By Griffin Jones
There’s a reason most of us love the IDEA of urban farming. It’s the idea of turning nothing into something. It’s the core of urban renewal. It’s productive. It’s healthful. And it’s usually started with little to no outside funding. Living the idea is another story.
“We have a very different life from most Americans,” said Mark and Janice Stevens. They began their Wilson St. Farm six years ago. They moved from a rural area in Wyoming County after connecting with people through their home church group. The family found a lovely house in the Broadway-Fillmore district with a sizable plot of land around the back for homesteading.
According to Mark, the house and land “had everything we needed to transfer our lifestyle from there to here. There’s not many cities that we could do this in. For the people who have what they really want to do in life, but aren’t going to make that much money from it, Buffalo is the perfect place for that.”
Janice talked about how they’ve come to be accepted by their neighbors. At first people thought they were Amish but “we genuinely had an interest in everybody.”
Mark added “I think we’ve earned our place here. Treat everybody like they’re a valuable human being, and they’ll generally respond.”
Mark and Janice agreed that “Our vision for urban farming is small farms in the midst of people who are excited about it. They would be the center of vibrant communities.”
That’s a radical departure from our food economics today. But is there any other way to control the food we eat? We’re more weary of consuming chemicals with our food. We’re suspicious of government definitions of organic. “If you’re really interested in real, good, food, you have to know where your sources are,” Mark concludes.
The Wilson Street Farm defines organic as, “We’re going to farm by learning from nature. Nature always wants to come into balance with itself,” There is a role for the consumer here, as well. We usually want our food to look perfect but as Janice offers, “Most of nature is not perfect.”
Urban agriculture isn’t simple. The Stevens family has years of experience. Most of us won’t make the true commitment needed to be fully involved in it. But I do believe we can help the people that have. I asked what that is.
“We have volunteer days the second Saturday of each month,” Janice replied. “We’ll give you a job,” Well, volunteer Saturdays are over until April or March, so there must be something else we can do. Organic farmers seem to need all the compost they can get. There are residential composting programs through the Farmer Pirates Cooperative.
“The purpose of the co-op is to make it easier for the average Joe to get into it,” said Mark. Janice suggested that getting involved with community gardens is also a good way to learn. “You have to ask a LOT of questions,” she said.
We may not know how to build urban farms, but we can at least help the Stevens family and the other urban farmers in Buffalo who do. They are the small farms in our midst, we are the people who are excited about it.