From the Pot to the Plot
Urban Farms Are a Growing Business
article by P. Allen Smith
I grew up in a family that worked hard to grow their own produce. My grandparents, uncles, and aunts farmed. They had a keen ability to grow almost anything. It was an inspiration to a little guy like me to see these things being grown, and it made an indelible mark on me.
It seems that the past few years have seen a sort of resurgence in popularity of enjoying fresh, seasonal produce. Whether it’s growing your own produce in a few pots on the patio, or shopping the local farmers market on the weekend, we want fresh food, we want to know where it comes from, and we want to get to know the people who grow it. Urban farming is quickly becoming part of this movement
Simply put, urban farming is growing or producing food in the city or a heavily populated area. Imagine a concrete jungle turned green with lush, fresh produce. This may sound like community gardening, but urban farming is different in that it assumes a form of commerce rather than growing produce for personal consumption. Produce is either sold to local restaurants or directly to consumers through farmers markets, retail stores, or community supported agriculture (CSA) programs.
Those involved in this movement are at the front lines of the food system. They’re increasing access to locally-grown food while educating people about what grows seasonally in their area. Little Rock Urban Farming (LRUF) is just one of a handful of such farms cropping up across the state. Chris Hiryak, executive director of LRUF (LittleRockUrbanFarming.com), sees LRUF as helping the community experience fresh food in a new way.
“We want people to think and act differently about their food,” says Hiryak. “We’re trying to reintroduce people to food in a way that, I think, we’ve lost as a culture.”
Hiryak started the farm on G Street behind Fletcher Library in Little Rock following time spent as an apprentice with the Dripping Springs Gardens in northwest Arkansas. He visited similar farms across the country to see what worked and what didn’t. He then brought back those ideas that he could easily replicate in a space in the heart of Little Rock.
LRUF gives Hiryak the opportunity to do what he loves—farm and connect people to local, seasonal foods. He sees urban farming as a way to put people back in touch with the natural environment—it’s a way to feed people in their hearts and souls.
“We’re showing people what’s happening in their own backyards and helping them connect to their surroundings. I also think when people can gather together around good food, it can really open them up for meaningful discussions about what’s going on in their communities.”
Urban farming can go a long way in addressing the food insecurity issues facing our state. It takes a collaborative effort to feed our communities. Operations like LRUF are not just focused on the commerce side of farming—they’re focused on awareness, education, and empowerment. These groups want to show others what they can do for themselves and their community with some seeds and patience. Hiryak created an apprenticeship program to serve as a catalyst to get similar farms up and growing across the state.
“I think you learn best by doing, so the apprentices learn the skills they need to go out and, hopefully, replicate the LRUF operation in other areas.” The apprenticeship program isn’t just about growing, though. Hiryak believes it’s important for the apprentices to learn the business end of farming as well. Those in the program learn what it takes to be an entrepreneur.
If all this talk about seasonal produce has your mouth watering, then I encourage you to find a way to support an urban farm in your area—shop at a farmers market promoting local growers; join a CSA, or, shop local stores carrying the produce from area farms. This time of year, shop for cabbage, collards, and turnip greens. Here’s a family-favorite recipe using in-season cabbage:
Cabbage and Apples
2 lb. head red cabbage
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup cider vinegar
2 to 3 tbsp. brown sugar
3 apples, peeled, diced
1 tsp. salt
Start by coring and cutting the cabbage into thin slices and place it in a large pot. To this add about 1/2 cup of water, 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar, about 2 to 3 tablespoons of brown sugar. Bring all of this to a boil over medium heat.
For a little extra flavor, add to the cabbage the peeled and diced apples. Cover and simmer for about 20 minutes.
Of course, if you want, add some salt, about a teaspoon is all you’ll need or just suit your taste.