Urban Dirt and Design–Chapter 2

Doebele Fellow Charlotte Leib (MLA '18) and Barbara Knecht (LF ‘93) have an aggressive schedule for completing an Urban Farm Design Manual, commissioned by the Urban Farming Institute of Boston. By mid-August, they are aiming to have a full illustrated manuscript, which, when published, will provide farmers with creative strategies for designing farms in cities, while helping policymakers to understand the value of urban farming for healthy communities. Despite the upcoming project deadline, Leib took the time to blog about the process and what they are learning.

A few weeks ago, Barbara, my fellowship advisor, and I drove out to Western Massachusetts to visit some urban farms as part of our research for the Urban Farm Design Manual. While urban farming in Boston is still relatively new, in Western Massachusetts it is well-established thanks to community support, ease of access to land and a dedicated group of activist-designers and farmers. Barbara and I were lucky enough to have one of these activist-designers, Keith Zaltzberg, as our tour guide for the day.

We began our urban farm tour in Springfield, MA, where we met Ibrahim Ali, Co-Director for Youth and Programs at Gardening the Community, a food justice organization dedicated to building healthy, equitable communities through youth development. We visited two of Gardening the Community’s farm sites: one which has been farmed over the past three years, and another which is currently being developed into the organization’s center of operations. The difference between these two sites was marked. The first site was developed over time in response to different needs, while the newer site has been designed from the beginning. The designed site, when complete, will have a greenhouse that operates year round, which will completely transform the way Gardening the Community serves the City of Springfield.

That afternoon, we visited Florence Organic Community Garden in Northampton, MA, which was designed by our tour guide, Keith and his firm, the Regenerative Design Group. We also visited Nuestras Raices Farm in Holyoke, MA, which was founded in 1992 by immigrant farmers from Puerto Rico. After a quick tour of the extensive operations at Nuestras Raices, we visited a much smaller, 1/10-acre farm near Holyoke. This Food Forest Farm, which was featured in the New York Times in 2013, feeds two families of three, and is teeming with vines, trees, fruit, birds and insects. As I shook the hand of the bearded, benevolent-looking man who founded the farm, I realized that I had met him before. Yes – Jonathan Bates! He had taught me about Edible Forest Gardening when I was working in Vermont at Yestermorrow Design/Build School.

At that moment, standing in the shade of a paw-paw tree, I felt a tremendous wave of gratitude for people like Jonathan, Keith, Ibrahim, and Barbara, who are always willing to teach – and inspire – the people around them. It is through the willingness of these inspiring teachers that the culture of agriculture continues to grow in our cities.


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