Breeding compost (and produce) out of the dead land


Blighted is actually the correct word, though parts of
Buffalo’s East Side looked all but dead on the quiet Saturday morning I stopped by to take another look at the Wilson Street Urban Farm. As I posted last year, this project was finally
sanctioned on city-owned land last May. 
There is now a greenhouse and raised beds on the property, with much
more to come. And it has a bred a litter of other community growing sites
within its neighborhoods; an organization called the Curtiss Urban Farm
Foundation now oversees several vacant lots that are being planted with
fruiting trees and bushes, vegetables, perennials, and wildflowers. One lot
will be devoted entirely to blueberries, while others are being planted with
soil remediation crops. There’s not much visible on the lots right now, but
come September, they will be alive with fruit, vegetables, flowers, foliage,
birds, and bees. Which are not elements often seen in this part of town.

I also stopped by my friend Dave’s informal compost
operation. In the shadow of Buffalo’s old Central Terminal, he has organized a
buffet of compost piles, each numbered, and many created for specific uses. I had no idea there could be so many different flavors of compost. One is oak leaves only (destined for the blueberries), another is pure chicken manure, and others are more the mixture we're used to making in our own bins. 

When these projects (and others) come to maturity, maybe it
will be easier to convince politicians and developers that agriculture is a
viable option for areas of the city that are no longer needed or wanted for
other types of development. April has been kind to the Northeast this month, giving both urban farms and gardens a good head start. 

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regularly radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world,and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. Yum, specialty compost!

    Urban re-ruralization is happening in other cities experiencing economic contraction. The closer these activities move to population centers, the more sustainable our cities become.

  2. How awesome is that?! I’ve been thinking of contacting our city about using the vacant city-owned lots for community gardens but because the city is in the middle of bankruptcy and our city council is beyond corrupt they’d probably try to make it exceedingly expensive to run.

  3. “Urban re-ruralization” I love that phrase! Xris, is this your own term you coined? Does it have any official meaning or just a play on “urban renewal”?

  4. It is wonderful to hear about some positive action happening in the city of Buffalo. Is the compost open to the public, or is it a private-use thing? Either way, it’s fantastic.

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