How to Find Land for an Urban Farm

How to Find Land for an Urban Farm - Creative ideas for utilizing vacant lots in your community. Buffalo, NY - Heirloom Soul Florals

I’ve got this gushy dream of being an urban flower farmer, annoyingly shadowed by my severe lack of land I have to grow flowers on. Push being Unemployed and Utterly Broke aside: Not Having Land is currently the biggest conundrum of my life in Buffalo so far.

Planning a farm (or a garden!) is one of the most exciting aspects of the work I do. I’m admittedly a lavish experimentalist (“Let’s try all of these ideas ALL AT THE SAME TIME!”), however – The keen observationalist in me knows what’s working and what isn’t. Knows what to adjust. I walk into a garden and can immediately tell if it’s happy or sad. I can feel a plant’s pain. I’m a real life plant whisperer. This is why my current lack of a farm/garden feels like my soul is being murdered by the heavens above.

How to Find Land for an Urban Farm - Creative ideas for utilizing vacant lots in your community. Buffalo, NY - Heirloom Soul FloralsHow to Find Land for an Urban Farm - Creative ideas for utilizing vacant lots in your community. Buffalo, NY - Heirloom Soul Florals
Claude Monet’s gardens in Giverny, France. I was lucky enough to ride a bicycle here in October.

FYI – SOME THINGS TO CONSIDER WHEN PLANNING A FARM:

  • – What kind of soil treatment do I need? This requires sending soil samples in for testing.
  • – What kind of topsoil removal do I need to perform? (sod, brush, city garbage, etc.) Informs the type of equipment/labor I will need to budget for, both time and money-wise.
  • – What’s the sun pattern like? Informs how many full-sun crops I can actually grow (we’re shooting for full sun here).
  • – How much room do I have for crops? Informs how many different varieties of crops I can plant. Which allows me to confidently start placing seed and tuber orders before all the good shit is out of stock.
  • – How will I lay out crops? How much room do I have for succession planting? Do I have room for veggies too?
  • – How much irrigation equipment do I need to order, and how will I lay it out?
  • – Bigger Question: Where will the water come from?
  • – How much compost do I need and where will I get it delivered from? Depends on size of farm and location.
  • – How many staking materials do I need? Depends on how many crops I can grow that require staking.
  • – Am I allowed to make my own compost/compost tea on site? Otherwise, what am I going to do with the waste?
  • – How much is this land itself going to cost me? Ain’t nobody giving me this for free.
  • – How far away is my land from my home? Informs the amount of time I will spend commuting to and from my farm, which is actually very important in scheduling out my entire life for the next growing season.
  • – Is there a fence or do I need to build one? How much is it going to cost? Depends on size, type of fence needed. Is it in an area where I can get away with just a short bunny-proof fence? Here’s to hoping.
  • – Is there a possibility my farm could be completely vandalized or prematurely harvested in the area it’s in? In which case, forget it.

As you can see, I have a million questions running through my head, literally none of which I can answer until I have a piece of land. It’s all very frustrating and stressful as tomorrow I hear we are about to get a good old fashioned, severe Lake Erie snow dumping (it’s entirely helpful when, selecting a piece of land to grow a farm on, you can actually see it).

How to Find Land for an Urban Farm - Creative ideas for utilizing vacant lots in your community. Buffalo, NY - Heirloom Soul Florals
Can’t wait to grow these girls. #peonies

 

Moving onto my ideas/solutions for finding land.

I feel very privileged to have worked for a non-profit urban farming project in Detroit with Gleaners Community Food Bank. In 2012, I worked on nine urban farms – it was the first time I’d ever planted any seeds or plants. Some of my work days consisted entirely of sweating my ass off in a shadeless field, wearing holey, dirt-crusted jeans doing absolutely nothing but tying tomato plants up on wooden stakes. I sang a lot at that job.

Urban farming has completely changed my outlook on what work “is,” and thus, has altered the view of my very existence on this planet. I can get paid to sow seeds, pick bugs off plants, lay out irrigation lines, and shovel shit, all in a days work to feed disadvantaged communities. I’ve never claimed this work to be glamorous. But at a time where I had no idea where I was going to fit into the workplace, urban farming was my savior. I’ve had the privilege of teaching hundreds of people how to grow their own food. I’ve graced dinner tables with wholesome, organic fruits, vegetables, herbs and florals. Maybe I’ve even encouraged people to eat healthier and cook more of their own meals at home. This is why I trudge on with this current pain in the ass dream of mine.

So, despite the fact that I live next to a beautifully maintained vacant lot (seemingly owned by none other than Lucifer himself), I’m thinking maybe, just maybe, a church or a local business with extra land might be my next move. My experience working with non-profit urban farms has enlightened me to this possibility.

How to Find Land for an Urban Farm - Creative ideas for utilizing vacant lots in your community. Buffalo, NY - Heirloom Soul Florals
Gardens in Champ de Mars in front of Eiffel Tower, October 2017

 

CURRENT IDEAS FOR OBTAINING LAND TO START A FLOWER FARM:

  • – Swoon the guy next door.
  • – Pinpoint local churches that have soup kitchens and a plot of land. I could offer to grow organic vegetables for the soup kitchen in return for space to grow flowers.
  • – Pinpoint any local churches that have plots of land. I could offer to teach workshops to church members on growing food, or even offer a children’s garden for young children to play in during services.
  • – Meet local business owners who have large pieces of full-sun grass (there seem to be lots of this around here). I could offer to grow an edible garden for employees to pick from, and in addition, run a gardening workshop/tour for those employees that are interested.
  • – Meet a homeowner who has a large piece of full-sun grass (again, not lacking in that department here in Metro Buffalo). I could offer to grow them an edible garden, and teach them everything I know about gardening, in return for space to grow flowers. 
  • – Type up a Craigslist ad describing my needs for land and what I’m willing to offer in return (all of the above). I currently have a Craigslist ad up.
  • – Network with the local urban agriculture groups to learn how they’re obtaining land.
  • – Post on Next Door to communicate with immediate neighbors and community members. Perhaps they know someone who has land!  

I’ve begun perusing Google Maps for these types of areas in Buffalo. The internet is my friend:

How to Find Land for an Urban Farm - Creative ideas for utilizing vacant lots in your community. Buffalo, NY - Heirloom Soul Florals

As worrisome as I am at the moment, this whole situation is humorous to me. Coming from the person who wrote an article titled: How to Farm or Garden When You Have No Land Whatsoever.

I’m seriously starting to take my own advice here.

 

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