As my touring season ended, it was great to start gathering inspiration for next year from Bernadette.
As my touring season ended, it was great to start gathering inspiration for next year from Bernadette.
Following my on-site meeting with Columbus City Council Member Elizabeth Brown in May, I was asked to plan an advocacy tour for other members of the council on behalf of the loosely-affiliated Franklin County Urban Farmers Network. I worked with Carl Williams from Council Member Priscilla Tyson’s office to recruit and organize the participants and Mike Hogan from OSU Extension who reserved a 25 seat bus to take us around. And so it was that I found myself downtown Friday morning at 9am picking up Council Members Tyson, Shannon G. Hardin, and Jaiza N. Page. Representatives of the rest of the council members were also with us as well as folks from the City Clerk and Legislative Research Offices, the Public Health Department, Ohio State University College of Agriculture, Local Matters, and Franklin Park’s Growing to Green Program.
Following invitations from 10 operations around the city representing a mix of farms, community gardens, and homesteads, I decided to focus this tour on self-identified working farms in the city. Those of us who grow, sell, and regularly distribute produce through CSAs, farmers’ markets, and wholesale agreements face different issues than individuals and neighborhood collectives. The five sites we visited provided a mixed view of non- and for-profit operations, larger and smaller scale operations, on public and private land, in more and less densely populated neighborhoods around town.
Our first stop was Franklinton Gardens (FG), soon to be renamed Franklinton Farms. FG Director Nick Stanich described FG as a scattered-site farm that currently occupies 12 lots which total 2.5 acres of growing space, and more in the works. I have visited FG a few times over the years, but it had been awhile. I was amazed to see sites that were not in production a year ago filled with mature tomatoes, squash, okra, and corn. FG is a non-profit organization funded through an impressive combination of grants and donations, market sales, and a 40 member neighborhood supported CSA program. FG was a good place to begin the tour. Participants were visibly impressed and energized by the work Nick and his team are doing along with community volunteers and AmeriCorps VISTAs. Together they are transforming vacant lots of nutrient rich rich, flood-plain soil and run down houses which they have converted into meeting spaces and housing for their volunteers.
On the drive to our next stop, Mike Hogan spoke a bit about defining urban farming and differentiating it, and its challenges, from community gardening. He also raised issues related to zoning for high tunnels and on-site sales in residential areas (like ours) as they relate to the Food Action and Green Business and Urban Agriculture Plans City Council recently adopted. I was happy to hear conversations are underway with the zoning office to set guidelines for people interested in erecting high tunnels; checklists stating what’s needed with regard to review and permits for structures under and above certain size thresholds. At this time, high tunnels under 2,000 square feet are not restricted so much as the rules around them are vague.
Our second stop, Clarfield Farms, is operated by the MidOhio Foodbank as one mechanism for reaching their overall mission of ending hunger in Central Ohio. The farm sits on land beside a former Columbus City School building, breathing new life into an underutilized civic space. Before the farm was established in 2012, the school had been vacant for nearly a decade. While I have been invited to Clarfield at least half a dozen times, I never made it down before this tour. I’m glad I finally got to see what they have going on and hear more about their programming. Along with 3 – 20×96′ high tunnels and field crops, they host a u-pick plot for neighbors, and a weekly pay-what-you-can farm stand. The farm works with other branches of the foodbank (see for example South Side Roots), partners with other local non-profit organizations, and maintains relationships with local chefs. The farm also hosts a summer youth program that gives teens with 10-week apprenticeships during which they learn life skills they can apply to various personal and professional situations. We heard one young woman report on the impact the apprenticeship has had on her; at 15 she was able to clearly tell us direct and indirect ways she’s developed as a result of her time at Clarfield. Through its portfolio of operations, Clarfield demonstrates myriad ways urban farms can connect with and serve their communities.
