The Land Over the Fence: How One New Yorker Moved to the Midwest and Built Her Urban Farm

Reader Contribution by Jodi Kushins and Over The Fence Urban Farm
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I spent the bulk of my childhood and young adult years in metro New York. The daughter of two hard-working physicians, I wasn’t born to be a farmer. And still, I’m sitting here today with dirt under my fingernails and a to-do list that includes water the seedbed, harvest tomatoes, and clean the coop.

In 2003, I moved to Columbus, Ohio, to attend graduate school at Ohio State University (OSU). OSU is so big it has its own zip code. So, while I never lived on campus, it was the center of my world. I didn’t consider myself a resident of the city as much as the university. All that changed when I graduated and decided to make Ohio my home.

There’s a stereotype about New Yorkers that we can’t see west past the Hudson River. When I moved here, my family repeatedly asked if I was warm enough and offered to send extra blankets despite the fact that I was just two states away. I had driven across the country once or twice by then, but I never really got out besides the National Parks and big cities. I had no sense of life in the Midwest before I got here beyond the faint notion that people worked hard and they grew things.

What I learned was that Columbus is a city where people make things and make things happen. Ideas take root here and people support and celebrate the pursuits of their friends and neighbors. Perhaps there are lots of places like Columbus. I hope so.

Finding Land and Taking Advice

The land Over the Fence, November 2013. Photo by Jodi Kushins

When I met him in 2005, my husband was living in a house he bought from his grandmother; the house his mother grew up in. His grandfather had kept a large kitchen garden out back and his grandmother had a canning station in the basement. Dan was also an avid gardener, but he had two kids, a dog, and a job and was trying to keep it all together. Together we slowly resurrected his grandfather’s corner of the yard.

I took advice from a wide range of sources. One friend encouraged me to keep on top of weeds before they became a problem. One extolled the importance of watering, deeply and regularly. Another taught me how to lift sod and soon our backyard was transformed from a patch of crab grass to an ever-evolving menagerie of flowering and fruiting trees and shrubs. I subscribed to MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine and I read about backyard sharing. And by 2013, we devised a plan to increase our space.

Over the fence from our garden sat a patch of land that was rarely walked on other than the person who mowed it. Our kids played back there from time to time, but our neighbor on that side was elderly and it was more than she needed. I devised a plan to lease the land from her but just as I was preparing to approach her, she had a bad fall and was moved to an assisted living facility.

When her children were ready to sell the house, Dan and I bought it with the intention of turning the yard into an urban farm and the house into a rental property. In a twist of fate, his parents wound up moving in and we have all enjoyed the inter-generational proximity, to one another and to the land.

Starting an Urban CSA

In full bloom, August 2017. Photo by Jodi Kushins

I will never forget how we took possession of the house one day and rented a sod lifter the next. After initial amending and tilling, we planted our first crop of garlic (about 100 feet) that week, and it was the best decision we could have made. A few months later, the farm was bursting with new growth. Those initial beds served as our beacon. We had already done something right. 

Over that winter, I reached out family and friends with invitations to join our CSA. We got a small group of supporters, enough to help us pay for start-up supplies. Our first season was more successful than I could have imagined. We had tons of help from our members establishing beds and tending plants throughout the season.

We’ve had high points and low since then. The weather is a never-ending source of aggravation and sometimes wrangling folks to work feels a lot like herding cats. But I get out there every day and find something to marvel at, something to nibble, something to question.

When we started the project I hesitated to call it a farm or myself a farmer. Six seasons later, it feels like home.

Photos by Jodi Kushins

Jodi Kushinsowns and operatesOver the Fence Urban Farm, a cooperatively maintained, community-supported agricultural project located in Columbus, Ohio. The farm, founded in 2013, is an experiment in creative placemaking, an outgrowth of Jodi’s training as an artist, teacher, and researcher. Connect with Jodi on FacebookandInstagram, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

THE URBAN FARMER

There are 40 million acres of lawns in North America. In their current form, these unproductive expanses of grass represent a significant financial and environmental cost. However, viewed through a different lens, they can also be seen as a tremendous source of opportunity. Access to land is a major barrier for many people who want to enter the agricultural sector, and urban and suburban yards have huge potential for would-be farmers wanting to become part of this growing movement.

The Urban Farmer is a comprehensive, hands-on, practical manual to help you learn the techniques and business strategies you need to make a good living growing high-yield, high-value crops right in your own backyard (or someone else’s). Order from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS Store or by calling 800-234-3368.

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