Six Urban Farms, From U.S. Coast to Coast

With spring bringing out the gardener in many of us — veteran, rookie and in between — my household has been expanding our growing. Last year, we had a couple of small vegetable plots that maybe totalled 15-20 square feet. Plus, we created a wildflower and native grass section that stretches to a slim 40 square feet.

[social_buttons]This year, we have turned nearly half of our backyard — tiny as it is — into a vegetable garden, adding 125 square feet, or so. I built a wooden-pallet compost bin. And our front yard — yes, tiny front yard — is quickly becoming garden space, too (more flowers, native grasses and such). We’ll soon have a rain barrel. I’ve torn up a 50-foot stretch of sidewalk, and will replace it with a more drainage-friendly, more attractive solution. My wife also has started dozens of vegetable seedlings, which she is giving away for others’ gardens.

And all of this has us thinking. We want to keep going. We want to grow more vegetables. We want to expand our urban garden into an urban farm. We want to use it for greater positives in our neighborhood and city. Until those ideas reach their potential, we’ll be keeping an eye on people we can learn from.

There are urban farms and farmers all across the country, with Web sites offering loads of information and inspiration and, in some cases, consultation. Here are six:

Seattle Urban Farm Company is one of those that is happy to offer professional guidance for area residents to get their own farm’s going:

An urban farm will provide you both tangible and intangible rewards.Β  Our goal at the Seattle Urban Farm Company is to provide your family with a wide variety of vegetables every week throughout the growing season. Depending on the time of year, you may receive a basket overflowing with tomatoes, peppers, beans, and salad greens or a box full of butternut squash, Brussels sprouts, celery and leeks.Β  In addition to the supply of fresh produce, an urban farm will add beauty to your landscape.Β  The flowers and vegetables of all colors and sizes will make your yard an even more desirable place to spend your summer days.Β  We believe that an urban farm can help foster a connection to our food, environment and community.

Back Door Harvest (in St. Louis) is another urban farming business that is willing to help you design and implement plans for an urban garden/farm. But it also offers the possibilities of garden owners taking little or no part in the act of reaping from their land, yet getting the goods; or someone without space or inclination for a garden on their property can opt to share in a neighbor’s bounty.

Mill Creek Urban Farm (in Philadelphia) has the support of its city:

Part of the site has been home to a thriving community garden for over 15 years and the rest of the lot had been vacant for over 30 years. Thanks to funds allocated by the Philadelphia Water Department in partnership with the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, the land was awarded in the summer of 2005 to begin an urban farm.

Earthworks Urban Farm (in Detroit) is “a program of the Capuchin Soup Kitchen:”

Earthworks Urban Farm seeks to restore our connection to the environment and community in keeping with the tradition of our spiritual patron, St. Francis. It is a working study in social justice and in knowing the origin of the food we eat. This project relies on the gracious donations of time from volunteers and materials from sponsors. Neighbors and friends of all ages, incomes and faiths join us in our work. We hope that you will visit us and see what a special project Earthworks Urban Farm has become.

Jones Valley Urban Farm is a community-based non-profit organization in Birmingham, Alabama. It uses more than three acres of otherwise vacant property downtown, JVUF grows organic produce and flowers and contributes community education. The vision of JVUF:

JVUF will be a model sustainable urban farm that teaches youth and the Birmingham community about sustainable agriculture and nutrition through outdoor experiential education.

The Urban Farm (in Phoenix), like so many urban farms, has been a project long in the works, according to owner Greg Peterson. He welcomes visitors for tours and, on his Web site, suggests that he is plenty willing to share his 25 years worth of vast experience, academic and practical.

Photo: Adam Williams

  1. Kyle Edginton

    I wonder about the need for having your own back yard soil tested for suitability for growing your own fruits and vegetables and potential of those items. Good idea? Who would do that kind of thing?

  2. Adam Williams

    @Thak — Thanks for adding Growing Power to this list. Actually, I previously gave a shout here for Will Allen when he received the MacArthur Grant for his efforts with Growing Power.

    This list of six urban farms is by no means intended as all inclusive. There are countless urban farms.

    In fact, after my wife read this blog post, she asked me add another one: New Roots, newrootsurbanfarm.org. I’d only left it out, for the time being, so not to bombard readers with St. Louis-centric vision.

    The point of this list of six is just to jumpstart readers’ who aren’t aware that these farms not only are possible all across the country — world? — but already are in full swing and can be replicated, supported, learned from, enjoyed…

    @Kyle — Great questions. I hesitate to answer before verifying answers, so I will look into that. In the mean time, anyone else who can offer response to Kyle about soil testing, please do. Thanks.

  3. Bobby B.

    @Kyle – You would do well to test your soil. I doubt that soil contamination will be a problem. The best reason is to determine what plants will grow well in your soil. I did it the wrong way, and planted aesthetically pleasing flowers and shrubs giving little regard to my location. They did not survive long.

    @Adam – Just so you know, I have not gone green. I still keep my grass mowed short to minimize the number of places for the snakes to hide. Even though it has been unbelievably cool this spring, I have already had to relocate several grass snakes, a couple of water moccasins, and a coral snake. I may start a vegetable garden some day, but not before I get a couple of wild cats to keep the place clear of vermin.

  4. nilkiB

    please check out LA’s SouthCentral Farmers at http://www.southcentralfarmers.com/

    check out their history-talk about believing in the cause! they deserve our support and solidarity.

    As for testing your soil, as Maria Rodale found out in her book Organic Gardening, your homesite may have, at some point, been in proximity to any number of industrial sites including gas stations with buried holding tanks and therefore you may find your soil to be contaminated. If you want to grow food to eat and you live in an urban area you def. want to check your soil for contaminants first.

    As for checking your soil pH etc for suitability for plants (i.e. blueberries require acidic soil) any home center will have simple soil testing kits. Your county’s agricultural extension will send you one you can send back to them for more detailed results.

    Good luck! Remember gardening is an ongoing learning process. Don’t just think you’re going to plant seeds and eat the harvest. Just like in any other relationship, we need to learn from, nurture and respect the earth and her ways, and accept that we are not solely in control!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *