Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Reflections on a weekend--City Farm-Chicago

This past weekend I traveled from Nashville, through Chicago, to Milwaukee. I was invited on this trip by Jason Atkins, a Nashville farmer, and traveled with Dr. Chris Farrell, a Trevecca professor, Harrison, a Trevecca student, and Kate Kiefiling, a Nashville environmental activist.

We stopped in Chicago for the purpose of seeing a particular place, City Farm in the Cabrini-Green neighborhood. City Farm is a different place, “particular” as I said. City Farm is a one acre(ish) urban farm formed on an abandoned lot that employees two full-time, year round farmers and two part-time, seasonal farmers, who grow 10,000-15,000 pounds of food a year. (They get extra hands from hundreds of volunteer groups throughout the growing season.)

They sell produce (80 different varieties this year, 120 last) to twenty(ish) restaurants, and a number of farmers markets around Chicago. Additionally, they have an on site produce stand, and because of their neighborhood, they operate it on a sliding scale—someone might get a garbage bag full of collards for .50 cents while a bunch of collards (six total) might sell for four dollars at market.

Then Tim Wilson, program director at City Farm, told us a little about urban Chicago… There are anywhere between 60,000 to 80,000 abandoned lots at any given time totally about 10,000 acres.

Take a moment. Think about this…

If City Farm can be a model, we can assume one acre can employ three full-time farmers and growing 10,000 to 15,000 pounds of food…on ONE, that’s ONE, acre. So, potentially urban farming in Chicago could employ 30,000 thousand people and grow 10 to 15 million pounds of food a year. How can we not take urban growing space seriously?

Then there is this…City Farm is mobile. Because their agreement is with the city of Chicago, they have no guarantee of their land. Often, they grow for one year and are kicked off the site so it can be developed. (They had only been growing on the site I saw for four years, and City Farm, as an organization, has been around since the 70’s). They literally pick-up all of their materials (soil included because a developer wants to start on the native clay), move it to a different abandoned lot, and construct a new farm by putting down two feet of compost for beds and two feet of wood chips for pathways.

I wasn’t prepared for the discussion with Tim. A mobile farm conflicts with every agrarian notion I have about farming: connection to a place, to the land, building the soil over many many years. And it further restricts the use of any kind of sustainable water catchments system. But, City Farm simply can’t hold those agrarian notions. (What they do is no less amazing than best agrarian farm). And yet in some ways City Farm is agrarian—they have assessed their place, have gotten to know their place, and have learned how best work with their place to grow food. City Farm is a different place, "particular" as i said.

Now, dream of this for a moment…what if the city required the new development to install rooftop gardens on all the developments that replace an urban farm or garden? The development would simple raise the growing space to the rooftop. Additionally, balconies could be used as growing space; the vertical walls could be used as growing space; window boxes; a sunny spot inside. The development could actually be used to increase the amount of growing space.

Learn more about City Farm at resourcecenterchicago.org

1 comment:

Ryan Fasani said...

thanks for the inspiration, justin. now think: 4 acres in antioch, 1/8 acre off main street, and 1/16 acre in inglewood. And think: goats, chickens, two milking cows. maybe 50-75 thousand pounds of food grown or raised each yr., and 10,000 lbs reclaimed from home gardens and the farmers market... all funneled to east nashville on a sliding scale. please, god, confirm this is a possibility.