In 2005, an empty, unused field next to Clara Barton School No. 2 in Rochester was transformed into a half-acre farm.
Built according to the principles of sustainability, the Clara Barton Urban Farm grows a wide harvest: heirloom vegetables, herbs, flowers, and medicinal plants. An experiential learning tool, the farm provides a hands-on, exploratory place for the elementary students to learn about natural agriculture, the food cycle, and the principles of sustainability.
Removing barriers, sharing benefits
Rochester Roots, known as Politics of Food until 2005, is a 501©3 not-for-profit organization established to develop innovative community food system models. They work with students, teachers, and volunteers to grow fresh, nutritious, chemical-free produce. It is operated by Jan MacDonald, who took over from its founder, Allison Clark, in 2004.
“Sustainable agriculture offers many benefits, but still remains limited in who can access them,” Jan said in an interview to describe why she feels connecting Rochester students with farming practices is so important.
About eight students come to the farm with their teacher at different slots each day during the growing and harvesting months. The hands-on experience allows the teachers, working with Jan, to demonstrate what they are learning in the classroom. For example, the children may be learning about composting, so Jan will show them how compost turns waste materials from the garden and other sources into rich soil for future crops. The students gain the opportunity to learn a number of basic agricultural skills, such as sowing seeds, tending to crops, transplanting, and harvesting.
Connecting schools with innovation
Rochester Roots is currently working with Clara Barton to develop the Sustainability Curriculum, an eight-week program where students will learn hands-on about the principles of sustainability and resiliency.
Most recently, Jan has worked with volunteers and students to install a high tunnel (also known as “hoop houses) on the grounds of the school. A high tunnel is a fully sustainable alternative to the traditional greenhouse–it uses only sunlight and rain water to create an optimal growing environment throughout the growing season for certain crops, like heirloom tomatoes. The steel frame structures are the result of research conducted by Cornell University. For the Clara Barton high tunnel, Jan worked with designers at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) to develop an adaptable model with special modifications suitable to its specific location.
Jan also set up a glass greenhouse at Franklin High School, located off of Hudson Avenue in one of Rochester’s most challenged neighborhoods. The greenhouse is used to start off crops utilizing three grow beds (each 24 x 48 feet). Once the plants are well on their way to a healthy start, they are transferred to the Clara Barton Urban Farm.
The power of a single urban farm
The Clara Barton Urban Farm powers multiple projects in addition to educating and training students and teachers in sustainability.
One important project is the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) Urban Farm Share Rochester Roots runs from July into December. Partnering with Mason Farms in Williamson, New York, they are able to provide local, farm fresh, certified organic and Integrated Pest Management (IPM) vegetables, fruits, herbs, and flowers to a community that often does not have access farmers’ markets or affordable fresh, locally-grown food. The cost is $22 per week. Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) and Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) recipients receive a $2 Fresh Check coupon for every $5 they spend using Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT).
Rochester Roots not only involves the teachers and students of the schools where it works, but it brings other members of the community together for specific projects. Volunteers from SUNY Geneseo and Nazareth College have played a big part in maintaining the Clara Barton Urban Farm.
Green Power and Petal Power
At Abundance, we are proud to be able to offer just one of the many fruits of Rochester Roots’s work in the community: the Petal Power and Green Power lip balms and skin salves. After six weeks of soaking in almond oil, the essence of calendula petals and comfrey leaves is captured with beeswax, local honey from Doan’s Farm (available in the bulk section), and a little fragrance to create the truly captivating Petal Power and Green Power lip balms and skin salves.
If you have seen the new Local Abundance panel for Rochester Roots in our store, the image depicts an architect’s plan for a project Jan hopes to realize at Clara Barton No. 2 School–a fully-equipped sustainability learning center.
“This will be a place where students can experience and learn about the food system cycle from seed to plate. With a small farm, the fully sustainably-designed building will house a laboratory where children would be able to really see how food works, how it is grown, and how that informs its nutritional value. It will be a learning laboratory about ‘real’ food.”
Jan hopes that the Sustainability Curriculum will evolve in such a way that it will offer graduating high school students the opportunity to become agricultural entrepreneurs. She envisions a partnership with a local farm where students on such a program would be able to operate a small incubator farm.
“Agriculture is a viable business and career, and it can form a real pathway out of poverty for many kids in Rochester.”