The Growth of the Urban Farming MovementJune 10th, 2011
Flint River Farm is one of more than 200 urban gardeners partnering with the Edible Flint co-op
The Flint Journal
By Sarah Schuch
FLINT, Michigan — What sat as empty lots within the city of Flint littered with trash and pieces of concrete just nine months ago are now blooming with crops and possibilities.
For the first time, the Flint River Farm — the city’s largest urban farm — will soon begin selling its basil beets, blackberries and broccoli.
The farm sits on 16 lots, nearly 2 acres of land on Beach Street between 12th Street and Wellington Avenue. It is filled with at least 35 different types of fruits and vegetables.
Flint residents Joanna Lehrman and Roxanne Adair own three of the lots and began leasing the others in January from the Genesee County Land Bank to create the Flint River Farm.
The business partners, who operate the farm on a $90,000 one-year Ruth Mott Foundation grant, have worked the land since September, starting with cleanup — hauling away trucks full of garbage, cutting down trees burned when houses on the lots were demolished and preparing the land to spring new life.
“I think both of us got to the point that when we put the hoop house up (three weeks ago) we were close to tears (we were so happy),” said Adair, 27.
Lehrman, 26, grew up in New York City and received a certificate in organic farming from Michigan State University in 2009 after a 12-month course. Before that she worked at an organic farm in Vermont and a nonprofit farm in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Adair grew up in Flint and studied biology at University of Michigan-Flint. In 2009, Adair became the urban gardening coordinator for the Genesee County Land Bank.
Lehrman decided to try her hand at urban farming in Flint at the start of 2010. She met Adair when she began looking for land in the fall of 2009.
As business partners, Lehrman and Adair first started Flint River Farm on a lot on Ann Arbor Street last year, but they really wanted to see the farm expand.
For them the farm is about growing the food locally and showing that fresh produce can be grown in an urban setting.
“I’ve seen a lot of people and I’ve seen the need,” Adair said. “There’s a need for the jobs this could create, the knowledge on how do it, need for food and use of the (vacant) land.”
Lehrman said it’s the most valuable thing she can do with her time.
“It’s just something that is needed and necessary,” Lehrman said. “I can’t think of myself doing anything else. … We have the ability to transform landscapes.”
Adair and Lehrman plan to bring their produce to the Flint’s Farmers Market beginning June 30, selling at their own stand Thursdays and with the Edible Flint co-op Saturdays.
“This is a long-term investment,” she said. “We have lots of people ask gardening questions while they are driving by. … We have people come by and hang out all the time. The neighborhood watches out for us.”
In the neighborhood — plagued with empty lots and vacant homes and businesses — about a mile south of downtown Flint, Lehrman and Adair hope to fill some of the void with new growth opportunities.
Michael Jefferson, 40, who has lived in the neighborhood the majority of his life said he welcomes the farm, which is a block from his house.
“All of this was a really, really nice area once upon a time. … I’m glad somebody’s doing something other than have if just sit here. It’s beautiful,” Jefferson said. “All of Flint can benefit from this. There’s plenty of empty space.
“It’s local. I wouldn’t mind spending money on it. I’ve seen it grow.”
The growing urban farming movement doesn’t include Flint River Farm alone.
Terry McLean, horticulture educator for the MSU Extension and contact person for the Edible Flint co-op, said Edible Flint was involved with 200 urban gardeners in 2010 and the number is expected to be much higher this year.
Those gardens range from a backyard plots to a few city lots, she said.
Flint River Farm was only the second group — the first being Harvesting Earth Educational Farm in Beecher — to have a lease-to-own option from the Genesee County Land Bank.
“We think it’s a good way of putting vacant property to good use,” said Doug Weiland, Genesee County Land Bank executive director. “One of the things that we’re concerned with is making sure vacant properties are repurposed to make them more attractive to the neighborhood. … (Adair and Lehrman) are out there doing quite a good job.”
Even a small one lot garden can inspire adjacent neighbors to improve the look of their property, he said. And with a wave of applications coming into the Land Bank to use lots for gardening, the enthusiasm is catching on, Weiland said.
Adair said an urban farm or garden can really impact the community.
“It’s amazing how much of a difference looking at something pretty can make, even in people’s attitude,” she said.
For more information, visit the Flint River Farm Facebook page or check out their blog at flintriverfarmers.blogspot.com.