Notes from the Director: farming at the center of things
Have you ever wondered why Garden City Harvest has chosen to farm in the middle of town instead of finding something outside of town? Well, let me explain by sharing some things about the River Road Community Garden and Neighborhood Farm.
Garden City Harvest was established in 1996. The following spring we started operations at the River Road Community Garden and Neighborhood Farm, and have run farming and gardening programs at the site ever since – it is where we’ve farmed the longest.
The farm is located on 3.25 acres in the heart of Missoula. The property sits in a residential area just west of Russell Street. Historically, the area between Russell and Reserve was populated by truck farms. But if you fast forward to today, that part of town has become a fairly dense, rapidly developed neighborhood. The zoning there allows for 4 dwelling units per acre.
For the past 20 years, though, that particular piece of land has been farmed using organic and sustainable methods. The soil is considered prime for farming. An acre of cultivated ground at the River Road Farm produces almost 30,000 pounds of produce a year, some of which is donated to the Poverello Center. Because it’s primarily farmed by hand, we are able to use the space very efficiently.
Our volunteer base – some 150 people each season that come from the core of Missoula – would not exist outside the city. And without those volunteers, the farm would likely be a mono-culture with single row plants and lots of spacing for tractor cultivation. There is less food per acre being grown on a mono-culture farm, and more importantly – less nutrition.
Because of the way we farm, we’re able to grow a diverse array of crops. In fact, this season, on one acre of field space at River Road, we’re planting 30 varieties of vegetables, and 20 different types of flowers and herbs. This is referred to as a poly-culture. It has built-in resilience because of crop rotation and plant diversity. This, in turn, attracts a variety of insects that act as bio-controls. Farming in this manner creates an ecological situation that basically takes care of itself.
We’re growing food for the community, and the community provides much of the labor force that allows this farm to be so efficient and productive. There is no socio-economical hierarchy on the farm. People from all walks of life work together for one of the basic necessities of life…food.
The work done at our farms is meaningful and empowering. It provides fresh food for people of all income levels, transforms lives and builds a stronger community. It doesn’t get much better than that!