A couple of weeks ago, my wife and I went to the city of Chicago to go to a farm. Yes, you are reading this right. Just a little west of downtown Chicago at Clybourn and Division streets there is a farm called City Farm. City Farm is run by a nonprofit organization that does farming and recycling. They lease vacant lots for free from the city of Chicago usually in some blighted areas and turns these lots into green oases of food production in the middle of a concrete jungle. The lease is good until the city decides they want to sell or have a use for the land. The Farms are self-sustaining farms and raise chickens and vegetables using all organic methods and then sells what they produce to local residents and restaurants of the area. It is a great concept that is also happening at other major cities around the country.
I found out about city farm from one of my regular train passengers named David who follows my farm blog and works for the organization that operates City Farm. I told him this would be a good post for my blog and something my readers would be interested in. He told me he could arrange for us to meet Nick the Manager at City Farm and get a tour of the farm.
My wife and I went to the farm on a Saturday morning and we were immediately impressed with the whole operation. The one acre lot was just packed with all kinds of different vegetable plants, and it was so well-organized and neat looking with all the plantings in straight rows and weed free. I wished my postage size garden looked so good. We met with Nick who was very friendly and informative and he gave us a well guided tour and we could tell he took pride in the farm.
Nick told us this was one of three farms that they have in the city of Chicago and this farm was their first that started in 2006. He said this area was right next to the Cabrini Green housing projects that the city just finished tearing down a few years ago. For those of you who are not familiar with Chicago, the Cabrini Green housing projects were at one time one of the most unsafe parts of Chicago. The cops were even afraid to go into these projects because of the high crime rate and often times they were shot at when they tried. The area has really improved since City Farm was first started there.
I asked Nick how many full-time employees City Farm has? He said “we have five full-time employees that get a wage, but the farm really depends upon dozens of volunteers”. He said “there is such an interest in self-sustaining farming and such a hunger to learn how to grow your own food we have no problem getting enough people to volunteer”. On any given day they have 10 volunteers along with the full-time staff working at City Farm.
The farm starts all their own plants from seed and they start seeding around March 1st in one of three hoop houses they have on the property.
They start the seeds in a soil block, these are little blocks of soil made by pushing down a soil blocker tool into a compost pile and then a seed is placed in each soil block. I thought it was a great little tool to use and will have to invest in one of these when we start to farm.
As you can see from the picture above the soil blocker has a little nipple in each compartment that makes an indentation in the soil block to plant your seed. You can get your own soil blocker tool at at Johnnys Seeds Or if you want a more economical version and make your own soil blocker go to Annies Kitchen Garden a garden blog I follow. When Niki and I start to farm we plan to build our own hoop house and I have found a great site that shows you how to build a hoop house for about 500.00.
The hoop house where they start the seeds is heated by a wood stove.
Another inexpensive and innovative idea they had for trellises for their tomato plants in the hoop houses is to have twine that is attached to the hoop house frame from above and then staked to the ground next to the tomato plant and as the plant grows attach the plant to the twine using clamps that are made for that purpose. I think you could also use plastic zip ties if you keep them loose on the plants.
The farm also sold farm fresh eggs until just a few weeks ago. Nick told us a raccoon got into their chicken pen and coop and killed all 17 chickens. He said until recently they have not had many problems protecting the chickens, The chicken pen was not enclosed at the top and the raccoon climbed the fence to get to the chickens. They plan to buy chickens again next spring and enclose the pen completely.
They don’t use any chemical fertilizers and amend their soil with their own composted material.
They prep all the vegetables on site to sell to the public and restaurants.
What a great example of an organic, self-sustaining farm and we got a lot of great ideas for making our own farm a more sustainable operation. As you can see, it doesn’t take a lot of land to make a living at farming if done the right way. If you would like to see City Farm or be a volunteer please go to the City Farm web page to see their video and tell them Niki and Gordon sent ya from Milligan’s Gander Hill Farm.