by Kipp Nash
When some folks think about farms they hold an idyllic vision of red barns, chickens, cows and vast fields of vegetables…at least that’s what I used to dream of. These days I’m doing my best to add a slightly different option to the palette. You see, along with my partner Kimberly, I operate Community Roots, Boulder’s first Urban Multi-Plot Farm. In case you’re new to the term, an Urban Multi-Plot Farm is a collection of gardens that are situated right in urban homeowners’ front- and back- yards. Putting a collection of these plots together makes a farm, and a farm is what we have made.
In the fall of 2005 I came up with this crazy idea of using my neighbors’ yards for growing vegetables. My goal was to develop an alternative career that would satisfy my desire to farm without having to lay out large financial investments in land and machinery. After a winter squirming with excitement I went to work in the spring of 2006. We built a makeshift hoophouse in our backyard to start seedlings and found a few brave neighbors. At that point, I’d had a few years of experience growing vegetables, but was not at all prepared to operate anything on this scale—year one was a real rollercoaster ride!
There were times I almost gave up; discouraged because I wasn’t sure if this was really a viable enterprise. I needed support, so I did some online research and found Wally Satzewich, who lives in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. He and his wife have been successfully farming multiple urban plots for a number of years and making a decent living. That was all the encouragement I needed to keep trudging ahead. Just as I found out about Wally, he was preparing to release a series of guides that outline what he calls SPIN (Small Plot Intensive) Farming. Along with his associate, Roxanne Christensen from Philadelphia’s famed Somerton Tanks farm, Wally is spreading the SPIN phenomenon all over the United States with new farmers springing up every day. I’m fortunate to be one of the first in this country to apply the SPIN model.
In 2007 we added additional plots, made our first restaurant sales, began selling at the farmers’ market, and initiated my proudest achievement yet: our Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) project. We started our CSA with just four member families, but grew to nine by the end of the year. It was a wonderful experience to know that we were growing food for, and creating relationships with, families who lived just down the street from us. Now, here we are in 2008, growing in 13 plots that amount to about a _ acre of intensively cultivated land. Most of these plots are within a few blocks of our house, and three of them are from our next door (and backyard) neighbors! We are selling at the Boulder Farmers’ Market consistently on Saturdays and our CSA has expanded to 25 members, partly due to our new relationship with Frank Hodge at Father Earth Farm in Lafayette, who will be growing some of the more space-dependent crops like tomatoes, winter squash, melons and corn.
We’re not doing this alone. We have opened our operations (and our home) to a whole fleet of motivated volunteers, interns, apprentices and employees. 2008 is an experiment in community and thus far it’s proving to be a huge success! This summer we’re piloting Community Fruits—homeowners allow our crews to harvest and distribute the unused fruit from their trees. We’re also adding Community Coops to our repertoire, in partnership with a local project called Urban Hens which builds chicken coops for home- owners. There’s room in the model for backyard honey projects, flowers, herbs, and the list goes on and on…
We have a new addition to the team—Steve Morgan, a committed, adventurous soul who is taking the Community Roots model to north Boulder’s Newlands neighborhood. He’s developing gardens, planting vegetables and building community there as part of his SPIN farming debut.
My hope is that as Steve and I, and others around the state (SPIN farms are getting started in Denver, Fort Collins and Steamboat Springs) are creating an economically feasible model of urban agricultural entrepreneurship that will engender more locally grown food, more connected communities and healthier cities. As energy costs rise, food costs will continue to soar, creating an environment that makes local growing pay off. Small-acreage farmers and multi-plot urban farmers are on the cutting edge of a lively and important market, gaining and retaining skills for more security in an uncertain future.
Every day I hear from folks who find inspiration in Community Roots. I think growing food and creating community is something that everyone yearns for. People are latching on to the idea of Community Roots because it gives us a real outlet right here in our cities to do these things.
There are a number of levels one can get involved in. Everyone can grow vegetables. Grow in your backyard, your front yard, or use a community garden plot or a windowsill, if you live in an apartment. If you want to get involved in growing for your community, start a neighborhood garden club. Interested in multi-plot farming or small-acreage farming? Look at the SPIN Farming website (www.spinfarming.com) or hunt down one of the SPIN farmers in Colorado. If you want to sharpen your skills, volunteer at a farm.
It’s time that we all find our passion in caring for each other and the planet. The global economy is coming back to the local economy. I’m tickled because I see how “going local” really means coming together as community! Know that with enough elbow grease and determination, dreams can become reality… even if you have to let go of the romance of the red barn and fields of grain.
Kipp Nash is in his third year of operating Community Roots from his home in South Boulder’s Martin Acres neighborhood. He lives with his partner Kimberly and her 12-year-old son, Kaleb. For more information on their project, visit www.communityrootsboulder.com .
Reprinted by 34 EDIBLE FRONTRANGE| SUMMER, 2008 with permission [http://www.ediblefrontrange.com ].