Brick City Urban Farms is a startup nonprofit looking to bring good produce to Newarkers at reasonable prices. They’ve started a “prototype” farm on a small plot of land in downtown Newark.
Yes, you read that right: farming. In downtown Newark.
When John Taylor of the BCUF emailed me about his project, I had to check it out. Schedules being what they are, my daughter, Dahlia, joined me on this assignment. So, we packed up the stroller and headed across town to the Lincoln Park Coast Cultural District.
There, we found a small plot of land just off of Lincoln and Spruce that had been repurposed into a SPIN farm. SPIN, John had explained, was short for Small Plot INtensive farming — a recent idea in agriculture that brings small, low-cost farms into urban environments like rooftops and community gardens. When we arrived, we were greeted by Tony Gibbons, Kirsten Giardi, and John Taylor, three of the four founders of the nonprofit.
My daughter meandered between rows of peppers and squash as John and Tony told me about the results of their urban farming experiment. In six weeks, they had managed to clear the weed-strewn lot, bring the Earthboxes and seedlings into the site — on loan from the LPCCD until other plots of land are made available by the city — and work the farm to the point where they were already harvesting produce. They shared that urban farms and community gardens have benefited neighborhoods by bringing jobs, lowering crime, and raising property values.
As we spoke, it was apparent that their enthusiasm and energy was infectious. Children from the neighborhood called out from the fence facing the row houses behind the farm and asked for produce (which Kirsten gladly handed out). The neighbors to the south, apparently inspired, had cleared the fence of weeds to get a better view of their new neighbors’ work, and had even begun to attend more thoughtfully to their own yard.
BCUF has received a lot of support from Newark leadership and community groups for their work. Council members Mildred Crump and Ron Rice have visited the farm, as well as Mayor Booker. Volunteers regularly visit from the nearby Integrity House to work on the microfarm, and BCUF is looking for ways to partner with other nonprofits around the city to bring education, nutrition and work ethic to the community.
John explained that the next steps are to continue with the next farm, a rooftop project which is planned for the top of 90 South Street in the Ironbound, owned by the North American Facilities Group. Brick City Urban farms plans to be a “revenue-generating” nonprofit — in other words, a real business, selling produce in grocery stands, co-ops and stores.
Check out the farm if you’re in the area; it’s truly a wonder to walk between rows of tomatoes and peppers in the Garden State’s largest city. And keep an eye out: the next vegetable you pick up at your local grocery stand just might be labeled, “Grown in Newark, New Jersey.”