Sunday, September 28, 2014


This weekend as part of a Richmond Farm Tour I visited 2 local urban farms in this area. The link to the farm tour is below:

The two farms were both unique in there own way but at the same time both were equally dedicated to providing locally sourced food and food education to the surrounding community. I was struck by how each and every person I met was dedicated and seemed excited about what they were doing. I believe every city need farms like these that are committed to help the surrounding community by providing produce to people and places that otherwise may not have it. 

The first farm I visited was The Jerusalem Connection Garden, which is associated with Renew Richmond, a program dedicated to creating Urban farms and gardens in Richmond. When we first arrived we pulled into what appeared to be a parking lot right off the main road. I was thinking that the GPS had to be wrong. It turns out it was not. The Jerusalem connection Garden it located on less than an acre of land truly in the center of an Urban area.

The Farm

Shortly after signing in and dealing with all the formalities of the farm tour we started to look around. The garden was very impressive for such a small space. We found out later that all the space was not used as effectively as it could be because the the main goal of this farm was education and outreach. But still, take a look at this picture, the farm seemed pretty productive to me!

About 5 minutes after we arrived the farmer, who also happened to be the tour guide, showed up. One of the first thing he explained to us was their mission as an urban farm. It is to educate the population living around them. This seemed like a big mission for a one acre farm, it seemed like an even bigger mission when I found out this farm was totally volunteer run. This blew my mind. In order to look that good the farm must have had a lot of willing, dedicated and talented volunteers. He went on to tell us that they also provide produce for pop up markets at 2 churches and the health department.

The farm, as I mentioned, was not big. They only produce 3,000 pounds of produce a year, while this may not be feeding a ton of people it is raising awareness in the community. They often reach out to schools, church groups and other groups of people who would benefit from there mission. A lot of the people benefiting from this Garden would not otherwise have access to fresh food.  They donate produce to local churches, who in turn prepare meals that can be frozen and given to families in need.

Another way Jerusalem Connection Garden makes sure it is really serving the community is they raise what  the people want. Instead of growing crazy unheard of vegetables and trying to introduce them to people who have not even had a carrot before they grow what people will actually eat and enjoy.  Instead they grew things like strawberries, tomatoes, squash melons, carrots and apples. 


Apple, Pear and Peach trees-a new garden of fruit trees.



Another thing they talked about was if  Urban farms are supposed to help sustain a certain group of people it does not work to only provide them with food in the summer. Food is a necessity in the winter as well. One of the things this urban farm had were metal structures that were covered with a thick plastic called hoop houses. The plastic captured the heat and did not let it out! When you walk in it is like walking into a sauna. Because of its temperature even in the coldest month of the winter it is still suitable for growing. When we visited the farm they were growing seeds for this years fall and winter plants in the hoop house.

Hoop house
Purple carrot seeds in the hoop house

They also focus on more than just the food. They focus on the entire Eco-system of a garden. They have a rain garden leading back into the apple orchard.
Rain Garden 
Because the farm is on the middle of the city they need to do things that other farms may not need to do. One of these things is having a bee hive. The bee hive means there are always bee in the garden pollinating the flowers.  Urban settings are an important habitat for bees.  Here is a link to some information regarding urban bees:

They also have a section of flowers that attract butterflies. Butterflies and bees contribute to the urban ecosystem and improve the functioning of the gardens.

Raised beds are a common solution used by urban farmers in order to have optimal growing conditions. This may seem like a waste of wood, soil etc, but in fact when gardening in the middle of the city the soil often contain arsenic and other poisons. Gardening in a raised bed allows the soil you plant in to be totally separate from the unsuitable soil beneath you. This is not true in all cases but because this farm is located right next to a parking lot ( providing a smooth clean path for runoff) it is essential to take this precaution. 

Overall this farm really amazed me. Only a few volunteers have been able to do something that really benefits the community. They have created an entire farm system in the middle of a parking lot. They are educating many people and providing healthy and local foods to the community. I highly encourage, if anyone has some free time to go and volunteer, this is a really important thing and we do not have enough people helping out.

