Community Farm Project
The city of Bloomington Department of Parks and Recreation has given the Community Farm Project a garden space in the Crestmont Park adjacent to the Crestmont Housing Project, the home of many of our gardeners. We utilized six thousand square feet of the available space for garden plots during the 1997 season and have the option to expand to a total garden size of ten thousand square feet in the future. Gardeners used plots of two hundred square feet to grow vegetable crops, herbs, and flowers. Despite poor soil conditions, gardeners used interplanting, successive plantings, and raise rows to produce crops throughout the growing season. By rotational plantings, the incorporation of soil amendments, and the planting of a cover crop of winter rye at season’s end, we have greatly improved the tilth and organic content of this urban disturbed soil. We used applications of soil sulfur to acidify the soil which had an initial pH of 7.6.
The Monroe County Commissioners have given us the use of one acre of land adjacent to the youth Shelter which we will put into production next year. The soil there is much superior to that at the Crestmont site but utilization has had to await the installation of a water line which is currently in progress.
Prior to the receipt of the SARE grant the Community Farm Project had no land of its own under cultivation but used organic garden space in a city community garden.
PROJECT DESCRIPTION AND RESULTS
The goal of the Community Farm Project as stated in the grant application was to provide low income families with the training and opportunity to engage in the production of food for personal use, for sale, and for the use of the Community Kitchen.
The original intention of the project was to facilitate the establishment of a community supported agriculture operation by participants. Subsequent research on the logistics and success rates of CSA’s operating in Indiana led us to change our focus to a diversified marketing strategy. During our first season of operating under the grant only one of our gardeners produced enough surplus food to sell. She sold through the Bloomington Community Farmer’s Market. During the coming season our gardeners will have the opportunity to sell to three area restaurants, to a local organic food store, and through the farmer’s market. The restaurants and food store have worked with use in planning what to plant in the coming year and have given good estimates of quantities and varieties of produce which they will be able to use in their operations.
Because of poor soil conditions at the Crestmont garden site we have spent a great amount of time and effort on soil improvement. It also became apparent that our gardeners had little or no knowledge of basic gardening techniques mush less of sustainable practices. Realizing that we had to provide our gardeners with more information than could be disseminated by the on site coordinator during gardening hours, we have designed a curriculum utilizing materials from SARE, SAN, ATTRA, and the Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service. In February our gardeners will have 12 hours of classroom education in organic agriculture and sustainable agriculture practices. This will be supplemented by on site instruction during the gardening season. We have been fortunate in that our gardening operation has been perceived by our community partners (e.g. Bloomington Department of Parks and Recreation, Monroe County Commissioners, Bloomington Housing Authority, Bloomingfoods, Uptown Café, Laughing Planet Restaurant, and Tortilla Flat Restaurant) as a positive force in the community.
The director of operations for the Bloomington Department of Parks and Recreation has reported a significant decrease in vandalism and an increase in community usage of Crestmont Park since the advent of the Community Farm Project at the Crestmont site. He has offered to make the site accessible to gardeners with disabilities and to construct raised beds at the site. Consequently we have begun a partnership with Options for Better Living, a local organization which assists people with developmental disabilities to become integrated into the community. Next year gardeners with disabilities and their job coaches will be an integral part of our project.
Another partner in our project, the Hoosier Hills Food Bank has begun a major composting operation which will augment our on site composting (where we recycle garden waste and food waste form the Community Kitchen). The food bank will compost food waste from their operations with leaves collected by the city of Bloomington. The Monroe County Master Gardener Association has become involved in our on site educational efforts which will be of great benefit when we move to production at two sites next year. Despite a rough beginning our project has prospered. Our gardeners have become convinced by experience of the practicality of using sustainable agricultural practices in food production and are looking forward to the coming year. Next year is full of promise and should enable us to realize fully our goal.
In addition to reports to our partners in the community we have used newspaper articles and speaking engagements at the meetings of community organizations to disseminate information about our project. Through email we have shared our experiences with the project with other similar projects throughout North America. In September we gave a brief presentation on the project at the national meeting of the American Community Gardening Association in Indianapolis. Our great outreach opportunities are in the future. In March we will have the opportunity to present the curriculum developed for the Community Farm Project at the national meeting of SARE in Austin. In September we will give a full report of the project at the American Community Gardening Association national meeting in Seattle. Our brochure for the project has been awaiting approval of the Community Kitchen Board of Directors which should be given at the January meeting.