ROANOKE, Va. (WFXR) — When most people think of farming, they probably envision hundreds or even thousands of acres where crops are grown, or where livestock is raised.
However, there are farms that do not fit that mold, and they may be the solution to erasing food deserts in Roanoke and other American cities.
The Lick Run Community Development Corporation (CDC) Farm is a prime example. It is set up to take advantage of limited space, just three acres, by growing annual vegetable crops. The land is controlled by the Agrarian Trust.
“Right now, the average piece of produce in this country travels 15-hundred miles,” said W. Hunter Hartley of Lick Run CDC. “We’re trying to reduce that to your neighborhood.”
Many neighborhoods, especially in cities, are underserved by grocery stores. That means people who live there do not have easy access to fresh produce.
“The closest place to buy fresh fruits or vegetables here, if you’re walking, is probably 45 minutes away,” said Cam Terry, referring the the neighborhood just off of 10th Street, NW where the Lick Run Farm is located in Roanoke.
Terry knows a thing or two about farming on small spaces. He is the founder of Garden Variety Harvests, and he is the farmer at Lick Run.
“I started a small farming business on a couple of backyards, less than an eighth of an acre, when I first started,” Terry said. “So, my business from when I first started has been about showing people how productive small spaces can be.”
The space at Lick Run is sandwiched between two rows of homes. While the farm produces annual vegetables and fruits, the plan is to add perennial fruit trees and shrubs in areas not suitable for annual crops, and to grow mushrooms and herbs in the same spaces.
“How do you make those areas productive for the community by producing as much food as possible?” Hartley said raising the question Lick Run has tasked itself with answering.
He immediately provided an answer: “We’ll be working with areas that, as opposed to growing out, we can grow up. So, we’ll have trees, fruit trees to produce, we’ll have shrubs in the middle that’ll be producing berries, and then we’ll be looking to produce many different herbs and mushrooms on the bottom level.”
Lick Run is also home to the Take Root Program. The program trains young people in Roanoke small-space and urban farming techniques. The program is open to Roanoke residents ages 16-22, and even pays a stipend. The idea is to train the urban farmers of the future so that farms like Lick Run can be developed and sustained.
Part of the funding for Take Root comes from Roanoke’s Gun Violence Prevention Program money. Studies show that areas with better access to food, and especially healthy food, have a lower incidence of violence.
The program lasts through December, and then resumes next year. While it is a time investment of just a few months, it is a program that could provide solutions to the food crisis in some area for decades to come.
Terry summed it up: “If we have any hope of changing the food sovereignty of the people who live in these neighborhoods, it’s to start by teaching them why these things are important and kind of give them some skills to at least produce some of their own in season.”
WFXR News and On the Farm will follow the latest group of young people to take part in the Take Root Program, and provide updates on their progress.