Overgrown and abandoned lots are being transformed into urban farms around the country. While that may seem like a simple idea, we can tell you firsthand that the process is not. Permits, zoning, clearing the land… you get the idea. The most important part is that, slowly but surely, Woodside City Farm is moving forward! Aside from being a working urban farm, we also uphold our duty to the land by being good stewards. That means soil and water conservation practices are and will be key to everything we do – starting with the farm plan itself.
Working with Nature
Less pollution will enter the low-lying floodplain and the Reedy River if our veggie beds soak up as much rain as possible and help filter what’s left. This will reduce the chance of flooding, as well as the amount of pollution entering the Reedy River. Rain can pick up oil, yard waste, chemicals, and pet waste as it flows into storm drains, gutters, or directly into bodies of water, like the Reedy. Not only can these pollutants be harmful to river life, they can also affect our drinking water. If we don’t protect our soil and water, then we aren’t protecting the resources we depend on.
We’ll seed the floodplain with native plants and use the forested areas to cultivate mushrooms. We will also use these areas to protect natural wildlife habitats. There’s a large oak tree in the forested area, which will be the focal point of our outdoor classroom. The large crop fields are south-facing slopes. This will give crops plenty of sunlight while also giving neighbors and passersby a great view of the farm. A slight slope will help stop soil erosion in the fields. This also prevents water from pooling and forming small ponds. Our future cropland in the south, which is isolated by the flood plain, will require a small road with a gutter so that we can access the field after heavy rains. To the east, an understory food forest will feature a variety of edible plants in the canopy, understory, and ground cover.
The greenhouse is on an east-west axis. The trees on the north will act as a windbreak during winter; the road and fields to the south allow for full sun. During the summer, venting along the south side will invite cooler air in. The barn and farm stand are near the entrance for better visibility. Space around the buildings will be used for parking and gardens.
Our total growing space will be three acres when all is said and done. As clearing continues, we’re very happy to start with the 1/10 of an acre that’s ready to go! We rely on healthy ecosystems more than we realize. We hope students will leave the garden not only knowing how to grow food, but also with a new appreciation for soil and water.
Water is an expensive necessity all urban farmers should consider.
Most urban plots already have a water connection – ours, however, did not. In the unlikely situation that an urban plot does not have a water connection, an urban farmer will need to navigate local utilities to secure a water connection and service. In our case, Greenville County works with Greenville Water. Drilling a well was not an option for us in our community. Similarly, even though we have access to a nearby river and a creek that flow year round, pollution has compromised the water quality. In other words, pumping was not an option. As a result, our only option was to connect to municipal water.
The cost was more than we expected. Between the tap fees and the utility contractor, we paid just short of $5000.
Here is a summary of the steps we took to secure water access:
Contacted Greenville Water. The staff helped us identify the property and the nearby water access lines. Engineers are able to identify which lines can be safely tapped. Take note that some engineering decisions impact the size of the water tap. Tap size will affect the irrigation system design. Tap size also determines the tap fee. These issues should always be discussed with irrigation experts. In addition, the utility engineers also explained to us the need to attain an annexation covenant. This process added a trip to the deed office in our county.
Identify a utility contractor: In our case, we spoke with several construction contractors in the community to identify a utility contractor who had authorization to tap a water line and work with local government to properly locate and excavate roadways. Our contractor was able to help us successfully apply for an SC Department of Transportation permit to locate the line and repair the road for the line installation.
Utility marking: SC811 provided the utility locating services we needed for our contractor. Utility locating services will coordinate with local utilities to carefully mark electrical, gas, and water lines to verify that the contractor can safely dig.
Visit the deed registrar: Our farm location places us near the border of the City of Greenville and unincorporated Greenville County. Due to our location, the City of Greenville requires an annexation covenant agreement for a new water utility connection. The annexation covenant gives the City the right to incorporate the land into the city government services if the community should seek annexation in the future. The annexation agreement has future property tax implications. In our case, the utility required this covenant to be on record in the deed registrar office before the line connection was permitted. We needed to visit the landowner to attain a notarized annexation agreement that was recorded in the deed office. As soon as the utility office received a copy of the deed registrar receipt, they proceeded.
Sign a service contract agreement and pay the tap fees: Our utility will permit the contractor to carry on as soon as they have a signed service agreement. The service agreement establishes that a customer is willing to pay a monthly bill for water service. In our case, we completed the service contract agreement with our limited liability company.
Sewer utility easement: Since our water line had to cross over an established sewerage easement, we contacted the sewer company to verify and mark the easement. This allowed us to be sure of our meter location.
