The traditional image of a farm is one of huge tracts of vegetables and fruits, usually laid out in geometric patterns, and tended by people, men most often, operating large machine – or possibly, and old-fashioned, animal pulled plow. Always though, a farm is something that we tend to think of as a strictly rural phenomenon and only possible in the country because, after all, where on earth would you put a farm in the city?
Well, you might try looking up…to the roof, that is. Rooftop gardening is taking off in cities such as New York and Chicago which don’t necessarily boast a lot of unused land. These are actual soil based gardens too – engineered via container systems or other methods for holding the growing medium in place in areas often subject to wind and snow. Often, these gardens have the size and variety to bear the tag of farm. One such is the multiple site farm operated by Brooklyn Grange which includes organic vegetables as wells as apiaries for honey. Windy City Harvest, which is part of the Chicago Botanic Garden, runs many farm programs and working farms throughout the Chicago area including the very impressive farm atop the McCormick Place convention center. If you’d like to learn more about rooftop gardening or farming – and keep in mind that many rooftops won’t be suitable for such a project – check out The Rooftop Growing Guide: how to transform your roof into a vegetable garden or farm by Annie Novak. Novak is the director of Growing Chefs and is a co-founder (and farmer) of Eagle Street Rooftop Farms in the Greenpoint area of Brooklyn, New York.
And if you can’t go up…well, why not find some space and reclaim it for food? That’s just what Novella Carpenter did when she found an abandoned lot next to her Oakland, California house set in a neighborhood that had definitely seen better days. Today, Ghost Town Farm is still alive and thriving. You can read all about it in Carpenter’s very entertaining memoir, Farm City: the education of an urban farmer.
Of course, no voice in the urban farming movement is quite as powerful as that of Will Allen. A former professional basketball player (and the first African-American to play basketball for the University of Miami), Allen ultimately left a career in marketing in 1993 and purchased an old plant nursery in Milwaukee as well as a 100-acre farm in nearby Oak Creek. Since then, Allen’s Growing Power farming project has led the way in urban farming throughout the world. In particular, Allen has pioneered non-invasive methods of composting and aquaponics that aid in producing large yields in small areas of land. You can sample Allen’s unique voice and experience his passion for universal food security in his book The Good Food Revolution: growing healthy food, people and communities. The son of South Carolina sharecroppers, Allen shares much of his own story here and it is fascinating.
If you have your own dreams of farming, remember that you can start anywhere – even with a pot of parsley outside your back door. And as you plan for the growing season ahead, don’t forget about DCPL and our DIGG Seed Library, the first of its kind in Metropolitan Atlanta. You can check out seeds from the library with your library card – all for free! As you plan for your spring planting, please be aware that the Seed Library will close, temporarily, on September 30th, so that we can replenish and restock in preparation for the new planting season starting January 16th. In the meantime, happy gardening dreams!