At Dairy Queen at 8:45 PM last night, covered in streaks of mud and grease, 8 hours since our last meal, Eric and I dove unabashedly into large sundaes and Mint Oreo blizzards. We spent the day racing to beat the oncoming rains – planting long rows of salad mix, arugula, and carrots, weeding more mature plantings of those same crops, transplanting our final succession of tomatoes. As we pulled up to DQ, stumbling upon a civilized line of girls in soccer uniforms, clean, middle-aged men in “World’s Best Dad” t-shirts, and teenage lovers, it felt like we were returning to an America that we had long forgotten existed, spending our days stooped in the dirt, dutifully weeding carrots or checking radish germination. Such is June in the bipolar North – sensing long daylight hours and warmth for a limited time, plants take off. We humans hold on for the ride.
Our crops our looking quite healthy after such a slow spring. Mid-May nighttime temperatures in the mid-30s stunted many of our plants and we are just starting to see their growth response. While we usually plan to have carrots and beets by late June or early July, this requires being able to plant in early April. The cold, wet spring (two in a row!) mean some of these crops will be delayed by about a month. Other crops such as salad greens, spinach, and radishes are thriving with the steady bouts of rain and mild temperatures.
Land access remains a major issue for the development of our farm (and urban farming in general). After spending the last several years with various lengths of tenure and lease arrangements, we are feeling more and more strongly that the farm needs to begin acquiring more permanent parcels of land. We feel stifled by the year-to-year agreements and renter status of so much of our land. Without land tenure, basic soil health practices such as mulching and cover cropping can feel cumbersome and pointless rather than rejuvenating and necessary. When the farm began, we started with a basic inquiry: Can urban farming be a successful, vegetable production business that simultaneously beautifies the city and engages urban residents in on-farm education and the development of a more just food system? We are still deep in the process of answering that nuanced questions with other questions. What scale does the farm need to be to meet those goals? How many people should it employ? What is a good wage to be making? How can we build the farm on all fronts: financial, environmental, and community? At what points do these different aims clash and compete with each other? Land access and long-term tenure is at the core of many of these issues and would foster the development of improved soil management and therefore high-quality, high-yielding crops, sustained community presence and relationship building, and diversification of farm plots to become more complex, ecological organisms (i.e. integration of perennials, native pollinator habitat, etc.)
We are currently approaching the land issue in a few ways. We continue to advocate politically that urban farming is an integral piece of the city and that land needs to be dedicated to food production for all people for diverse types of production (community gardens, production farms, experiment stations). However, this a slow moving target, challenging many of the existing presumptions regarding urban planning and development. Lately, we have been developing more detailed financial models of our farm plots and production and then factoring in mortgage payments and taxes into these models. For a long time we have said that, due to the tax structure and land prices in urban areas, urban farms could never afford to own land. With clearer data regarding increased production with hoophouses and improves soil, we are beginning to rethink that original assumption. We believe that we may be able to purchase vacant land and, with the construction of a large hoophouse, increase revenue enough to 1) pay mortgage payments and land taxes and 2) increase overall farm income. We hope to purchase a few spaces at the end of this year to test our prediction. The farm is also searching for an industrial space to serve as a “home base” for the farm. This space would house a year-round greenhouse, larger scale composting operation, processing space, and workshop. It would root the decentralized plots that comprise the rest of the farm.
As always, we are grateful to the employees, interns, volunteers, and community members that make our rag-tag operation a reality. This time of year we are often running at full speed with tunnel vision, focused on production, production, production. Please make sure to give us a holler or stop by our plots to chat! Many thanks for your support and patience as our CSA season gets underway.