Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Four questions with Urbavore's Brooke Salvaggio

Posted By on Wed, Sep 28, 2011 at 9:30 AM

Dan Heryer, Brooke Salvaggio and son Percy have had a busy season.
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  • Dan Heryer, Brooke Salvaggio and son Percy have had a busy season.
Farmer Brooke Salvaggio, who runs the Urbavore farm with her husband, Dan Heryer, has her finger on the pulse of the urban-agriculture scene in Kansas City. Together they also run the downtown BadSeed Farmers Market (Friday nights from 4 to 9 p.m. at 1909 McGee, through February). Fat City threw four questions her way to find out how their farm is progressing and what's next for the ambitious couple.

(1) How has the farm been going? What's the latest on the property?

The farm is INTENSE to say the least. With the arrival of our first child in June, we certainly bit off more than we can chew. But, we are still chewing ... we haven't given up. Thus far, we have
managed to purchase 13.5 acres of urban land and rezone it for agricultural use. The city has never "down-zoned" a property before this instance ... (and certainly not for two crazy anarchist organic farmers!). We are in the process of taking this raw piece of land, now known as Urbavoreand transforming it into a diversified urban farmstead.

We have planted out several orchards (primarily apples, pears, peaches, and plums), created habitat and pasture fencing for our free-range chickens, ducks and geese, and turned two acres into intensive "no-till" organic vegetable production, which is our main source of income until the tree fruits come on. Most notably, we have started the city's first Residential Composting Program. We accept all food scraps and some yard waste Wednesdays through Saturdays at Urbavore Urban Farm (5500 Bennington). We take this "dead food" and resurrect it. Resurrected food and waste can be purchased in the form of luscious organic produce at our weekly Farmstandevery Saturday through October. We accept food stamps at our Farmstand and double their value through the Beans & Greens program.

(2) Do you get a sense if new farmers are getting energized by the (slowly) changing climate toward urban farming?

I think that they are certainly energized. I see new urban-farming projects popping up all over the city. However, I don't think it has to do with a changing political climate or more supportive city
ordinances. People who "dig in the dirt" don't pay attention to that stuff anyway! I think it has to do with the economy and a resurgence in the DIY (do it yourself) mentality. People are sick of all the
BS in corporate America. They are sick of being lied to, and they are sick of toxic industrial foods. They want improved health in their communities, their bodies and their soil. They want good food
at an affordable price ... so they grow it!

(3) Do you think rulings like the backyard chicken ordinance will encourage more people to begin having backyard plots?

For those who like to follow the rules, I think the ordinance has worked wonders. I can think of five or so people, off the top of my head, who ran out the door to get neighbor approval as soon as the ordinance passed. However, most people will get birds regardless and probably not seek approval ... (and you cannot really blame them). On one hand, you have the types of neighborhoods that would simply NEVER support backyard hens. On the opposite end, you have the types of neighborhoods where getting written consent is impossible due to chaos. For example, my farm apprentice lives in a struggling KC neighborhood ridden with crime and unrest. The idea of knocking on doors for "written chicken approval" is an absolute joke. Furthermore, the cops in that area aren't worried about egg-layers ... they are worried about prostitution, drug abuse and violence. Essentially, it is those "middle ground" neighborhoods that will possibly give written consent. All that being said, the ordinance is a step in the right direction and will enhance urban agriculture overall.

(4) What's in store for the season and the future of the farm?

This incredibly challenging season is wrapping up with a bang. We are currently laying out more vegetable plots and will begin the laborious construction of a deer fence in several weeks. The deer have destroyed an estimated $13,000 worth of crops this year. Come October, we will plant garlic (one of our biggest crops) and continue the deconstruction of a 1940s barn that will be rebuilt on the property. All the while, we are keeping our fingers crossed for decent fall crops and a late "killing freeze" so that we will have product to sell into the end of November. This winter, we will focus on off-grid infrastructure. We hope to make progress on both the barn and a small personal dwelling (we are considering a yurt). Future plans include a grape vineyard, more apple trees, blueberries, dairy goats, and a solar-passive greenhouse.

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