Working for Smart Growth:
More Livable Places and Open Spaces

 

A Farm in the City, Providing More Than Food

SGA2016_win_button_F1_smProject Name: Capital City Farm, Trenton
Urban farm providing affordable, locally-grown food, education and employment opportunities as well as much-needed open and biodiverse landscape for area residents.

Partners: D&R Greenway Land Trust; County of Mercer; City of Trenton; Trenton Area Soup Kitchen; Isles; East Trenton Collaborative; Trenton Rescue Mission; Escher Street SRO


The abandoned piece of land in East Trenton, like many others, was a victim of both policy decisions and market timing: A failed urban renewal project in the 1960s had driven long-time residents away and replaced their houses with manufacturing facilities, at exactly the time that urban manufacturing had begun to decline. The factories, almost brand new, wound up sitting empty for many years, and the land fell into disuse, accumulating weeds and debris and ultimately being surrounded by a barbed-wire fence.

But city supporter and Trenton Area Soup Kitchen volunteer Kate Mittnacht, who walked past the blighted land every day, saw possibility, and approached the D&R Greenway Land Trust with the idea of transforming the property into an opportunity for productive open space and urban agriculture. Together with six other area nonprofits — the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen, East Trenton Collaborative, Isles Inc, Escher Street SRO, Helping Arms, and the Rescue Mission — and with the support of the City of Trenton, the land was acquired using Mercer County farmland and open-space funding.

The next question was how, exactly, should they approach this idea of an urban farm? Months of street surveys conducted by “farm team” volunteers revealed that, overwhelmingly, employment and youth development were priorities for residents of the adjacent neighborhood and other parts of the city. Many residents also said they wanted to be involved in community efforts, but didn’t know how. So an advisory committee was formed of Trenton residents, representatives of the nonprofits involved, and representatives from the City of Trenton and Mercer County, to guide development of the property.

Capital City FarmAfter remediation during the spring and summer of 2015, the abandoned lot began to transform into a true urban amenity: The chain-link fence was replaced by an attractive tubular aluminum one; a new walkway along one side of the property was installed; a pollinator garden was seeded; and trees and shrubs were planted along adjoining streets. In the fall of 2016, electrical and water hookups were completed, a cistern and greenhouse were installed, and a small demonstration vegetable garden provided food to six Trenton families.

Although the farm’s first full growing season in 2016 is expected to yield approximately 9,000 pounds of produce for nearby residents, food is not the only thing Capital City Farm is providing. Engaging signage explains the history of the neighborhood and educates passers-by about the project, with information on how to become involved. The pollinator garden provides nutrition and respite for both native bees and butterflies and for the beehives planned for the farm. An informational pop-up exhibit about the farm was developed and displayed at the Trenton Public Library. Agricultural education and nutrition programs are being planned, as are job-training opportunities.

Throughout the process, members of the advisory committee were able to contribute different kinds of expertise, from extensive technical knowledge of site remediation and agriculture, to administration of a Neighborhood Revitalization Tax Credit for farm purposes, to effective outreach from trusted agencies to local residents. With the help of the Watson Institute for Public Policy at Thomas Edison State University, the collaborative is now developing into something more structured to enable it to oversee the effort more effectively going forward. But Capital City Farm is already well on its way to becoming a green oasis that can nourish the mind, body and soul.

Supporting partner: Watson Institute for Public Policy at Thomas Edison State University; Brinkerhoff Environmental Services, Inc.; BRS, Inc.; Helping Arms; New Jersey State Department of Community Affairs; Designing the We

Videos produced by Lori H. Ersolmaz, Voices of Hope Productions, LLC. © 2016 All rights reserved.

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