Columbus’ urban agriculture industry is growing

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Urban farm
Marcie Todd, owner of urban agriculture venture Freshtown Farm on the South Side of Columbus. The farm is located on a plot of land that formerly housed three vacant homes and now grows several varieties of plants, herbs, fruits and vegetables. (Tracy Turner/Ohio State College of Food, Agriculture, and Environmental Sciences photo)

(Scroll down for The Columbus Urban Farm Tour Series dates and locations)

COLUMBUS — For Mark VanFleet, down on the farm is actually a formerly vacant lot in a residential neighborhood on the South Side of Columbus.

His one-half acre plot grows row upon row of vegetables, including lettuce, tomatoes, carrots, turnips, cucumbers, garlic, basil, dill, chard and kale.

Known as Harriet Gardens, the lot provides enough for the full-time urban farmer to sell his produce to 15 local restaurants and at least three farmers’ markets.

“I never thought I’d grow up to be a farmer — I’d never even gardened until my wife and I bought our house 10 years ago and planted a small plot in the backyard,” said VanFleet, as he harvested carrots out of his Merion Village farm.

“I like living in the city and didn’t want to move, so turning this vacant urban lot into a farm has been wonderful. Its small size is manageable for my experience and its location is close to home. Plus the neighbors love it.”

Urban farmer workshop

VanFleet is one of several growers that have graduated from the Ohio Master Urban Farmer workshop series offered by the College of Food, Agriculture, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES) at Ohio State University.

The course, developed by Ohio State University Extension, teaches the basics of farming in an urban environment. Topics include soil testing for urban sites, choosing a farm location, basic plant science, marketing produce, and zoning and legal issues associated with farming in urban and residential areas.

Agriculture is a booming industry in many urban centers across Ohio and nationwide, said Mike Hogan, an OSU Extension agriculture and natural resources educator who works with the program to increase the number of urban farmers.

Urban farms

Columbus was home to only five urban farms just four years ago. Now there are at least 30, said Hogan.

“Not only have entrepreneurs been able to benefit from starting their own farm business in the heart of city neighborhoods, but people in the neighborhoods have benefited from having access to fresh, healthy foods grown nearly in their backyards.”

OSU Extension’s Franklin County office and the Columbus Urban Farmers Network will hold tours of five urban farms this summer to highlight the work urban farmers are doing and to educate consumers on the possibilities of urban farming.

The Columbus Urban Farm Tour Series tours generally last about two hours and will take consumers from farms on the South Side of Columbus, to urban plots in Franklinton and the Linden area, to urban food enterprises on the East Side of Columbus.

Giving back

One of the farms on the tour is Freshtown Farm, run by Ohio Master Urban Farmer alumna, Marcie Todd. Her urban farm is situated on a plot of land in Vassor Village near South High School that formerly housed three vacant homes.

She grows at least 70 different varieties of produce at the South Side location and on a larger plot she farms in Pataskala, enough to sustain a 30-customer Community Supported Agriculture business, as well as sell to several local restaurants and two farmer’s markets.

Todd also produces enough food to donate to local food banks and give back to the community.

“I find a lot of value farming in the neighborhood and working in the community in which I also live,” she said.  “In addition to being able to earn a living and run my own business, part of the privilege of urban farming is being able to produce healthy foods for people that live here too.”

Another benefit of urban farming is the boost that it offers neighborhoods, Hogan said.

“Several developers have reached out to OSU Extension Franklin County to find out how they can start urban farms in many of the communities they are developing, because more and more people are viewing urban farming as an attractive amenity,” he said.

“People want access to fresh, healthy, local foods, and urban farming is a valuable, viable option to supply that demand.”

Tours

The following is a list of tour dates, locations and topics for the Urban Farm Tour. All tours are free to attend.

  • July 10, 4-5:30 p.m., Harriet Gardens, 42 W. Jenkins Ave.
  • July 14, 10-11:30 a.m., Vacant lots become productive, Magic House Farm, 120 N. Yale Ave.
  • July 26, 10 a.m.-noon, Farming in residential neighborhoods, Fresh Town Farm, 1282 Ann St.
  • Aug. 19, noon-1:30 p.m., Urban garden serving the homeless, Friends of the Homeless Garden, 924 E. Main St.
  • Aug. 23, 10:30 a.m.-noon, aquaculture and vegetable farm, Project AquaStar Farm at St. Stephens Community Center, 1500 E. 17th Ave.

For more information on the tours or the Ohio Master Urban Farmer Workshop Series, contact Hogan at 614-866-6900 or hogan.1@osu.edu.

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