Monday, May 12, 2008

Shoestring Victory: Finding space in unexpected places

I was at a Superbowl party when we found the land for our microfarm.

I was at my friend Jared’s house, paying a little attention to the game and a lot of attention to the snack table when my phone rang. It was my gardening partner, Ricky. I couldn’t hear a word she was saying over the din of the game and my friends. “Guess what!” she shouted. “Mumble mumble Fred? Mumble dates? He said mumble mumble yard! And he wants to get a goat! Mumble awesome?”

“Yeah!” I shouted back. “I mean, what? Did you say a GOAT?”

All my companions looked away from the game to stare at me, annoyed or curious. “Who has a goat?” Catherine asked eagerly.

“Sorry,” I muttered. “Hold on a second, Ricky.”

The grapevine had come to our aid. Ricky and I had been looking for land to launch our urban farming initiative for weeks, months. With both of us tied to rental houses and with nary a penny to our names, buying land was out of the question. We’d petitioned a neighborhood church for use of their vacant field, to no avail. Friends in another neighborhood had offered us use of their spacious yard, but it was a good ten-minute bike ride away. Realistically speaking, I knew that was far enough to keep my lazy self from going over there as often as I’d need to. Weeding my own back yard was hard enough.

Nonetheless, it was getting anxiously close to spring. We were on the verge of accepting their offer, when a man named Fred heard from his girlfriend Liz who heard from her daughter Isabell who heard from her friend Jonathan who heard from his girlfriend Ricky that we were looking for some space. Fred had a large lot, agricultural ambitions, and not much spare time. Better yet, he lived just a few blocks away. A perfect match.

The next morning we were tromping through waist-high weeds behind Fred’s house. He wasn’t home, but according to Ricky, who had heard from Liz, it was definitely totally fine for us to do this. I was on the phone again. “Do you know anyone with a tiller?” I asked all my gardening friends. “Where can I find a tractor in the city?”

Our social network came to the rescue again. I heard from my boyfriend Matt who heard from our neighbor Early who heard from our other neighbor Cheryl that Cheryl’s stepdad Max was bringing his tractor to town next week, from his farm in the neighboring county, to till the neighborhood community garden. As it turned out, Cheryl was eager for him to do our lot too. “Doing two sites makes it slightly less ridiculous to bring the tractor all that way,” she pointed out. “The community garden is about the same size as the tractor itself.” Good point.

Saturday morning I biked down Florida Street with Max following me on the tractor. We proceeded grandly to Fred’s back yard, holding up low riders who rolled down their tinted windows to get a better look at what was going on.

Fred, Cheryl and I stood with some curious children and watched as Max’s tines sank into the tufty clay soil. Slowly, strip after strip of weedy field gave way to chunks of raw red clay. “Wow…” breathed one of the children.

I didn’t want to sound like a greenhorn, but I felt the same way. There was no turning back now. Would we really be able to make it as growers?

by Sadie Kneidel

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