The professors, in conjunction with the Ingham County Land Bank and the residents of the Urbandale neighborhood, are literally getting their hands dirty to create a thriving farm that will eventually deliver fresh produce, becoming an oasis in a food desert.
The Urbandale Farm Project is the idea of Laura DeLind and Linda Anderson. DeLind is a professor of anthropology at MSU with a specialization in local foods and their implications for community. She has been working in food issues for 20 years. Anderson is a former professor in the college of education at MSU, and since retiring has become interested in sustainable food sources and has spent considerable time volunteering.
The two first met years ago while attending a lecture by Joan Dye Gussow, an urban gardening guru. The two became close when Anderson volunteered on a communityfarm in Mason founded by DeLind. The two have been planning the gardensince last year when, during a scouting mission, discovered the plot inUrbandale.
The spot seemed right for several reasons. First,its about a half an acre, ideal for big yields. It is also in a fooddesert, an area characterized by minimal or no access to fresh meats orproduce. While lacking in healthy sustenance, food deserts tend tocontain a high preponderance of fast-food restaurants. A more readilyavailable source of fresh produce could mean that more people will makehealthy eating choices.
Afterseeing the land, the pair contacted Ingham County Treasurer EricSchertzing, who oversees the county Land Bank, which owns the property.
“When we contacted the Land Bank we found that they owned it and were willing to have us consider using it,” says DeLind.
TheLand Bank is in possession of a large number of parcels in the county.The plots are maintained by the county, some at a cost of around$350,000 per year.
“Itcosts us money if we have to mow them,” Schertzing said. “If someoneelse can take on the responsibility, we don’t have to do anything.”
Schertzinggrew up on a farm in Stockbridge, maintains a garden in his yard andcontinues to remain passionate about agriculture. Using the Urbandaleplot seemed to him like it would provide a leg up for a community. TheLand Bank is leasing the parcel for $1 per year.
Thecommunity garden in Mason founded by DeLind closed when it was sold.The Urbandale farm may avoid this fate because it is in a 100year floodplain, meaning that every year there is a 1 percent chance of adevastating flood. The most recent was in 1975. Construction in theflood plain is heavily regulated by the Federal Emergency ManagementAgency.
The structure for the Urbandale project will be different from the Mason project.
“Thisis not a community garden, this is a production-oriented farm,” insistsDeLind. At a community garden, individuals use sections of the land togrow food for personal use. Produce from the Urbandale farm will begrown and sold at a discount within the neighborhood.
Someof the crops being grown include broccoli, lettuce, tomatoes, potatoes,summer squash, and beans. The production in the garden will utilizeorganic techniques. No chemicals or synthetic fertilizers will be usedin the garden.
Theteam plans to work in the garden every Saturday afternoon. The firstworkday was April 17. The grand opening, which they are calling an“open farm,” is 1 p.m. on June 19.
Thegarden is expected to yield several thousand pounds of food for thecommunity. To help put that number in perspective DeLind gave anexample of a previous project.
“Ihad a (community supported agriculture project) years ago. Wecultivated pretty intensively about two acres and we fed from that 55families all the vegetables they ate for about five to six months ofthe year.”