I recently spent a couple days recording audio on a video project with Jerry Monkman of Ecophotography for Trust for Public Land. Trust for Public Land partnered with the Urban Farming Institute (UFI) of Boston and assisted them in acquiring land for the use of farming. I was fortunate to meet the people behind the UFI and was inspired by their passion for farming and for providing the skills to people interested in growing fresh produce. The city of Boston passed Article 89 in December 2013 to allow urban agriculture and since then there have been several small farms have popped up around the city. The farming lots I visited are the UFI training lot on Harrison Street in Roxbury and a City Growers operation behind the Sportsman’s Tennis Club in Dorchester.
These farms are typically around 1/4 acre of land in size and produce a stunningly diverse amount of herbs, fruits, and vegetables. Before this video project, I had no conception of how much food a 1/4 acre of land could produce, but it’s enough to provide a steady stream of fresh veggies to number of weekly farmers markets, several restaurant clients, and a community supported agriculture (CSA) program. As the number of farms in the UFI and City Growers programs increase, there will be a need for trained urban farmers and that’s what UFI is all about. City Growers are a for-profit entity that produces fresh food for sale, where the Urban Farming Institute is a program that grew out of the City Growers. The UFI trains people to do the farming. It seems like a natural fit where both programs could feed each other’s growth, but there’s still some kinks to work out between the different needs in terms of funding. So for instance, you’ll also see independent UFI farm stalls that are selling produce to help fund their own program. Both programs are linked historically and culturally. There’s lots of cooperation and collaboration so that in end its really the culture of farming in the city that benefits the most from the success of either program.
I spent the most time with the UFI at the Garrison-Trotter Farm on Harrison Street in Roxbury. For being in a city, I found the place surprisingly quiet and zen-like. There I had a chance to meet and talk with farmers Bobby Walker and Nataka Crayton-Walker, and one of their farmers in training, Apollo. The passion for farming in all of them was immediately obvious. Bobby’s inner encyclopedia of knowledge, Nataka’s mother-like patience for any task at hand (including weeding!), and Apollo’s excitement for experimental farming all add to a fervor that’s completely contagious. It makes you want to jump right in and lend a hand. And I’m not alone, in the course of my time at the farm, there were several instances of people just walking by, stopping, and volunteering to help out. I mean, who doesn’t like fresh food? When you think of all the empty lots you come across in the city and how they could be turned into small urban farms to feed people with no or little access to fresh food, the benefits of urban farming are obvious and necessary.
In a consumer age where we’ve all become accustomed to eating food that’s spent the majority of it’s edible life in the back of a semi truck, it’s refreshing when you see that it doesn’t have to be that way. Food grows where people make it grow and that doesn’t have to be some rural outpost, it could be your backyard or a neighborhood farm lot. Urban farming is easy to get excited about and ever since this project, there’s not a day that goes by when I look at my own backyard here in Portsmouth, NH and think about what could be growing out there.
Resources on Urban Farming in Boston:
Special thanks to: