Hope for urban farming in the Buff



The land in question

Remember this story? It must not have taken long for the Mayor’s office in Buffalo to realize: “Oh crap, if we don’t let these people farm that empty East Side land, then we’ll be expected to do something with it!” (The city owns this property, as explained in the earlier post and links.) Or maybe they saw some federal funding headed toward urban agriculture projects.

In any case, Mark and Janice Stevens will likely be allowed to lease—not buy—the two acres they want to farm in the heart of the city’s blighted East Side. Even though the Stevenses won’t own the land, there will be a lot of scrutiny on any attempt by the city to take it back; they would have to have a plan ready to put into action. Most of us are thinking—hmm, not very probable.

As the land is not plowable at this time, the couple is planning to use raised beds, outlining the following familiar strategies for growing tomatoes, lettuces, herbs, peas, green beans, beets, turnips and onions:

“Our main focuses would be composting and vermiculture — earthworms,” he said. Done properly, Stevens said, there won’t be any unpleasant smell. “Have you ever stuck your hand inside good compost?” he asked. “It smells like fresh dirt. . . . [The farm] isn’t going to smell like a dairy farm.”

Sounds good to me! It’s a financial win for the city, as a lease is some kind of income, and a boon to local farmers’ markets, where at least of this produce should turn up. I look forward to visiting this farm once it gets started—as I hope it will. I’ll take pictures.

The photo above is of the land where the farm will be. It was taken by Buffalo activist David Torke, whose Fix Buffalo blog has been closely following the urban farm story.

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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 yahoo.com


  1. This is great news! I have to tell you though, that this line made me laugh out loud: “Our main focuses would be composting and vermin culture.” Vermin culture! Ha! I assume that Mr. Stevens said vermiculture and got quoted wrong. I’m going to giggle about that all day.

  2. i just read your post and am fascinated by this project. please do follow this and show pics as it takes shape. i am a city “farmer” and i think making use of these vacant city lots is fantastic!

  3. Sometimes change is fast.

    Some powerful people are less-stupid.

    Some powerful/less-stupid people eventually see the light.

    This will work. Everyone will be happy and the people that fought it will take full credit.

    Wish it were my neighborhood.

  4. How did I not find this blog before today? I LOVE it and I see another hour of me sitting here reading it. Thank you!

    I’m starting a community garden on a 28 x 400 ft plot on a side street in my city. The plot is located just north of 8 Mile, although, thankfully, Eminem isn’t involved!

  5. But wait–I thought vermiculture only worked indoors or in warmer climates, because the red worms usually used are NOT Buffalo-hardy.

    Anyway, who cares? Urban farming is wonderful. The highest possible use for vacant land.

  6. I hope they plant some sunflowers there. In my neck of the woods, the sunflower is entirely under-represented. Thats why I plant them in my yard, and anywhere else I can get them established.
    I pair them with black Hollyhocks… I hope the fad catches on, but many folks don’t bother with annuals if they aren’t pansies or alysum.

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