farms – but the idea of Farm Hack is to use new forms of communication technology and organization to accelerate that process,” explained Kristen Loria, Farm Hack Coordinator.
At Peaceful Belly, an urban farm just eleven miles outside Boise, it’s all about locally produced healthy food, organic crop variety and a sustainable local culture. The farm is run by Josie Erskine, her husband Clay and a group of willing volunteers who work the 70 acre parcel nestled between two foothills in the Dry Creek Valley. The urban farm is a labor of love and an important source of food in the local community.
In recent years farmland has disappeared from the Boise outlying area due to urban sprawl, including one large farm that was sold and turned into apartment buildings. Saving and working farmland in a sustainable manner is very important at Peaceful Belly Farm which is the largest contiguous farmland left in the area.
The following is a candid conversation with young farmers, Matt Hyde and Sarah Wertz about their operation, Rabbit Run Farm in Skull Valley, Arizona.
What compelled you, especially as a young couple to get into sustainable farming?
We both enjoy working outdoors and eating good food. The farming lifestyle represents our values and beliefs. Also, we took the class Small Scale Agriculture at Prescott College held at Whipstone Farm in Paulden, Arizona. Following the class, we talked with the farmers Cory and Shanti and asked if we could work for them the following season. We really enjoyed it! The next season, Byrnie at Ridgeview Farms offered us land to use as kind of a trial for farming on our own The next season we were offered the farm manager position at Jenner Farm in Skull Valley and moved our farming operation there. We’ve been farming ever since.
Though students are expected to learn about sustainable farming when volunteering at the University of Washington Farm, for some, their volunteer experience cultivates confidence, leadership skills, and friendships within a close-knit community of students who just enjoy gardening and sharing wholesome food.
The UW Farm owes its beginnings to a group of graduate students who wanted to garden, says Rachel Stubbs, farm coordinator for the Center for Urban Horticulture (CUH). With that humble start in 2004, the farm has grown to become the campus center for the practice and study of urban agriculture and sustainability. Though it is only a third of an acre on the main campus and half an acre at CUH, “people think it’s this huge thing,” Rachel says.
San Diego Org Offers Unique Urban Farming Training Program, Preps Students for Careers in Sustainable AgOctober 2, 2012 | Missy Smith
In downtown San Diego, on San Diego City College’s campus, Seeds@City Urban Farm is growing a variety of crops, as well as grooming students for careers in sustainable agriculture. Formed in 2008, the 1-acre urban farm—a cooperative of San Diego City College and San Diego Roots Sustainable Food Project—gives students hands-on training in sustainable urban farming.
“Seeds@City was created to fill a void in southern California for those who want to learn about organic farming in an urban setting,” explains Erin Rempala, associate professor of biology and Seeds@City program manager.
How Do We Grow New Farmers? Burlington’s Intervale Center Hosts National Farm Incubator Field SchoolOctober 2, 2012 | Intervale Center
News Release - BURLINGTON, VT - On Friday, October 5, farm managers, garden managers, extension agents and agricultural program directors from across North America will arrive at the Intervale Center to learn how to grow new farmers in their communities. The Intervale Center is hosting a day-long farm incubation workshop, part of a new National Incubator Farm Training Initiative (NIFTI) in partnership with Boston-based nonprofit, New Entry Sustainable Farming Project.
“It’s hard to believe, but the average age of an American farmer is 57. We need new farmers. But how are they going to get training, access to equipment, and business development support?
Private Equity Co. Connects Investors with Organic Farmland; Creates Land Access Program for Young FarmersSeptember 27, 2012 | Melinda Clark
In every deliberation one must consider the impact on the seventh generation – Great Law of the Iroquois.
In addition to getting its name from North America’s native ancestors, Iroquois Valley Farms also adopted this ancient wisdom as its impact statement. Says Iroquois Valley Farms cofounder Dave Miller, “that’s exactly what we want to have – a long-term generational impact.”
If beer is a reliable indicator, rosy times lie ahead for American agriculture and those who like fresh wholesome food. As the 70’s gave way to the 80’s, doomsayers predicted that if the going trend of consolidation continued only 5 beer-brewing companies would exist by the 1990’s. But something happened and that something was the rise of the craft brewer. Today this phenomenon is happening again, this time with peas and carrots. At agricultural training programs cropping up at such places as the University of California, Santa Cruz, New York’s Groundswell Center for Local Food and Farming, Michigan State University, and now at the University of Vermont’s Farmer Training Program, one diverse student group after another is endeavoring to reinvent and reinvigorate farming.
News Release – (FREEPORT, Maine, July 6, 2012) – At a time when the average age of the American farmer is 57 years old, four teens from the Freeport area are taking sustainable farming seriously – and helping to fill food pantry shelves as they do.
After weeks of toiling through downpours and heat waves, Wolfe’s Neck Farm’s new Teen Ag Crew has finally begun to harvest the result of their hard work. This week they made their first delivery of over 80lbs of chard, kale, lettuce, spinach and basil to Freeport Community Services (FCS).
How does a Los Angeles-based techie completely disconnected from food and agriculture end up a passionate sustainable farmer? It’s really quite simple. The techie-turned-farmer in question, one Nathan Winters, strikes out on a 4300-mile bike ride across America’s rural landscapes to find inspiration. He works on a number of farms along the way and ends up with a passion for organic “bootstrap” agriculture that leads him to start Relly Bub Farm in southern Vermont.
I recently spoke with Winters to learn more about his embrace of agriculture, how his cross country trip shaped his philosophy on farming, his words of wisdom for new farmers, the challenges he faces and more.