It might afford a picture-perfect view of the Columbus skyline, but the poor little Hilltop is in need of some tender loving care.
The West Side neighborhood has had its share of challenges, but better things are starting to grow at a place called Wheatland Urban Farm. Located on the site of the former Columbus State Psychiatric Hospital, the five-acre farm at 116 N. Wheatland Ave. is now home to a thriving initiative that not only provides needy neighbors with fresh produce, but also offers job skills training, education about healthy lifestyles, and community engagement.
After the hospital was demolished in the 1990s, the site sat vacant for over 20 years. Last year, Urban Farms of Central Ohio, an initiative of the Mid-Ohio Foodbank, began transforming the disregarded property into its second urban farm where low-income residents can have their fill of fresh produce.
The soil was of such poor quality that over 20 truckloads of compost and fresh soil had to be brought in. Raised-bed gardening and a seed-starting greenhouse were key to building this farm from the ground up.
It was a similar story in 2012, when Urban Farms of Central Ohio turned a closed elementary school property on Groveport Road that sat vacant for more than six years. The Marion-Franklin neighborhood on the South Side of Columbus was known as what the United States Department of Agriculture called a “food desert” — a place where low-income residents have equally low access to fresh, healthy and affordable food. Today, Clarfield Farms, the first Urban Farms of Central Ohio initiative located at 3220 Groveport Road, yields over 25 varieties of produce on its five-acre plot.
Last year, both farms yielded over 40,000 pounds of produce. Low-income neighbors are invited to help with harvesting, and with reaping the rewards of those harvests at pay-what-you-can farm stands at both locations. The stands are open for business at Clarfield Farms on Tuesday evenings from 5:00 to 7:00 and Saturday mornings from 9:00 to 11:00, and at Wheatland Farms on Wednesday mornings from 9:00 to 11:00. Cooking workshops offered by the Ohio State University Medical Center teach food-desert residents how to make the most of what their neighborhood farm yields. And, since the entrance to Wheatland Farm is from the back parking lot of PrimaryOne Health Center’s West Broad Street location, health center patients can also benefit from the produce.
The farms also supply produce to the South Side Roots Cafe & Market at the Reeb Avenue Center. Local restaurants like Acre, Skillet, Harvest Pizza, Little Eater and The Table help the cause financially by buying the farms’ produce.
You can also support Urban Farms of Central Ohio by subscribing to its Veggie Box program. Every week, you’ll receive an assortment of seasonal produce grown at Clarfield and Wheatland Farms. Summer subscribers are receiving beets, carrots, cucumbers, green beans, lettuce, melons, onions, potatoes, tomatoes and zucchini. Fall boxes will include harvests of butternut squash, carrots, cabbage, fennel, lettuce, melons, sweet and hot peppers, sweet potatoes and tomatoes.
Or, lend a hand as a volunteer at Wheatland Farm on Wednesday mornings from 9:00 to 11:00, or at Clarfield Farm on Wednesday evenings from 5:00 to 7:00 or Saturday mornings from 9:30 to 12:00, through October.
Want to see more urban farms in central Ohio? The Franklin County Office of Ohio State University Extension and the Columbus Urban Farmers Network are offering three more tours of urban farms this summer. This Saturday, take a commercial market garden tour of Heirloom Produce in Groveport, a garden on a two-acre residential lot that grows root crops and leafy greens for restaurants and local farmers’ markets. See how “lasagna layering” is being practiced at a backyard garden on Saturday, August 5. And discover techniques for vertical gardening and extending the growing season at Over the Fence Urban Farm in Clintonville on Sunday, August 20. Click here for more information.
If you’d like to become an urban farmer, consider registering for the Franklin County Office of OSU Extension’s Ohio Master Urban Farmer Workshop Series. Held on Thursday evenings from September 14 through November 16 (plus a Sunday field trip), the workshops will teach how to produce and market all kinds of food products in urban settings. For more information, contact OSU Extension Educator Mike Hogan at 614-866-6900 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.