I know it’s been a long while since I’ve updated this lil’ blog. So, let me catch you up to speed:
Jim and I have our very own farm!
It’s not exactly Grandma’s farm… but it is close to home.
It’s our farm (or farm-to-be). In the city.
When we moved back to Minneapolis, we envisioned digging up the backyard, side-yard and front yard to grow as much food as possible for ourselves and maybe a few neighbors, you might remember my earlier post on this. If nothing else, we’d have plenty of canned goods for next year’s holiday gifts. Then, just as we were getting our hands dirty splicing up the backyard, expanding the chicken wire and planting the garlic for her long winter rest under the soil sheets of earth, we received a call.
Our dear friends, John and Jennifer, invited us to visit their one acre vacant lot across the street from the California Arts Building in NE Minneapolis. The lot is approximately 8 blocks from our house. They were interested in finding farmers, or urban gardeners, who could cultivate the land into a space for food production. They were interested in us not only because we are friends but also because we had just returned from a year of farming on 33 acre organic farm. We took one look at the vacant lot, sprawling out against railroad tracks, woods and concrete, covered in tall grass and trash, and immediately said YES, we’ll take it!
What fills me with hope and joy are people like Jennifer and John, who could have easily decided to develop this land with more buildings or storefronts, or whatever, but instead decided they would rather like to see food grown here. They believe it is “good for the village.” And I couldn’t agree more. The soil tests returned with overwhelmingly positive results–well, for the city that is. There’s no lead or toxic chemicals in the soil. We took numerous soil samples back in December and had them all tested through the University of Minnesota. Although, the soil is full of grass seed and completely lacking in nutrient– that’s all amendable!
So, just over three months back in Minnesota and we have a real -urban- farm. Careful what you ask for!
Jim–who has the most diligent, disciplined work ethic of any man I’ve ever known–has been working non-stop preparing for the season ahead. OR, rather, the season that’s abruptly arrived in MN the beginning of March. We ordered thousands of dollars worth of manure to build up the soil beds and to cultivate delicious ground for the plants. We built a greenhouse (ok, mostly Jim, but I did help!), measured our planting beds on the lot in the middle of winter with measuring tape and fell asleep with seed catalogs in January. We’ve bookmarked hundreds of sites, watched YouTube video-how-tos and checked out loads of books from the library. We’ve ordered thousands of seeds (you should see the seed spreadsheet Jim has on his computer for the flow of the season! …everything from when to start the seeds, germination, maturation, crop rotations…etc.); we’ve gleaned materials, borrowed tillers, and today as I write this, Jim is putting up shelving units in the basement with grow lights and heating pads. On Monday we’ll transfer the first starts to the greenhouse. I registered our LLC, am working on a CSA brochure, ordered the business cards, am coordinating the volunteers, figuring out budgets and trying to build us a website. An enlarged, poster-size aerial view of our farm hangs on the wall across from our bed (our office at the moment). Below it hangs a big farm calendar with dates and deadlines. I feel like we just became parents of a very large endeavor and didn’t even get 9 months to prepare for it! Most of our conversation as a couple revolves around farm-talk or disagreements over which varieties of tomatoes to grow. We are trying to find the right balance of being business partners and life partners. And I wonder how couples manage to do it all sometimes…? There are many couples who I deeply admire who seem to meld work, life, art and family. Since Jim and I are relatively new to this, let us know how you do it! Jim just informed me we’ll start the alliums, eggplants and peppers first. Right now, I’m craving arugula.
I realize it’s only an acre and we came straight from a 33-acre farm, however, there are new challenges when you begin to build a farm from scratch in the city. Water and refrigeration are two problems we’re working through. There’s currently no water source on the farm. This means setting up some contraption and irrigation, tapping into city water (expensive!) or hauling it over…. We’re really not quite sure how we’re going to do it yet but we’re determined to make it work. We’ll also have rodents and squirrels, rabbits and cats to deal with. But it’s nothing new. People have been growing food in cities for a very long time. We are resolute in our goals to localize our food economy, minimize our carbon footprint and provide accessible, fresh produce to our neighborhood.
The backyard vision has transformed into the fruit production area. Our goal–modeled after Finnriver’s CSA–is to provide vegetable and fruit as part of our Community Supported Agriculture package. En route, we have blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, melons, a plum tree and soon hope to add cranberries and apples! The fruit, as perennial, will take longer, but we hope to be able to offer some fruit this year and much more fruit in the years to come.
As I sit here, planning, dreaming and worrying about our little city-farm, I think it’s important to recognize that this farm is in the middle of an urban environment and to understand what this means. We are not in the middle of a rural setting, or isolated from an urban landscape and so it’s vital for us to integrate into the neighborhood, to become a part of the greater whole. I believe we are the stewards now of this land, that we will cultivate beautiful soil, food, art and community… but I do not believe I “own” this farm. Indeed, I do not. This is the neighborhood’s farm. And because of this, we will also protect a space to gather community, host neighborhood meetings, present performance, art, poetry, music and most importantly have pizza nights! I hope this farm will feed neighborhood families and children fresh fruit and vegetables for years to come. I hope it will be a place where anyone who wants to, can come learn how to grow their own food, get their hands dirty, and be embolden.
Oh yes, we’re calling it, California Street Farm.
On a love note- Jim and I first met six (seven?) years ago performing in a play in the California Arts Building! We played opposite each other as husband and wife in Shakespeare’s Coriolanus. You couldn’t have paid me enough money then to believe what we have now.
On an awesome note- we recently discovered (thanks to Jim’s mentor, farmer Don) these amazingly cool boxes for turning a room into a walk-in refrigerator. And they have the best name ever, Cool Bot. Check it out!
Here’s what the farm looks like today. Winter.