Read through below or click these quick links to learn some quick facts about Urban Patchwork.
- Who is Urban Patchwork?
- What is Urban Patchwork?
- Where is Urban Patchwork?
- Why is Urban Patchwork?
- How is Urban Patchwork?
- When is Urban Patchwork?
Urban Patchwork Neighborhood Farms is a neighborhood-based, community-run urban agriculture network that started in Austin, TX in 2009. It is currently under the 501(c)3 fiscal umbrella of The Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems (The Center) while seeking its own 501(c)3 designation.
The Center, established in 1975, is a non-profit education, research, and demonstration organization specializing in life cycle planning and design. It undertakes projects based on their potential contribution to site, regional and global sustainability and human health, and it actively pursues collaborations with associate organizations, businesses and professional firms.
Urban Patchwork (UP) helps families and neighbors in small communities turn unused yard space into farmland that provides fresh, organically grown produce, fruits, nuts and eggs to the nearby residents of each neighborhood farm we establish.
We offer farm start-up programs; workshops for residents on nutrition, home food production and storage; training and job creation; yearly support, and the benefits of being connected to a larger network of communities and farms across Austin.
Our vision is that every neighborhood in Austin has its own farm and weekly farm stand run and supported by neighbors who live within walking/biking distance of where their food is grown. To learn more about what we’re doing on a day to day basis in communities in Austin, I encourage you to visit www.urbanpatchwork.org.
UP helps city dwellers build community-owned food networks and neighborhood farms that increase access to fresh produce, fruits, nuts, eggs, fish and small livestock (such as chickens, rabbits and goats) in the urban setting. We develop and teach methods for community food production that combine the key elements of a sustainable food economy: production + distribution + consumption.
In our basic model, residents of small communities (such as neighborhoods or family groups) invite UP to help establish a neighborhood-based food network that thrives on the shared knowledge and skills of people who participate and uses small pieces of land within the community boundaries (usually parts of people’s unused yard space) to grow food as part of the system.
With the support and guidance of UP, neighbors work together to identify food needs and interests as they relate to lifestyle. This sets the stage for defining a “food culture” in the community. Then people decide where they fit and how they can contribute to the balance of the system rather than simply connecting with their food and with each other as consumers.
Neighborhood farmers (trained by UP) and workshare members (who commit weekly time to the co-op) prepare the soil, plant, harvest and deliver the produce. With everyone contributing a balanced measure of what they have (some have time, some have money, some have knowledge), food production and distribution within the community becomes an easy task.
This model provides opportunities that reduce cost of living and increase the quality and value of the land and lives of those who participate. Consumers become producers and create a stable, sustainable economy that goes beyond food. Sustainable soil and habitat management restores the health of our ecosystem and reduces the resources required to live well.
Our vision is that Austin hosts a network of urban farms and farm stands that ensure food access by providing locally grown and prepared foods in every neighborhood. UP currently supports three communities in Austin; Violet Crown in North Central Austin, Wooten in North Austin near Highway 183, and Cherrywood, East of IH-35.
UP chose these neighborhoods because community members already had experience working together for such projects as park improvement, addressing crime and vandalism issues, and raising children together in community groups. Artists and business owners in these communities have established their own hyper-local economic base. For example, small businesses in Violet Crown support each other through the Anderson Lane Business District. Many residents of these communities have been neighbors for decades and interact with each other regularly through internet list-servs, neighbornood association meetings, and regular community newsletters.
Residents of Violet Crown, Cherrywood and Wooten may be young families with two working parents or older people who have retired from their careers. Many of these working-class people want to consume healthy local foods but cannot afford or do not have the time to visit established farmers’ markets or prepare fresh food once they get home. At the same time, these working families may not qualify for assistance programs that would make such produce more affordable. It is this gap in access to freshly grown local food that UP seeks to bridge.
UP is driven by the possibility that we can be a nation of thriving producers (as we once were) while restoring economic balance and contributing to a healthy, sustainable ecosystem. By working together to create local food systems we reduce cost of living and increase quality of life for everyone who participates.
It is our vision and dream to see an urban patchwork quilt of farms blanket the city of Austin to fill in gaps in our current industry-focused food system. US cities (where over 80% of us live) are nearly void of food production. Healthy and wholesome food is not accessible to everyone within the urban framework. Urban Patchwork exists to demonstrate that affordable, organically grown food can be locally produced and available to all who need it.