On the way to the next stop I talked a little more about deduct meters – which came up at our first two stops. With this device installed on our water lines, urban farmers can avoid sewage charges for water that goes into the ground. Having these permitted and installed is time consuming and costly, but can save lots of money over time. Making that process easier, maybe even giving farmers a a subsidy to help pay for installation, would go a long way in supporting the work we do in our communities. I also reiterated the needs Mike set forth for clear guidelines regarding high tunnels, noting a recent round of federal grants that were offered to urban farmers in Columbus, some of whom passed up the money due to uncertainty about regulations.
Our third stop was another from my bucket list – Project Aquastar (PA) at St. Stephen’s Community House in Linden. The project has a relatively new manager, Max Slater who has a degree in urban planning and identifies as a self-taught farmer. PA is going through some restructuring including moving it aquaponics production into a new greenhouse. The project currently distributes produce through a new buy one/give one CSA program and through the St. Stephen’s food pantry. Like Clarfield, they host teen apprentices in the summer months. They have great infrastructure and it will be exciting to see how they reinvent themselves in the coming years.
Between this and our next stop, Adam Ward, Director of Government Affairs for the OSU College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences spoke for a few minutes. He talked about the university’s Discovery Themes, specifically the Initiative for Food and Agricultural Transformation (InFACT). InFACT recently received a major grant from the Kellogg Foundation for the Buckeye ISA (Institutionally Supported Agriculture) program to help mentor low-income families interested in growing food for themselves, their neighbors, and the university. This proposal generated a lot of questions from the council members and staff, as it has in the urban farming community, and served as an interesting point of transition to our next site.
Foraged & Sown is a for-profit venture led by two women in North Linden – Kate Hodges and Rachel Tayse. The pair sell wild edibles (foraged) and grow their own (sown) culinary herbs for chefs and home chefs and tea drinkers along with other value added products like seasoned salts and jams. Like other of us farming on the north end of town (Swainway Urban Farm, Peace Love and Freedom Farm, Pettibone Urban Game), Kate and Rachel grow in their front, back, and side yards – anywhere there is soil. This kind of amped-up edible landscaping, like what we do at Over the Fence — using available space to grow food, rather than lawns — builds capacity for sustainability and resiliency in the city. But it’s not always appreciated, nor profitable.
Kate and Rachel shared challenges of dealing with formal and informal complaints from neighbors initially skeptical of their activities. Over time those have diminished, due largely to their persistence in speaking with agents who came out to investigate the complaints and inviting neighbors to see what they are doing during open house tours. Foraged & Sown provides an example of issues addressed by individual residents interested in farming on their property as opposed to the other operations we visited growing on vacant lots obtained from the city land bank, leased land from public entities like the school district, or non-profit managed properties. Legislative Analyst Sandra Lopez suggests folks like us go to our local area commissions to introduce ourselves and let those groups know what we are doing and what impact it makes on our neighborhoods. Adam Ward echoed this saying, “The worst time to build relationships is in times of crisis.” Council Member Tyson agreed suggesting “Introduce yourself when you don’t need anything, so that when you do, you’ll have relationships to fall back on.” That’s what this tour was largely about.
Our final stop was a quick swing by Over the Fence. On our short drive over, I told everyone a bit more about how I got started farming, a bit about the finances of my operation, and the ways CSA members help me keep things going and looking good. I hope I made clear that our community kitchen garden is not only providing produce to 18 households this season including my own, but also providing a space for building community. It truly takes a village to run this farm. Over the Fence is not a 501c3 but isn’t really a for-profit enterprise either. My profits are not easy to calculate; the come mostly in the forms of food and friendship. That’s alright for me, a middle-class woman with another job as well as a well-employed spouse with great health insurance, but it wouldn’t work for everyone. It requires not only additional income, but also a reimagining of how we define, and measure, profits. I’ve struggled with quantifying this in the past but I think such numbers would speak volumes to legislators, community organizers, funders, and potential future farmers.
All the farmers we visited with have already expressed interest in working together to continue communications with City Council. You can be sure I’ll blog about it here.
After a week away, it was good to be back home and at work. Sadly we had ZERO rain, but thanks to our irrigation system, we’re still growing strong.
