Over the Fence Urban Farm


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Over the Fence @ Pecha Kucha Columbus

Last night I had the honor of sharing a story at the 43rd Pecha Kucha (PK) Columbus. It was based on an experience I had this past spring which I blogged about in Rabbit Roller Coaster.

For those unfamiliar with PK, speakers create 20 slide Powerpoints and set the slide transition timer to 20 seconds. So you have 20 seconds to talk about 20 slides for a total of 6 minutes and 40 seconds. Sounds like a nice chunk of time but it flies by!  My presentation wasn’t flawless and I cursed a few too many times, but I’m proud of my efforts. I had a good time and I hope that I got some folks thinking more about where their food comes from and the trials farmers go through to get it to them with my photographs and my remarks.

I’m posting a video of the presentation here for people who couldn’t make it out to the event. I’ll be writing more later about the experience of prepping for and delivering the talk on Art Education Outside the Lines. It was a creative experience I relished and would encourage others to try. Pecha Kucha is a great venue for our stories about farming and how our food gets to people’s plates.

Special thanks to those mentioned in this story including:

Dan Spurgeon – Husband and Co-conspirator

Todd Shriver – Rock Dove Farm

Kate Hodges and Rachel Tayse – Foraged & Sown

Milan Karcic – Peace, Love, and Freedom Farm

Jerah Pettibone – Pettibone Urban Game

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Jodi Kushins, Urban Farmer

I was recently asked to consider the following questions as part of the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association’s (OEFFA) Women Grow Ohio project. The group’s leaders are putting together a website and plans for a second annual farm tour and wanted input from urban growers to balance out the voices of those in more bucolic settings.

How do you view your title? Are you an urban farmer, homesteader, grower, livestock farmer, gardener, or something other?

The responses shared by others before me were so eloquent. So beautiful. So confident. I felt not only at a loss for words, but humbled to be included in their group.

See this response from Sarah Campbell Taylor, for example:

Well we do call our business Jedidiah Farm. But at the risk of sounding contrary… Even though I grow on a larger suburban plot and do sell my products I don’t consider myself a farmer. I feel like throughout history and even now in many places people have done what I do- working hard to nourish themselves and others, sharing the bounty of their harvest with their community- and not necessarily considered themselves farmers. Maybe because it was just a way of life and didn’t really need a name? I hope that what I am doing won’t be unique for long, and that even people who don’t aspire to be farmers can see something in my lifestyle that they can envision for themselves.

Things I consider myself:
A mom who loves good eats.
A producer.
A revolutionary (I hope?)
A gardener/orchardist/goatherd[er]!
An experimentalist.
A person with a conscience.

You know the saying “if you want something done right, do it yourself.”? Well I love food. So I grow it and I share it.

When asked if she’d describe her approach “a homesteading lifestyle”, she responded:

Our lifestyle definitely includes homesteading, but I don’t think it encompasses the scope of what we are trying to accomplish because homesteading focuses on self-sufficiency while we our interests lean more towards sustainability, stewardship, community building and regenerative living.

Like Sarah, I named our project Over the Fence Urban Farm but felt a little funny about it for the first few years. Ultimately I called it a farm because it sounded better than Over the Fence Urban Garden. I second guessed my decision repeatedly and felt like a bit of a fraud when visiting larger operations. But, after a few weeks of thinking and living with this question, I am happy to call myself an urban farmer. Here are a few things that ran through my mind that helped me come to this conclusion.

After hardening off approximately 100 spring greens seedlings, I started sprouting another 100.

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Spring Greens Seedlings, Round 2

My yard doesn’t look anything like the (sub)urban lots around me. It looks like a farm. A small farm, yes, but a farm nonetheless.

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Through my efforts I am feeding others. Our small, backyard CSA fed 20 families last season. Granted, we didn’t meet all of their produce needs, but we made a healthy contribution.

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In the end, like Jedidiah Farm Over the Fence is not just about growing good food. I often refer to it as a community kitchen garden and feeding ourselves and others is certainly at the top of our agenda. But a large part of our mission is developing healthy soil and beneficial insect habitat, educating others to better grow their own gardens, and creative community building (see more on this in “Art Education in My Backyard: Creative Placemaking on an Urban Farm.” I don’t think these things are exclusive of being a farmer. To suggest otherwise ignores the role farmers play in our lives, communities, and ecosystems.