Urban Farming: We’re not in Kansas Any more

The newest buzz words in environmentalism and local food are urban farming, but what exactly is it? According to Jessica Knapp, outreach director for the Southside Community Land Trust (SCLT), based in Providence, the basic definition is simple: growing food in an urban area.
And that covers a broad spectrum of activities. For Camille Morrison-Pfeiffer, a self described farm activist, it means growing fruit trees, berries and vegetables, and keeping chickens, ducks and pheasants on her half-acre lot. “One of the things that I emphasize is growing food everywhere, vertically outside of buildings, on roofs – there are so many ways to grow food. We really should be more connected to our food. Our food shouldn’t just come from [the grocery store].”
For others, like Knapp, it means working with community gardens and making use of what you have. “[It’s] a unique opportunity for high-yield growing and an opportunity to get the most bang for your buck.” That can start with something as simple as a tomato plant on the porch. “Everyone has a tiny piece of land, even if it’s only a patio. And you can have a relationship with some little piece of nature or food,” notes Morrison-Pfeiffer.
Like any endeavor, there are struggles. For one, land is an issue since it is in high demand and can be difficult for new farmers to afford, says Knapp. There also can be issues with lead in the soil, which could be a health hazard, Knapp cautions. Urban farmers also can face restrictions from local ordinances regarding keeping chickens or bees or taking part in other activities that are considered farming.
That’s where places like the SCLT come in. “Growing food is a practice that requires a lot of support,” says Knapp. The organization has three goals: to provide access to land, access to education and access to resources. To that end, the organization offers workshops, supplies compost to its members and works with the community to find available land. It also can help with things like soil testing. On August 10, the SCLT will have its Open Garden Day, which will provide opportunities to visit multiple sites throughout the city to see what’s going on in urban farms.
There’s also the Providence Community Growers Network, of which Morrison-Pfieffer is a board member through the SCLT that, as described on its website, “provides access to gardening resources, education and community building for its members, helping gardeners in Providence grow more food.”
But the idea has broader support, too. Both Knapp and Morrison-Pfeiffer praise the city of Providence and the mayor’s office for their efforts with urban farming initiatives. “The good news is that Providence has seen a lot of support and [we’ve seen] the community getting excited about growing their own food,” says Knapp. She says the mayor’s office has been working in partnership with the SCLT to convert unused city land to urban farming areas.
“Providence is pretty progressive,” says Morrison-Pfeiffer. “It’s the old way changing. They wanted to make everything nice and streamlined [back in the 1950s] and now we have to get back to our human roots as animals. We live on the earth that is alive.” Even with the work involved, both Knapp and Morrison-Pfeiffer are enthusiastic about the benefits of urban farming. “It increases access to healthy fruit and vegetables for areas that don’t always have access to healthy food,” says Knapp, also noting that even small community garden plots bring people together, increasing neighborhood awareness and pride. Farming also helps repair damaged soil, improves the land and provides space for storm water retention, she says.
For Morrison-Pfeiffer, it’s also about protecting our environment. What she doesn’t want is for people to expand food production into the last green, wild spaces. “Ultimately, it’s about our future if we still want to have a planet we can enjoy. We have to stop poisoning the land and killing the birds, the butterflies and the bees. What’s simpler than picking a fresh tomato from a pot outside and eating it? We have to change if we want to have an earth we can stand.” All that for the price of a pot or two on your porch seems like a pretty good bargain.
For more information on the SCLT, go to or check out Morrison-Pfeiffer’s Facebook group “p.e.c.k.” (People Encouraging Chicken Keeping) for updates on the world of urban chickens.

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