Login | September 20, 2018

Urban farms help in Youngstown’s recovery

Legal News Reporter

Published: October 12, 2017

A handful of enterprising urban farmers in the city and close environs are reclaiming city lots in some of the city’s most economically-deprived neighborhoods and turning them into small working farms.

As the city of Youngstown has shrunk from 170,000 residents to fewer than 65,000 from the 1950s until present day, according to Atlantic Magazine and numerous other sources, the housing stock has noticeably deteriorated. But now, occasional bright green spots are defiantly rearing up out of the urban decay.

Individuals, families, nonprofits, the Ohio State extension and the city itself are all contributing to this movement, acting the same way on the city as microscopic change agents work on soil to make it fertile.

“We have definitely seen growth in locally-produced food,” said Melissa Miller, who runs the Lake to Rive Food Cooperative. The co-op serves and draws from farmers in an eight-county area that includes Mahoning County.

“We have seen a rise in niche products,” coming from these small, lot-sized farms, Miller said. These include Avant Garden, a mushroom farm in downtown Youngstown, and Unabandoned, a two-lot herb farm that, among other products, makes essential oils out of their herbs and Avant’s mushrooms.

“We called ourselves ‘Unabandoned’ because we took over two abandoned city lots,” said Emily Hayes, who works the lots with other family members. “We kind of started out as ‘street pirates’,” she said, growing on abandoned land that eventually became theirs “cheap. Like in the hundreds of dollars.”

Hayes said that the farm works well in the neighborhood, spreading healthy food and information to local, inner-city residents.

“They really like us being here,” she said. Unabandoned sells its products at various farmer’s markets in the area. Unabandoned is on Facebook.

The Unabandoned family recently hosted 35 members of the Green Riders bike club, which traveled around the country this summer “to help make the world a greener and more sustainable place”. The Green Riders can be found here: http://robgreenfield.tv/greenriders.

Sophia Buggs has a full-scale farm on several south side city lots that she calls “Lady Buggs Farm.”

Lady Buggs Farm sells a range of products beyond produce, including salad dressings.

In an interview last year with Truthout, Buggs said "my mission is primarily to make the world a much more vibrant, healthy space, to make the soil better than when I found it and make the people better than when I discovered them."

She explained how she is a fourth-generation grower with strong ancestral ties to the land. Lady Buggs Farm is on Facebook.

That Truthout article also covered other communities who are seeing the revitalization of neighborhoods through urban farming from Baltimore to Oakland.

On perhaps the more commercial side, Avant Gardens is in the middle of an expansion of their mushroomery downtown, while the owners, Corey and Bethany Maizel, also tend to a working farm across the Pennsylvania border.

Their products, which include exotic mushrooms, farm-raised spices, oils and other edibles, can be seen at various farmer’s markets. Find them here: https://www.avantgardensfarm.com.

Urban family farm Garden View Acres currently works two Youngstown city acres.

Like most urban farms, Garden View uses “hoop houses” as low-cost, small greenhouses that help with both raising seedlings and extending the growing season.

In the opposite of the flight away from the city, Garden View owners Richard Price and Nicole Richards-Price actually moved from Weathersfield Township a few miles into the city of Youngstown to open their farm.

Their products include numerous seasonally harvested vegetables and fruits, pickles, and flowers. Find them at http://gardenviewacres.com/index.php/about-us and on Facebook.

Youngstown’s urban farm movement is being helped along by larger organizations, as well.

Iron Roots Urban Farm, where Rick Price was before he was at Garden View, is a project of the Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corporation (YNDC). It sits on 1.7 acres at 820 Canfield Rd. on the south side.

According to their website, “Iron Roots Urban Farm grows fresh produce in an urban neighborhood, encourages urban farming and gardening on vacant land, and teaches neighbors about growing food and healthy lifestyles.”

Through the summer, Iron Roots/ TNDC sells produce at the Neighborhood Farmer’s Market, and this year started a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, in which farm provides a box of fresh produce in seasonal varieties to subscribers each week for 20 weeks (June 13 - Oct. 31). Iron Roots is here: http://www.yndc.org/programs/iron-roots-urban-farm.

But farming can be about more than just growing and selling produce, said Jeffrey Magada, who runs Flying High Inc.’s GROW Urban Farm as a part of a recovery program dedicated to helping people become more employable after their lives fall apart.

GROW stands for “Gaining Real Opportunities for Work.

“Our organization helps people get better,” said Magada. “If there are barriers to a person, that’s where GROW comes in. We use the farm as a way to help people get into the daily routine of going to work and establish a recent work history.”

He said many participants in the program become less withdrawn and more social while they work on the farm, a direct result he says of the calming influence of “working in the dirt.”

In this case, in another method of reclaiming urban land, the “dirt” is in raised beds on blacktop, as well as “one plot of land,” he said.

“It is serene and tranquil and hard work,” said Magada. “People have to be social. I have seen real psychological changes in people—people who are very quiet becoming more verbal and confident.” GROW is here: http://flyinghighinc.org/grow-urban-farm.

Of course, like any nascent movement, Youngstown’s urban farming industry has not been without hiccups.

One organization called Grow Youngstown shut down in 2016. And there is no way to know how many people have tried and failed at urban gardening.

But this movement is alive, well and healthy in Youngstown and in many other urban areas, and everyone involved is more than happy to talk with people about their visions and work, and maybe sell a few carrots or mushrooms too.