City Growers Transforms Vacant Lots into Urban Farms
An "Urban Mini Hyper-Local Farm Evolution" is Turning Boston's Vacant Lots into Sustainable Gardens
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July 31, 2013
Food Initiatives

by Hilary Milnes, BostInno

It’s safe to say that to a certain extent, we as consumers largely couldn’t say where our food comes from. When I try to come up with an answer to that question, for instance, all I can imagine is vast fields somewhere in Central USA. And then, of course, preservatives, GMO ingredients, and flavor additives do nothing but make the entire process even more mysterious. In short, it’s all very vague.

So what if there was a way that you could see your food as it was grown and harvested, then pick it up from a local farmer stand or market, and have it in your kitchen? There would be no middle man, no across-country transportation - just fresh, organic produce both grown and consumed all in one place.

That’s what City Growers aims to do here in Boston: for the past three years, they’ve been working hard to transform vacant lots around town into urban gardens to yield crops - lettuce, kale, carrots, tomatoes, beets, collards, arugula - to then send to local restaurants and retailers. That old, unused lot you pass on your way to work? City Growers sees it as a potential plot to lay fresh soil and plant seeds. Glynn Lloyd, a co-founder of the company, is also the CEO of City Fresh Foods, which sends sustainable meals to schools, and inspiration for City Growers hit when he began to notice all of the empty space around the city.

“I run a food service company, and we buy a lot of produce from California,” says Lloyd. “And then I noticed all of this vacant land, vacant lots. Lots of them. I wondered if we could put our land production to grow locally for restaurants.”

There are many challenges around land production up against urban farming, and as an enterprise, City Growers aims to solve those issues, from plot acquisition, to zoning, to transportation and getting the produce from point A to point B. But Lloyd believes the need for fresh food exists, and Lloyd, along with his co-founder Margaret Connors, is prepared to make it happen.

“In Boston, there’s a demand for local, fresh, organic,” he says. “Some restaurants want to pay for what it’s worth, and we can have folks employ themselves and make a decent wage doing this. But there’s a lot of work that needs to be done.”

And that work is getting done - City Growers has held community meetings and worked with the City of Boston to rezone the lots, provide soil, and hook up water sources for the plots. Lloyd says the city has been a very helpful partner in getting the project up and running, and they now have four plots operating - three in Dorchester, one in Roxbury - and they’re planning more.

“We’ve identified close to 800 acres of vacant land,” says Lloyd. “We’ve honed plots that have been sitting vacant for decades, and likely will be for decades to come. So, if the surrounding neighborhood wants, we’ll convert it to farms.”

These new neighborhood farms will help to create local jobs and lower unemployment in addition to providing residents with fresh, local, organic food that’s better for the climate and the environment.

“Kids don’t know where food comes from anymore. This gets people close to the food supply. It’s fresh produce, and you can’t beat that,” says Lloyd.

Right now, City Growers has two farmers on their payroll, and they’re currently helping to run a trainee program with Urban Farming Institute that will teach those interested more about urban farming. As they open more land, the new farmers will have space to work, and that cycle will repeat and the trend will spread.

During this early phase, Lloyd says their target market for their produce is mainly restaurants as well as some retailers.

“People will walk by the land and say, ‘how do we buy some?” and there’s not really a mechanism right now. So we’re looking at farm stands and markets, once we have enough land to expand. But the first phase is restaurants and retailers. Once you’re producing the food, you can figure out the best place to put it,” says Lloyd.

Currently, you can find City Growers’ produce at Lumiere in Newton, Foodies, Center Street Cafe, and more local restaurants. The next step is expansion - as Lloyd puts it, they’re building an industry as opposed to a single business - and once the infrastructure costs are covered, the revenue from the produce will cover the rest.

To help City Growers cover their infrastructure fees and get going as a sustainable food industry, head to their Kickstarter campaign page, and check out the video below for more information.

Their goal is not a hard one to get behind, as Lloyd puts it: “We would love to have self sustaining farms throughout Boston, working together. An urban-mini-hyper-local farm evolution.”

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