Vacant lots to Abundant Farms: Water collecting, composting, and seed saving to turn vacant lots into self-sustaining community gardens and businesses.
So far this year, huge progress has been made. What began as a patch of grass is now an incredibly productive urban farm. We set out right as the ground thawed to start tilling and remediating the soil. With help from local volunteers, we brought in tons (literally) of compost and mixed it in with our clay-filled soil. As soon as the year kicked off, kids from the neighborhood flocked to the garden to help, along with several other young men and women and a few retired neighbors. We installed our water collection structure and outfitted the greenhouse with gutters to collect water. We installed a large compost bin to hold compost for anyone setting it aside.
At the end of April we held our planting day barbecue where over 20 people came to help plant and learn techniques for their own gardens.
With May came true spring beauty and lots of opportunity. We made our appearance at Meadowbrook Elementary School and talked with the fourth and fifth grade students about planting, pollinators, and all things gardening. By the end of May, seedlings had emerged and the opportunity to show techniques for mulching was at hand. At this time we were still relying on water we had brought in, as it was not a particularly wet spring.
By June, rain had filled our barrels and the plants were growing vigorously. We have since had full barrels and no need to bring in water. In June we held several more barbecues, our 6th or 7th by that time, and had really begun to establish a positive relationship with the community.
In mid-June, summer break had begun for the kids, and so their presence increased ten-fold. We started to see them out every day, with their grateful parents telling us the garden was all they talked about. This is also about the time we got an invite from the Discovery World Institute here in Milwaukee to do a talk for MAWIB (Milwaukee Area Work Investment Board) on urban farming. The audience would be 16-18 year old kids from various local organizations.
In July, we began selling at a local market. We have since been gaining a huge reputation, with sales increasing every week. Early in the month, our local alderman came to visit the garden and was ecstatic to see the progress we’d made in the neighborhood.
With August came the onset of the harvest. Since the start of the month, we have been non-stop harvesting and processing. With that, the opportunity to show what can be done with garden food arrived. Our Monthly barbecues have been a huge success, with average guest numbers being around 25 or more.
We set out this year with many goals.
-Spread knowledge and increase the number of home gardens in the community
-Water only with collected rain water
-Create new relationships between neighbors, different age groups, and the business owner
-Establish a successful local business
-Promote the use of sustainable food production methods
I am very pleased to share our overwhelming successes. There have been so many it is easiest to organize them by month.
-All 3000+ sq. ft. of growing space was installed and the soil amended
-Water collection structure was completed
-The first of our many regular visitors became friends
-Planting day barbecue with an amazing turnout of volunteers
-We helped with advising and installing a garden for a neighbor
-We were able to move from water brought in to water collected
-Our first in-school talk for a fourth and fifth grade class
-Our demonstration day barbecues
-We were invited to Discovery World to talk on urban farming and business opportunities for youth
-Many volunteers became friends
-Our engagement of the community paid off and our first day market sales were great
-Our local alderman paid us a visit and was incredibly enthused by our success
-Our crops were growing like a wildfire
-Connections were made with a longtime local business owner and ideas for collaborations were initiated
-We made our presentation to Discovery World and were met with resounding support and curiosity from the kids
-Harvest yields exceeded all hopes
-Interest in the farm and its products continues to increase
-Interest in The Good Stuff speaking at churches and schools continues to surface
-Seed saving has begun
-Plans to install another farm for a local business owner are underway
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
Not only have there been several home gardens installed in the neighborhood with our input and advice, but plans from community members to increase existing gardens are well underway. Since late May, we have not had to input any water into our system, making it completely self reliant. This is a model for others interested in a self sustaining urban farm. Many kids have left the farm knowing not only that they do indeed like broccoli or greens, but also how to grow it if they’d like to. Due to our discussion at Discovery World, I believe many more of our youth in Milwaukee will consider not only looking into starting a business for a career, but also many more are aware of sustainable food production as a necessity in the future. Finally, our main project goal has now been addressed. We were looking to create a model that could be replicated by other business owners. We are now working with another local business to install another model urban farm for her business. Work will begin this fall and continue next spring. The farm will be much like our own and will be used as a place to bring in neighbors and other business owners and share ways to sustainably grow a business. We expect it to be a huge success and to spur other business into looking at similar options.