Urban farm in Dayton offers hope for food deserts

An abandoned factory in an East Dayton neighborhood is producing again, but this time around the product is all green.

It’s The Urban Renewal Farm, or TURF, a project formed this year by a coalition of volunteers. The farm grows seedlings of collard greens, cabbage, broccoli, and spinach among other vegetables in an old boiler room. The vegetables are later grown in a parking lot that has plenty of sun exposure.

The three-story, 145,155-square-foot factory is for sale, but until it finds another use, volunteers with TURF will be growing vegetables aimed at the tables of urban residents.

Many neighborhoods in Dayton are called food deserts for a lack of easy availability of fresh produce.

Reilly Dixon, 24, vice president of the Urban Renewal Farm, said the farm’s mission inspired him. “There’s an unequal access to healthy produce based on economic status,” he said. “We are here in a food desert. There’s derelict infrastructure and we’re trying to fix it.”

Rain collectors will help supply water and there’s talk of setting up an indoor growing operation with hydroponics as well a mushroom growing unit.

Alex Klug, 28, a horticulturalist at The Foodbank in Dayton and president of TURF, said the project doesn’t have the direct backing of any large organization. It’s the work of many people including herself and University of Dayton and Wright State University students. Members of the community interested in learning are also volunteering.

It’s not an easy task. The organizers asked that the exact location of the garden area not be disclosed because of theft and metal scrapping that plagues the area.

The seedlings start in the boiler room and then are transferred to another location where they are placed under grow lights. They are then transferred by truck to a 1-acre parking lot in the area that is about a quarter filled with raised beds and barrels.

The vegetables are destined for markets like the Yellow Cab monthly Night Market at 700 E. Fourth St. that happens on the third Friday of the month, the 3rd on Third farmer’s market and craft sales event at Third and Bates streets that is held on the third Sunday of every month through Oct. 16, and the Wright Stop Plaza bus hub downtown.

The urban farm project is the brainchild of Jim Wellman, 65, a local farmer and Riverside resident. His goal is to purchase the building with the parking lot, Wellman said.

He’s been using the building for some years for agriculture-related projects of his own. Wellman said the location has everything going for it to create a farm in the city. “I saw the windows, the space and everything else,” he said.

The overall goal of TURF is very broad, Klug said, including educating people about gardening, getting fresh produce to under-served neighborhoods and teaching people the value of doing it all themselves, Klug said.

“Especially with youth,” Klug said. “To bring that back to their backyard.”

Klug said she thinks the urban farm can produce thousands of pounds of vegetables. A generous donation from Ohio State University’s Extension Office provided material for the 16 raised beds and enough good soil to fill them.

“We have a pretty good team and plenty of space,” she said.

The project welcomes more volunteers and material donations. Organizers are asking that volunteers or donors contact the group through its Facebook page.

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