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Smaller urban farmers think big

Published on March 4, 2011 3:01AM

Last changed on April 1, 2011 7:19AM


Capital Press

VANCOUVER, Wash. -- On the scale between gardeners and large-scale farmers, urban growers are situated well toward the smaller end. But their vision for having an impact on their community is almost unlimited.

From farmers' markets to backyard orchards, Warren Neth pictures "an urban landscape filled with abundance."

Neth, director of the nonprofit Urban Abundance, spoke to about 70 people at two meetings in January and February, presenting them with several opportunities to bring a new structure to a "fragile food system."

Several landowners have offered plots of land for neighborhood gardens, he said, "pocket parks" are available for cultivation, and landscape designers have said they will work pro bono with neighbors who want to plant edible landscaping.

Neth also described a program called "Harvesting the Urban Orchard." Homeowners can register their trees on the Urban Abundance website, then when the fruit is ripe, volunteers show up for harvest.

To attract pollinators, the Wildflower Seedball Workshop assembles ready-to-toss balls of clay, compost and seeds designed to attract 90 varieties of native bees. Neth said one enthusiastic youngster described the process as "roll it, throw it, grow it."

"Some seedballs are sold; some are given away," he said.

Ann Lawrence, who operates a community-supported agriculture program from her Storytree Farm, advised the growers to learn all they can: What grows where, when it grows and how much space and light it needs.

"Chickens and eggs can be sold from your property, too, without needing a USDA sticker," she said.

Two sources of information are experienced growers and the Washington State Department of Agriculture's "Green Book" -- officially the "Small Farm and Direct Marketing Handbook" -- which includes strategies and regulations for the small farmer.

When it comes to marketing, urban farmers can join forces to have a stronger presence, Maika Horjus told the growers. As a volunteer with Urban Agriculture, she envisions a cooperative effort in "growing markets for urban-raised bounty."

Such a co-op would determine standards for growing and would provide services such as administration, accounting and marketing -- "all the structures so you can focus on growing," she said.

A farmers' market is being organized in Vancouver's Uptown Village to operate one Friday a month May through October. A 20 percent consignment fee from co-op members would cover costs for a booth at that market.

Horjus said the co-op is modeled after Grow Memphis, which sells produce on behalf of mostly low-income urban growers in Memphis, Tenn.

"Small-scale growers will have an effective market for their produce, and consumers will have access to fresh, healthy food that's grown right around the corner, as local as it gets," she said.




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