a little late to the party: lovely Detroit urban farmer profile from @dirtysabot on @grist

I’ve long been a fan of Earthworks Urban Farm in Detroit, and farm manager Patrick Crouch was my first tour guide there. This charming interview with local urban farmer Edith Floyd encapsulates exactly what led me to cover urban farming in the first place: Normal people, living in neighborhoods, passionate about good food and growing it.

It reminds me of how Gabrielle Hamilton writes about finding a toothless Italian vecchio with his fly open, a farmer selling freshly grown food off the back of a cart, in Blood, Bones and Butter. She disses the sleek, hair-gelled young’uns selling at the fancy farmers market and instead swoons for the old man because he reminds her of:

…A time when we just grew it and cooked it and ate it and didn’t talk so much about it. When we didn’t crow all over town about our artisanal, local, organic fwa fwa. We just went to the farm and bought the milk. (p. 242)

And that’s sort of the weird, unsung link between the foodie world and so many of the people I meet in my reporting: It’s not that people don’t want to eat well, or that they don’t care about our meals. They’d just rather not be expected to base their identity on it, and go to the farm and buy the milk.

This is an inclination, as you can probably tell from my reporting, that I find utterly charming.

When Detroit Says ‘Eat Local,’ It Really Means It

The Atlantic • Oct. 28, 2010

The bed of watercress beneath chef Andy Hollyday’s barbecued pork belly? Local. The ruby-hued crabapple jelly made by the Detroit Zymology Guild? That too. And the pectin for the preserves, the sorrel in Brother Nature Produce’s salad, the scarlet beets and crisp dilly beans hand-pickled by Suddenly Sauer. In fact, the food offered by Detroit’s hottest restaurateurs and food vendors at Home Slice, a recent benefit for Detroit’s contemporary art museum, could probably have been found any food-conscious event in the country. But—this being Detroit—there was a unique twist: For the Motor City’s food vanguard, “local” isn’t measured in miles, but in city blocks. Continue reading “When Detroit Says ‘Eat Local,’ It Really Means It”

An Urban Farming Pioneer Sows His Own Legacy

New York Times • May 18, 2010

John Ameroso didn’t hoe the rows of vegetables that help feed the Bronx at the Padre Plaza Success Garden in the borough’s Mott Haven section. He didn’t pick any tomatoes from the vines at the Brooklyn Rescue Mission’s farm. And he didn’t turn the composting bins that kept East New York Farms! fertile ground for collards, cilantro and chard.

But he’s responsible for all of it, along with the rest of more than 18 tons of produce grown in city lots for market last year. Continue reading “An Urban Farming Pioneer Sows His Own Legacy”

Beets in the Hood

Mother Jones • March/April 2009

Forget organic and locally grown food—in America’s poorest urban neighborhoods, it’s hard to find any affordable fruits and vegetables at all. Six grocery stores serve South Los Angeles’ population of 688,000. West Oakland has no supermarkets but close to 60 liquor store. But thanks to former NBA draft pick Will Allen, a couple of American cities are experiencing a produce renaissance.

Continue reading “Beets in the Hood”

The Saveur 100: Item 3. Garden Cities

Saveur • February 2009

The distance from farm to table in American cities is getting shorter. In parks, in vacant lots and even on the grounds of abandoned factories, urban gardens and farms are growing better food than their commercial counterparts and bringing fresh produce to lower-income neighborhoods where markets are often scarce. In Milwaukee, for instance, an organization called Growing Power, established in 1993 but the former pro basketball player Will Allen created a two-acre urban farm whose organic produce is as popular with the community as it is with the city’s chefs. (Allen was awarded a MacArthur “genius grant” for his efforts in 2008.) In Detroit, the Garden Resource Program has turned vacant lots into over 100 gardens, where local residents grow spinach, garlic and more. Farms are also popping up in cities where cheap real estate is scarce. In Brooklyn, New York, the Red Hook Community Farm supplies a Community Supported Agriculture club from its three acres, and in Boston, the Food Project has encouraged official to incorporate food gardens into community development plans. The dividend for these urban communities? Better access to fresh food, and a sure path to delicious meals.

Continue reading “The Saveur 100: Item 3. Garden Cities”

Urban Farms

Contribute • June 2008

For years, urban dwellers have tinkered with window-box and roof-deck gardens, toiling to transform small patches of empty land behind brownstones and beneath skyscrapers into bounty.

But now, there’s something bigger growing out of those neighborhood plots. More and more people—and most notably, nonprofit health advocates—are creating urban farms to promote healthier and less expensive local alternatives to corporate processed foods. Continue reading “Urban Farms”

Urban Farmers’ Crops Go From Vacant Lot to Market

New York Times • May 7, 2008

In the shadows of the elevated tracks toward the end of the No. 3 line in East New York, Brooklyn, with an April chill still in the air, Denniston and Marlene Wilks gently pulled clusters of slender green shoots from the earth, revealing a blush of tiny red shallots at the base.

“Dennis used to keep them big, and people didn’t buy them,” Mrs. Wilks said. “They love to buy scallions.”

Growing up in rural Jamaica, the Wilkses helped their families raise crops like sugar cane, coffee and yams, and take them to market. Now, in Brooklyn, they are farmers once again, catering to their neighbors’ tastes: for scallions, for bitter melons like those from the West Indies and East Asia and for cilantro for Latin-American dinner tables. Continue reading “Urban Farmers’ Crops Go From Vacant Lot to Market”

Digging Deeper

Plenty • Aug. 3, 2007

When Will Allen was offered a buyout from his job at Procter and Gamble in 1982, he knew exactly what to do with the corporate cash: Buy a farm. Allen dropped $80,000 on 100 acres south of Milwaukee’s airport, and eventually added a couple of acres within city limits.

Today, the 58-year-old has 25 years of urban agriculture experience under his belt—and he’s put it to good use. As the executive director of Growing Power, an urban agriculture group, Allen oversees a wide array of innovative programs that have made the organization one of the country’s preeminent teaching institutions for city-based, grassroots farming practices. “Our strength is in inspiring people to get up off the planning table,” he says. Continue reading “Digging Deeper”