Now that the US economy is dominated by consumption rather than production, current generations in America have lost connection with how to produce food. People disconnected from the food system are unaware of the damage the mechanical pace and chemicals have on workers. The environmental impact of our industrial methods are often hidden from view until the damage is irreversible. People are also unaware of how much of our own money is being wasted on fuel for shipping, chemicals for storage and packaging, marketing and lobbying, and legal defense rather than on making food healthy and available to everyone.
We exist to demonstrate that farming in an urban space does work. We evaluate and teach the best ways to farm in limited urban spaces, and we are developing manuals for others to replicate methods of urban food production that restore our environment and fill gaps in our existing food system.
Caring for the environment is another cornerstone of why we exist. Healthy soil is alive and rich, and it is the foundation of existence for human life. Most of the soil in urban spaces is broken and damaged and needs to be restored/revitalized in order to maintain balance in the eco-systems that support us all. UP farms with the most organic and sustainable practices that we know of in order to restore this balance.
The industrial farm system is built on a model that will not last forever, and probably not much longer. It is also a system that marginalizes and demeans (and often destroys) much of our society and the environment it exploits. When we farm with sustainability and community in mind we connect directly with the food we are producing, the soil and environment that supports us, and with each other.
Neighborhood residents invite UP to start a new farm co-op in their area. UP lends staff and support on an ongoing basis to the neighbors who participate in the work and joy of growing food close to home. Neighbors work together to coordinate weekly tasks, farmstands and events associated with having their own neighborhood farm. Each farm co-op will have a resident farm manager who runs all aspects of the farm operation.
One vital aspect of UP’s mission is to train and support new farmers through a two-year Farm Manager apprenticeship. During the first year of a new neighborhood farm an Apprentice Farm Manager works very closely with UP while the new farm is in planning stages. Apprentices will participate in an intensive 6- to 12-month training program designed to teach technical skills and community organization methods to make them successful leaders in their neighborhood food system. Training is hands-on and farm manager apprentices work side by side with a seasoned farmer on all aspects of running an existing UP farm. Apprentices then work to develop a farm plan that is specific to their community. At the end of the first training year, the new farm manager will have laid the foundation in his/her community to start a working co-op.
In the second year the Apprentice Farm Manager runs the new neighborhood farm with UP’s support and developmental guidance in community building, crop and budget planning, financial sustainability and other needs. After the two year apprenticeship, the Farm Manager is now known to the community as an expert in his/her field and will take primary responsibility for the farm, the community network, and funding relationships. UP will continue to provide advice, support and periodic training to each neighborhood farm co-op for as long as they wish.
This training program is currently in development and the aim is to create a model that can be used by neighborhood farm projects nationwide.
We work to ensure that food is available every week of the year. During months with harsh weather or when the earth and farmers need to rest we may include dried or preserved goods saved from bountiful harvests to ensure balanced nutrition throughout the seasons.
We farm throughout the week and work on special projects such as building chicken coops, rainwater collection systems and distributed composting operations. Our farmstand hours vary by neighborhood and location. Currently we break the year up into two seasons based on typical Central Texas growing patterns:
Spring/Summer: mid-March – July
Summer Break: August – mid-Sept
Fall/Winter: mid-September – January
Winter Break: February – mid-March
Fresh produce will always be the central role of a neighborhood farm but, as every Texas farmer will tell you, sometimes a farm produces more of one crop than can possibly be sold and used at the time when it’s ready for harvest. This is where secondary products from farm-fresh produce becomes essential in a diverse and sustainable food system. Transforming fresh foods into dried or pickled foods, breads, cakes, jams and jellies extends each season by making locally grown produce available year round.
Fresh, local foods that are recently preserved provide a valuable option for families who don’t have time to cook from scratch every night. They are a powerful way to limit waste and diversify income sources for the co-op and also create more business opportunities for co-op members who will produce and sell products to neighbors or at farmstands. UP will provide training and support to its co-op members in order to build the skills needed to produce and market these foods safely and healthfully. As with the Farm Manager training program, This prepared foods program is currently in development, and the aim is to create manuals and resources that can be used by individuals and neighborhood farm projects nationwide.