It’s been a busy week and getting busier everyday. Here’s a quick look at what’s been happening on the farm.
We’ve had a busy and highly productive couple of weeks around the farm as winter surrenders to spring. We started a farm annex, weathered what we hope was our final arctic blast, and got lots of things growing in the fields.
This season we’ll be growing most of our potatoes and sweet potatoes at the home our friends and long-time CSA supporters, Andrew and Melissa Freuh. They bought a house in August and the yard is a blank canvas. Melissa marked out a 20′ x 60′ plot and we got a crew of friends to help us cover it in cardboard and compost. (We moved 10 yards in under 2.5 hours!) While we would have liked to have done this in the fall to give our lasagna garden some time to cook, we planted Groundhog Daikon Radish Cover Crop seed which should biodrill through the turf for us in the next few weeks.
I picked up ginger root then weighed, cut, cured, and tucked it in bed. Now we wait a few weeks and watch for sprouts. Lots of seedlings – kale, romaine, fennel, radicchio, and cabbage were hardened off and transplanted, once the cold past.
These onions were seeded in the cold frame. They lifted out effortlessly from the soil and were ready for transplanting to the field. I’m going to reseed the frame and try to stay on a cycle so we can have regular stock of scallions as well as some larger onions.
Temperatures got high enough that we were able to test the roll-up sides on the high tunnel.
And finally, we found a nest of baby bunnies under one of the low tunnels as we transitioned from winter plastic to spring row covers. We replaced them once our work was done to allow their mother to continue to visit and nurse them as we decide what to do next. They opened their eyes today. They are super cute which is super scary. I’ve been burned by bunnies a number of times before. The only things saving them right now are their sweet little faces and the fact that their mother didn’t touch a single plant under the tunnel when she nested. A recent read through Tammi Hartung’s The Wildlife Vegetable Gardener is probably also to blame.
This seems like a lot of work, and we got a lot of chores accomplished that weren’t sexy enough to make this post, but there is still SO much to do!
I have been doing a lot more reading, thinking, and planning for companion planting after hearing Dan Kittredge speak at OEFFA a few weeks back. (Read about the conference and talks in this post on OEFFA Conference 2017.) I’m interplanting things I haven’t mixed up before and looking ahead to what I can add later to long season crops beds I am sowing now. All this in order to create symbiotic relationships between the plants so they are feeding and protecting one another, and the microbes in the soil, better.
I’m also looking at the Farmer’s Almanac’s Garden Calendar for some advice on optimal planting dates.
“The Farmers Almanac Gardening by the Moon Calendar is determined by our age-old formula and applies generally to regions where the climate is favorable. Because the gardening calendar is based on the phase and position of the Moon, it is consistent across all growing zones.”
I’ve been wanting to get a better handle on biodynamics. Using the Farmer’s Almanac in conjunction with a few biodynamic calendars I’ve been consulting seems like a relatively easy way of getting started.
According to the calendar, today was an optimal day for planting root crops so I set some radishes, carrots, and beet seeds out. I added a bit of innoculant to the seed packs, per Kittredge’s suggestion that the minerals in this dust help germinating seeds develop the systems they need to absorb and digest nutrients throughout their lives. Kittredge compared this with the precious colostrum nursing mammals produce for their babies in the first few days of life. Colostrum helps human infants develop healthy gut flora. I want my plants to have healthy guts because I’m sure it’ll mean I’ll have healthier gut too!
Tomorrow is a good day too, so it isn’t too late for you to get busy on your own early-early spring planting plan. Here are a few scenes from the field this afternoon to get you planting your own fertile ground.
The sun was shining bright in Columbus, Ohio today. The temperature only got to about 38°F, but it I had a purpose to be outside, down on the ground, with my hands in the soil. And I was glad for that.
I transplanted onions I started inside and moved around field sown spinach seedlings so they were more evenly distributed.
This is the last night forecasted to go below freezing for the foreseeable future. While it seems awfully weird, we’re going to take advantage of it. Hope this inspires you to do the same.
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