by Connie Oswald Stofko
Cheryl Harris of Buffalo was surprised when she was asked to share her large backyard on Urban Farm Day.
She doesn’t view it as a farm, even though it’s a large space that grows plants in the city. But what else describes an urban farm in Western New York? Like our gardening, our urban farms are innovative, unusual and quirky. One lets you pick your own worms. Another grows microgreens inside. Still another supplies a pay-as-you-can community café.
You can see those and a dozen more on Urban Farm Day this Saturday, Aug. 27. The urban farms will be open 10 a.m.-3 p.m. unless otherwise noted on the list. Some sites will be selling produce, and those are also noted on the list. See the list and descriptions here (scroll to the bottom of that page.)
Urban Farm Day will also offer talks; see the talks at the end of this article.
Let’s take a glimpse at Harris’s urban farm in East Buffalo.
Double lot is like a farm
Harris was 25 and lived in an apartment, but she missed watering a garden. She wanted a house and land.
She found a house, and the lot next door was available, too. Harris bought both lots and knocked down the house on the extra lot.
“I bought it for the land,” Harris said. “I could see that stuff could live here.”
I tried to make a list of everything she grows, but I couldn’t keep up. Fruits include goji berries, kiwis, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries and two kinds of grapes. There are beans in many colors. An odd-shaped Japanese climbing zucchini was just one of six varieties of zucchini. She had 10 or 15 varieties of peppers and about the same number of tomato varieties. There were several varieties of cucumbers, eggplant and carrots. There was also cabbage, kohlrabi, rutabagas, rhubarb, celeriac, Brussels sprouts and sweet potatoes. Herbs included horseradish, lovage, sorrel, basil, tarragon, mint, nasturtium, parsley and oregano.
“It’s not a traditional garden at all,” Harris said. Homestead is the word she uses now to refer to her landscape.
Whether you have a homestead or a garden, of if you would like to start one, you can learn a lot from Harris.
She gave me a tour a couple years ago and emphasized the importance of healthy food.
Gardening and eating healthy food “is a way of taking ownership of your life,” Harris said. “It’s nourishment for your body and soul. It’s just good all around.”
Gardening is a low-cost family activity, and studies show kids will eat what they plant. “My niece will eat of ton of beans– like they’re candy,” she said.
Harris said she has weeds, but most are edible.
“My neighbor thought that the dandelions in the yard were different than the ones in the store,” she said. (They’re not.)
Harris is certified to teach food preservation and Seed to Supper classes (vegetable gardening) by Cornell Cooperative Extension. She shared tips with us on how to grow dozens of sweet potatoes from one.
Now she is launching a new not-for-profit called Wholly Healthy Solutions. Her goal is to teach classes that enable people to live self-sufficiently and to build healthy, sustainable communities.
If you want to have a garden/farm/homestead like Harris’s, here’s a tip: start small. That huge list of plants that she grows now didn’t materialize overnight; it expanded gradually over the span of 20 years.
The first thing she did was to plant grapes in one raised bed.
“I started with what I really liked,” Harris said.
And bonus tip: “You can eat grapes fresh and freeze them.”
Talks on Urban Farm Day
- How the Community Café Model Intersects with Our Local Food System
10 a.m. Big Big Table Community Cafe, 272 Hudson St., Buffalo
Big Big Table is passionate about food rescue, especially surplus, excess or damaged inventory that might otherwise go to waste. Learn more about the national community café model and how it intersects with our local food system through a dynamic daily menu.
- Grow Organically & Team Up With Beneficials
11 a.m. Groundwork Market Garden, 1698 Genesee St., Buffalo
Mayda Pozantides, USDA Certified Organic grower at Groundwork Market Garden, will discuss basic organic practices followed by a walk & talk through the farm with Caitlin Tucker of the Rodale Institute. Participants will learn to identify beneficial insects and how to team up with them in the garden.
- Guided Tour
Noon Massachusetts Avenue Project (MAP), 387 Massachusetts Ave., Buffalo
MAP’s farm manager will offer a tour of the farm and farmhouse, sharing the many aspects of MAP’s work.
- How To Grow Microgreens
1 p.m. Kubed Root, 33 Pannell St. #1, Buffalo
- Equitable Urban Agriculture Policy by UB Food Lab
2:30 p.m. MAP Headquarters, 387 Massachusetts Ave.,
UB’s Food Systems Planning and Healthy Communities Lab (UB Food lab) research group, which studies how people-led local government policy can enhance urban agriculture, will share updates from research in Western New York. The lab team will lead a workshop on the value of centering equity in urban agriculture projects and municipal policies. Participants will also learn about an online tool people can use to obtain data about the WNY food system.