Sustainable Berea Leads Urban Farm Project

May 21 was a day of celebration as representatives of the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), US EPA, and USDA came to Berea to recognize its selection as one of nine (out of 63 applicants) recipients of a Livable Communities Project award for the Berea Urban Farm project. The urban farm is a collaboration of Sustainable Berea, the City of Berea, and the Berea College Agriculture and Natural Resources Program to convert a 1.4-acre lot in the Old Town artisans district into a system that:

·         Produces fresh wholesome food

·         Educates our young people

·         Attracts and informs tourists

·         Generates jobs

·         Supports local restaurants

·         Adds beauty to our community

·         Restores a damaged piece of the earth

The idea for an urban farm was inspired by examples such as the Bloomington Community Orchard, Greensgrow Farms in Philadelphia, and Growing Power. But of course the design of the Berea Urban Farm will reflect the particularities of this place. Citizen input on what the farm should be and do has been widely solicited, and more recently we’ve begun to move from concept to particulars with a 1.5-day design workshop led by Peter Bane, publisher of The Permaculture Activist. At this workshop, 15 members of the core planning group reviewed information on soils, zoning, utility easements and other published materials before spending time on the site observing slope, aspect, solar access, wind patterns, connections to adjacent properties, vegetation and other characteristics.

The context in which the farm will operate is particularly important to the design. A neighbor at the top of the hill is developing their one acre into an urban farm, and would like a connecting path. A new worker-owned restaurant across the street emphasizes local food and has suggestions for what they could buy and use. The crafts people a half-block away hope for a boost in overall tourism, but are interested in adding to their repertoire hand-forged garden tools, clay irrigation pots, and other crafts related to farming and food. The community school, three blocks away, can use the urban farm for teaching, and the students in the Berea College Technology and Applied Design program have already designed an irrigation system for the farm. These and many other potential linkages are informing the design of the urban farm, and it is the integration of the urban farm into a developing local food system that will ensure its success.

From these initial efforts is emerging the outlines of an urban farm design that emphasizes production by fruit and nut trees, berry bushes, and other perennials. Swales on contour will control runoff on the sloping part of the lot, and a long-term program of compost and mulching will restore soils in areas of the lot where soil quality has been degraded. Living fences of espalier fruit trees and trellised berries and grapes will provide an edible interface along some boundaries. Two small houses on one corner of the lot may be rehabbed into storage and classroom space, and the area between them transformed into an outdoor gathering space for the community. And everybody wants a cob oven.

The Livable Communities award will help to support the next steps of planning including:

·         Development of a detailed site plan and construction budget

·         Writing of a business and operations plan

·         Addressing any legal and regulatory issues

Once an overarching plan is in place, implementation can occur in stages as funding and labor allow. Our goal is to not only increase the resilience of our community, but to demonstrate an approach to increasing food security and promoting economic development that can be applied by other communities throughout Appalachia.

Story Submitted by Richard Olson, Sustainable Berea.

Photo credits: (from top) Earl Gohl, Federal Co-chair of the Appalachian Regional Commission and a young volunteer plant a blueberry bush at the Berea Urban Farm; Design workshop participants making observations on the urban farm site; Richard Olson, Chair of Sustainable Berea, welcomes people to the Berea Urban Farm celebration.

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