Demita Frazier (left) of Green City Growers works with Stacey Barker on Barker's backyard garden.
(Tom Herde/Globe Staff)
By Michael Prager
United by commitments to the environment and reverence for the magic of soil, a trio of urban ag outfits are bringing farms directly to their customers, removing sod, building beds (raised, amended, or both), and planting to order. Depending on the business model, these farmers will get you started or tend the plots right through to the fall. You can garden without ever getting your hands dirty.
For a start-up cost of $100 and up, depending on your plot size, Charlie Radoslovich, 38, of Arlington will care for your garden all summer. If that seems cheap, it's because Radoslovich, who's in his first year operating Rad Urban Farmers, wants to sell some of your produce at the Lexington Farmers' Market. He's using the community supported agriculture model, but he's a farmer without land. When he plants a garden, he finally gets some land.
"Folks that have property of about 200 square feet get half a share," says Radoslovich, which amounts to about 10 pounds a week until October. "With more land, you get a bigger share."
Scott J. Soares, Massachusetts secretary of agricultural resources, calls the plan "very creative." He says lawn farming is a relatively new phenomenon arising from multiple concerns: economics, lack of time, and food safety and security.
Radoslovich uses a well-worn Ford pickup to bring compost and other necessities to each site, but once the land is planted, he says, "I'll maintain them on my bike. I want to do low-impact farming - hand tools, unmechanized machinery." This is his first year farming; he was a Belmont school teacher before taking a year off to be with his children. He hopes eventually to incorporate farm education for kids into his operation.
A Somerville group that calls itself Green City Growers has upward of 40 clients and is adding about half a dozen a week. Demita Frazier, 56, director of agricultural operations, says customers range from families to businesses such as b.good, a four-restaurant chain whose Brookline location has 10 soil-filled kiddie pools on its roof growing micro greens, tomatoes, and other produce.
Where Radoslovich does soil testing and usually grows in-ground, Green City Growers work only with raised beds, which increases the buy-in. Prices start at $450 for a 4-by-4 frame, equipped with battery-operated drip irrigation. They offer a range of services, from monthly consulting to full care, beginning at $35 a week. Jessie Banhazl, managing director and cofounder, says his group calculates that a 4-foot-square bed yields about $1,500 in produce for the season.
A third planting system is headed by 19-year-old Benny Barkan, who has farmed in California and Hawaii. "It used to be, not too long ago, that every person in America had a connection to a farm," says Barkan. "The problem is that people are too reliant on the system. We used to grow our own, and know where our food was coming from."
When Barkan planted a garden for the Eng-Canty family of Arlington, says Andrea Canty, he put in "at least 15 different kinds of tomatoes, 12 if not 24 basil plants, peppers, cucumbers, broccoli, and I think he put in some mint, oregano, and thyme."
Canty has succeeded growing flowers, but never vegetables, which she has tried only in pots. But a couple of years ago, the family, which includes two school-age children, took a share in Lexington's Busa Farm CSA and saw how much the children enjoyed self-harvesting at the farm, so they wanted to try vegetables again. Barkan, who also works at Busa Farm, charges $15 an hour.
"I didn't know how to do it, didn't know where to do it, didn't have the time to do it," says Canty. "And then I broke my foot falling down my steps, which cinched the deal in hiring someone. I called him up, and within a week, he was over here. He dug up the grass, put in compost, and asked what vegetables we wanted. I polled my family and he came back and installed it all."
Will she farm organically?
"We do do organic with our lawn, but I guess I haven't thought that far along. If watering isn't enough, I'm just going to call Benny."
Green City Growers, www.growmycitygreen.com, 617-776-1400; Rad Urban Farmers, www.radurbanfarmers.com, 781-258-4071; Benny Barkan, 339-927-6764.
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