By Dana Rushovich, production manager, Boone Street Farm
When I first started working at Boone Street Farm over two and a half years ago, I was looking for a way to connect with my local community around food. I had just returned from my first full time farming experience in North Carolina and knew that I had found my calling in agriculture. I do not come from an agriculture family, but my family has always valued food and farming perfectly combined my love of fresh foods and the outdoors.
When I began at Boone Street I was assisting founder Cheryl Carmona finish out the fall season. I was immediately drawn to the sense of community that she had formed around the farm and the dedication she had to building high quality soil which would in turn produce high quality food. I was amazed at her ability to farm with little infrastructure and tools, and I really appreciated her dedication to stewarding the land.
The biggest thing that I discovered, which was something nobody was really talking about with regards to urban agriculture, was the ability to intensely grow in a small space in a way that can generate a financially viable business. Although Boone Street, after five years of production, has not turned a profit, we have increased our yields and revenue each year and believe that we will be able to get to a point in which we are operating a sustainable small business.
This goal of creating a viable urban farm business is what initially drew me to the National Farmers Union (NFU) Beginning Farmer Institute (BFI). After three years of farming full time I feel confident in my ability to grow a tomato from seed to fruit but I was not prepared for the realities of operating a farm. There is so much more to running a successful farm than just knowing how to grow the crops. These skills are what I wanted to gain by joining the NFU BFI program. Through the program I learned a lot about the programs that the USDA has to offer and the importance of business planning in order to finance your farm and have a successful business. But what I found apparent was that many of the programs offered to help farmers were not accessible or relevant for urban farmers.
One major obstacle I encountered was that Baltimore City does not have a Soil Conservation office, like most other counties in the area. This means that we do not have a representative to help administer USDA grants. We are then left to go talk to county representatives who are very unfamiliar with urban farms and often unwilling to work with people outside of their zone. Another major obstacle is that many urban farms do not own their land, meaning they do not have the equity needed to receive those grants or are not eligible because they are on city owned land. In the case of Boone Street Farm, we are on what is called an adopt-a-lot, which is city owned land that we have agreed to maintain for the city. Under this agreement we have no land security and the city only has to give us 30 days notice to vacate. Due to these situations it makes it very hard for us to access money to invest in capital that is available to most rural farmers. These issues are beginning to be resolved and some loan programs are beginning to offer programs to urban farmers, but it is still hard for us to get access to capital investment funding.
The most important thing that I want to get across to help urban farmers is for people to realize that urban farms are viable forms of farming and should not be put under a different umbrella from rural farmers. Urban farmers are helping to feed communities and are creating markets in some of the most underserved areas in the country. They are creating jobs and training people on how to farm and why healthy food is important. They are beautifying otherwise trash strewn vacant lots and reuniting communities. In a nation where the farming population is beginning to age out, we need to give support to every type of farmer and encourage people no matter the size or type of their operation.
Production Manager, Boone Street Farm