The second Urban farm I visited this weekend was Tricycle Gardens. There name is directly related to Urban Farming. The name comes from a story. One day, when Tricycle Gardens was first beginning, they were digging in the soil and they found the pieces of a tricycle in one of the soon to be raised beds.  Because you are gardening in urban soil you never know what you might find buried underneath the layers of soil. There might have been a building, dump or park there before. You never know.

When we got there, Claire, one of the employees gave us a tour of the garden. The garden is located on a hill so they have two levels of the garden which they call the upstairs and downstairs. The upstairs is a more recent addition to the farm. Last year, only counting what was produced in the downstairs, they grew 20,000 pounds of produce, This year with the addition of the upstairs they hope to make at least double that. Like The Jerusalem Connection garden, they care a lot about education and outreach in the Richmond community.

Tricycle Gardens has used a similar technique to what  Jerusalem Connection uses. They created hoop houses (like green houses) so they can still produce food in the winter. Last winter, as we all know, was really really snowy and unfortunately their hoop houses did not hold up. The temperature inside was not suitable for growing. They contacted a farmer in Maine who farmed during the winter (I did not know that was possible). He suggested they use a double layer of plastic. We need to wait for this winter to see if it works!
Uncovered hoop houses 
I noticed Tricyle Gardens used every bit of space.. When we looked around the downstairs of the farm there were pumpkin vines creeping around on most every surface and the end of the summer crops and the beginning of the falls one occupied almost every bed. There were a couple beds that were not occupied but were about to be planted. Clare mentioned that this year they had decided not to till these beds. They thought that tilling it would mix up the natural soil layers. This made perfect sense to me but I later found out it was only possible because they were farming on such a small scale. In order for the plants to be healthy you must mix up the soil a little bit. They can do this by hand at Tricycle gardens but I don't think it would work on an 100 acre farm. 

Along the edge of the garden downstairs there were lots and lots of compost bins. Claire mentioned that they used red wiggler worms in the compost.  Because city soil is not always the healthiest compost is essential for the growth of plants, but this is not the only reason they have compost bins. They are a wonderful way to recycle all the food scraps and more obviously compost is good for all plants not just city plants. 

Funny sign on compost bin!

Compost bins

We then headed up to the upstairs part of the farm. This was a recent addition. The upstairs used all raised beds and had a greenhouse and a new hoop house. Earlier that weekend they had a volunteer day and had tidied it up and put wood chips in between the beds. The upstairs looked like it had more crops growing at the moment. They had okra, delicious tomatoes, eggplant, Malabar spinach (spinach on a vine) and many other vegetables, fruits and flowers. Below are some pictures of the abundant produce (and cool bugs!).

BIG spider between two raised beds


Look at all the produce!

Malabar Spinach

I noticed how well watered and healthy these plants looked. Claire informed us that this might be because they water all there plants from below. They have little plastic tubes that go down to the roots of the plant and they poor the water into the tubes and it water the plants from below. Not only does this cut down on the amount of water wasted but it  means the water does not get on the leaves of the plant and promote burning or roting. 

We then went  to the top  of a little hill at the edge of the upstairs. The raised beds were built into the hill. There was also a beehive at the top. The bees help pollinate the plants on the farm.

 From the top of the hill you could see most of Tricycle Gardens and I remember thinking that this was simply amazing. An enormous amount of energy and effort went into creating an urban garden that not only helped and sustained the community but also educated others to the same. 

As I was driving home after touring the farms I was thinking about how much I had learned that day and how  impressed I was by these 2 urban gardens in Richmond. Then I got to thinking, Richmond is a big city and getting bigger every year. We need more of these Gardens. Tricycle and Jerusalem connection Gardens have done a wonderful job pioneering this movement but we need more. This should not be a rare thing, we should see gardens like these everyday and everywhere. We all need to make it happen. 

Stay tuned, next week I will blog about two more farms in the Richmond area!

No comments:

Post a Comment