Down on the Farm up in the Hills
CSA projects can be found in all kinds of places,
even tiny city backyards.
Sophie Hahn dreamed of farming her yard to feed her family and neighbors. But growing produce to feed people on a regular basis is challenging, and she never felt capable of undertaking the project herself. But one day, out on a walk, she spotted a sign posted in her neighborhood: “Urban farmer seeking a well-situated, residential garden plot with good sunlight to farm in exchange for housing.”
The sign-poster turned out to be Willow Rosenthal, founder of City Slicker Farms and co-author of The Essential Urban Farmer. Hahn and Rosenthal discovered they shared a vision of feeding their families and neighbors by devoting just a tiny amount of urban land to food production. They could reduce food miles, employ a farmer, contribute to food security, and build community. “It’s a very small act,” admits Hahn, “but if it were multiplied, consider the possibilities and all the potential benefits that could accrue.”
When they discovered that Berkeley had regulations preventing residential sale or trade of fruits and vegetables, Hahn and Rosenthal went to work to change the law. Their “Berkeley Edible Gardens Initiative,” introduced by Berkeley City Councilman Jesse Arreguine, became law in August 2012. (Read more at berkeleyediblegardens.org.)
For over six years, Shattuck Gardens, the intensively cultivated urban farm on Hahn’s less-than-eighth of an acre, has been producing enough fresh produce for about 20 people. They make their own compost and save seeds from previous harvests. The only inputs from outside their farm are leaves for compost, and chicken feed. CSA members volunteer eight hours of labor per season. Colette Rowe, gardening instructor at Washington Elementary in Berkeley, now manages the project, since Willow Rosenthal moved on to become the farm manager at Urban Adamah.
Most Shattuck Gardens CSA members are local residents who come on foot to pick up their weekly shares from the Hahns’ front porch. Depending on the season, baskets may be overflowing with salad and cooking greens, carrots, beets, onions, peppers, celery root, and herbs, all washed and trimmed. Occasionally there are eggs and flowers, and members share produce from their own gardens. Shares are purchased annually, tri-annually, or monthly. On their website (search “Shattuck Gardens”) the group says they hope to inspire others to replicate their model.