ONE SMALL STATE’S “GROWING” ECONOMY
by Wendy Nadherny Fachon https://netwalkri.com/
Serving Rhode Islanders in economically challenged urban neighborhoods where fresh produce is scarce, Southside Community Land Trust (SCLT) in Providence is making fresh, nutritious food abundant and affordable so that everyone, regardless of income, can eat well and live well. The organization’s reach has expanded over 36 years through a number of community-focused initiatives.
Community Gardening – SCLT owns and manages 20 community gardens, and its website hosts information about 30 additional gardens that are part of the Providence Community Garden Network. These gardens produce food for roughly 1,200 people and their families every year. SCLT provides agricultural resources, training and other support to gardens in the Providence Community Garden Network, which are owned by local agencies, churches and schools. Anyone interested in learning more about these gardens can get in touch with the garden managers through SCLT’s online resource.
Farming – SCLT reclaims land, mostly urban, for beginning farmers to grow healthy (chemical-free) produce for farmers markets, food businesses, restaurants and CSAs. The organization owns and manages three production farms in Providence and Pawtucket, practicing and demonstrating bio-intensive, small-scale agricultural production.
The oldest urban farm in Rhode Island, City Farm, is located in South Providence. It operates all season long, creating a revenue stream for SCLT. Hundreds of youth, volunteers and beginning farmers go there to learn about planting, growing and harvesting food. Over the past three decades neighborhood children have engaged in lessons about plants and plant life cycles, while adults have benefited from gardening workshops and farm apprenticeships, learning to produce high-yield crops in small spaces. In addition, City Farm operates the second-largest composting facility in the state, has diverted more than 50,000 lbs. of food and other organic waste away from the landfill since 2013.
Managed by SCLT under a long-term lease, Urban Edge Farm (UEF) is a state-owned property comprising 50 acres in Cranston, RI, 26 of which are now cultivated. Twelve farmers share farm equipment and other resources at UEF, while growing crops on over 15 acres. With a new field cleared, six additional farmers will soon sublease the new plots. Many aspiring urban farmers lease plots in community gardens, while waiting for farmland to open up at UEF, so they can expand their businesses.
Manton Bend Community Farm is a combination community garden and urban farm developed in cooperation with the City of Providence’s Lots of Hope project. The farm plots are currently sublet to the African Alliance of Rhode Island (AARI). Many of these growers raise Central African vegetables, such as bitter ball and amaranth, to sell at the Armory Park Farmers Market and the Wintertime Farmers Market. Farm Fresh RI provides SCLT-affiliated growers access to farmer’s markets in nine urban neighborhoods, which allows urban farmers to sell their freshly-picked local produce direct to urban consumers. The Broad Street Market features the specialty produce of Southeast Asian growers.
Youth Programs – In yet another initiative to grow urban farming jobs, SCLT provides paid part-time jobs for local high school youth, helping them learn about food equity and regenerative farming practices, as well as nutrition and diet-related chronic diseases. Part of such a job requires assisting with the delivery of gardening and nutrition programs for younger students, grades Pre-K – 8. Additionally, food system internships are available to young adults, introducing them to careers in food and agriculture.
Partnerships – According to the USDA, farmland in Rhode Island is more expensive than in most other states in the country, making it necessary for beginning farmers to partner with landowners.
SCLT’s Farm Access program connects people seeking farmland with Rhode Island landowners who want to lease or sell their farmland, to keep it in production and protect it from development. Project partners include Young Farmer Network, The Nature Conservancy of Rhode Island, RI Department of Environmental Management, RI Land Trust Council, Northern RI Conservation District and Land for Good.
Food Processing – Through its GROW! Campaign, SCLT recently bought a 12,000 sq. ft., two-story building at 404 Broad Street, overlooking its Youth Enterprise Farm. The building will hold a USDA-compliant food processing facility on the first floor and retail spaces to be rented to food enterprises, bringing more healthy produce and good jobs to Providence’s South Side. Leasing income will help offset the building’s operating costs. There will be ample room for our team and expanding programs on the second floor, including a youth entrepreneurship center, where SCLT Youth Staff will develop workforce skills and food system awareness, and lead workshops for peers and South Side residents. Jenny Boone, Grants and Communications Manager for SCLT says, “The new building will kick things up into higher gear.” Learn more at www.southsideclt.org. Join, volunteer, donate, GROW!