Monday, August 9, 2010

Thinking About Farming in 2011? Start Now.

On an urban farm, August is not too early to be planning for March.

Okay, so it is 100 plus degrees outside. Your garden is wilting in the heat, your tomatoes are getting sun scald and the blister beetles are soaking it all in, glorying in the good food and the pleasant company of so many other beetles. What better time to escape from this year’s challenges though, and begin to think about next year’s urban farm business?

An urban farm business can be as big or small as you choose. We define an "urban farmer" as someone who is growing food to feed other people, people outside of their own family and immediate circle of friends. Generally, that involves selling the produce at any volume whether it's $50 a week or upwards of several thousand. It may also include a farm/garden that is growing food to be donated--growing food to feed strangers (who will hopefully become friends through the process).

Now is the time to start wrapping your mind around next year’s production and sales plans if you are going to be starting a new farm business. If you have a piece of land you own or an empty lot you’ve been eying, you are going to want to get access to that land soon; one of the best things you can do for an urban soil that hasn’t been grown on before is get a good plowing done on it (after hauling out as many of the foundation stones as you can) sometime in October or early November. You want the soil to be ridged deeply enough that erosion won’t be a problem, but with lots of soil surface exposed for winter freezing and thawing to begin loosening up the structure and make it workable in the spring.

If you want to do no-till farming, start looking for hay or straw bales to start laying down so the good bacteria and fungi they harbor can have some time to mellow out the soil underneath while the mulch is smothering any grass or weeds. Most urban soils are low in organic matter and consequently low in all that good soil life that makes vegetables grow. Unless you are fortunate in having that fine river bottom land that can be found in some Kansas City neighborhoods, urban farming means consistent and long-term efforts to build the soil up with good organic matter and to loosen its structure so roots, water, air, and nutrients can move through. And it is never too early to get started.

It’s also a good time to start putting your plans on paper. What will you be growing? To whom will you be selling? If you want to exercise your new rights in Kansas City, MO, to sell on-site, start talking to your neighbors to get them excited about the possibility of really fresh food bought from someone on their block. If you want to sell at markets, visit them now to see what market might fit your farm personality and goals. Talk to some of the vendors and learn about how the market works from their perspective.

KCCUA staff want to help you become an urban farmer--you can email or call us and we’ll visit your site with you and talk with you about how to get going. There are other resources out there, too, like KC Community Gardens, County Extension, and neighborhood associations who like to see people like you make the neighborhood a healthier place. In Wyandotte County, the Land Bank is putting together a program to make empty lots more available to folks who want to garden or farm on them. Kansas City, MO, owns a lot of empty land, too, and is starting to incorporate the idea of urban agriculture into planning for the city. It may look like a hot and miserable summer out there, but really, it is just seven months out from the start of next year’s growing season! So be thinking about your next steps and have fun planning your 2011 urban farm venture now.  (by Katherine Kelly, Kansas City Center for Urban Agriculture)

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