Meet the Farmer Pirates


This is how Buffalo urban farmer Dan Ash explains it: “Pirate is a word that embodies resistance, and for farmer pirates that means resistance to the current industrial food system. We’re opting out by growing our own food.”

It was just a couple years ago that a family who wanted to use city-owned property on Buffalo’s East Side had to explain what urban farming was all about to the powers-that-be. Now, that farm is an established component in a network of urban farms, including the recent purchase of 30 vacant East Side lots. Their Kickstarter campaign—which ends this week—aims toward the purchase of a truck for the group, so they can collect compostable food waste from all over the city and make all that vacant land produce food. Two of the member farms already have small CSA programs going, adding to the many existing CSA options from WNY’s considerable rural acreage. It’s even been suggested that Buffalo is now a leader in the urban farming movement.

I’ll be honest. This is not my personal thing. My neighborhood is characterized mainly by front and back yard ornamental gardens—there isn’t even a community vegetable garden within fifteen blocks or so. (I wish there was a common sunny spot where I could grow some tomatoes and beans.) But the use of East Side property left vacant by demolitions and population shrinkage for urban farming is a very sensible solution. As the charming video above—made by my friend, media artist Dorothea Braemer—makes perfectly clear.

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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. It’s great to see small incremental positive changes that dovetail into one another. Using local kitchen waste helps to grow good local food, reducing garbage sent to the landfill, and greening up otherwise wasted city lots with veggie gardens. My compost bins and I salute the Farmer Pirates.

  2. I’ve always loved this idea. There’s another video about a guy who put in a tiny plot (I think it was on church-owned land) illegally and spread about the produce to anyone who stopped by. I loved that video, too. 🙂

    I don’t support breaking laws, necessarily, but it was still super cool.

  3. My kind of people too! I hope they get enough support locally to make this happen (only 40-some hours left!)–healthy food, healthy kids, a better, happier city.

  4. These folks seem to be doing a fine job on the urban agriculture front. I applaud their efforts, but I have to say it makes me sad as well because a lot of that vacant land is the result of lost industries and lost middle class jobs. Unfortunately, urban farms can’t make up for that loss.

  5. Lynn Miller is credited for the term ‘Farmer Pirate’ by quoting him on the home page of the Farmer Pirates website.

  6. Excellent! Vegetable gardens feed body and soul. Wasting food is my biggest pet peeve. It shouldn’t happen at all (40%! That’s inexcusable!) but at least some are making the best of of the problem. Imagine what could happen if we stopped wasting food and grew more food.

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