Schedule the contractor: After we received our DOT permit, annexation agreement, and utility permit, we worked with our contractor to schedule the dig. We reiterated the agreed-upon rates for the job. The contractor showed up on time and installed the waterline by boring under the road. The contractor worked with the utility inspectors to schedule an inspection on the day of installation. To meet code requirements, connections undergo utility inspections.
Connect to the irrigation system: The utility contractor left us with the proper meter, backflow device, and ball valves. The tubing was sticking up out of the ground. Afterwards, we were able to connect plumbing to our irrigation line. In some municipalities, a farmer may need to contact a plumber to install a hose bib.
Business in motion, we turned to the company that had agreed to purchase our produce. Chartwells, Legacy Charter School’s dining services provider, promotes locally grown produce and supports local farms like Woodside City Farm. There was only one thing standing between us and our first major buyer – GAP Certification.
GAP, which stands for Good Agricultural Practices, are the basic environmental and operational conditions, as well as the growing and harvesting practices needed to safely produce fruits and vegetables. Simply put, it’s a voluntary audit program focused on food safety. Although it’s market-driven, meaning a buyer makes the choice of whether or not they require it, meeting GAP standards will also help us meet produce safety rules under the Foods Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).
There are four principles of GAP that guide the point system:
Prevention of microbial contamination
Implementation of a Food Safety Program
Follow all applicable laws
Traceability, record keeping & documentation
Four W’s + Surfaces
Water, waste, workers & wildlife
Surfaces – hands, containers, harvesting tools, etc.
As we read through the audit’s sections and point system, uncertainty began to set in. Not only would we need to design a food safety plan from scratch, but we would also need to consider food safety in terms of workers’ health and hygiene, our harvesting containers and equipment, bathroom facilities, and so much more. While many of the guidelines are common-sense farm practices, we were still intimidated to say the least.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with CFSA, they are the oldest and largest sustainable agriculture organization in the Southeast. Their mission is to help people in the Carolinas grow and eat local, organic food by advocating for fair farm and food policies, building the systems that organic family farms need to thrive, and educating communities about local, organic farming. CFSA offers workshops, regional conferences, farm tours, and initiatives targeted at helping new farmers get off the ground too.
The workshop was a success! Broken down and explained in perfect farm-speak, GAP certification no longer seemed so daunting. CFSA Local Produce Safety Manager, Patricia Tripp, led the workshop and walked us through each of the audit’s sections. She patiently answered each of our unique questions and, in addition, passed out useful resources for us to take home. We also toured Greenbrier Farms and learned how becoming GAP certified improved their business and left them even more confident about the quality of their food. Since the workshop, Patricia has gone above and beyond answering follow-up questions and providing recommendations.
Overall, the main takeaway from the workshop is that food safety begins with worker health and personal hygiene. As we get closer to being an operating farm, we plan to take full advantage of CFSA’s one-on-one training too. This will also include a mock audit to help identify potential risks and better assess our practices.
If you’re interested in learning more about GAP or other tools and/or resources for farmers, check out the upcoming CFSA events HERE!
Woodside and City View have long-standing histories – their roots deeply seeded in agriculture. The area started with John H. O’neal’s farm in about 1880. By 1908, roughly 80 acres of farmland were established in what we now call City View.
The area has changed hands multiple times with mill owners, farmers, and real estate developers all contributing their fair share to the worn-out soil we’re now stewarding back to health. The community has had highs and lows since its establishment. There were decades of flourishing small businesses, churches, and community initiatives followed by times of depression. Mills closed and jobs, housing, and the local businesses that once served them followed.
There are many sad realities that have stuck. Poverty, low education levels, little access to higher waged work, and abandoned buildings plague the area. However, with grassroots efforts, such as those by the City View Coalition, locals are working towards a future where residents feel empowered.
We’re here to join that mission and help City View and Woodside return to their roots.
Farming didn’t stop with John H. O’neal in the early 1900s. Ms. Tarrant, one of our biggest supporters, was born and raised in Woodside. Her family and their neighbors farmed the very land Woodside City Farm is now on.
“While I was growing up, food brought our neighborhood together. I hope this project can do that again,” said Ms. Tarrant.
This project is not just about growing food, it’s about growing a stronger community with conservation at its core. In 100 years from now, we hope residents will reap the rewards of well-stewarded land and strong connections in their community.
Land use regulations may be different in every location.
The land we’re using is on the border between an unincorporated county and a city. Therefore, we felt like it was important to contact both county and city offices. We paid special attention to the floodplain and land use needs.
The floodplain administrator in our county helped us understand the rules for working our land. Meanwhile, the zoning administration helped us understand the laws that govern the allowed land uses. If you plan to start an urban farm, it’s important to take the time to understand the laws that govern the use of our lands. These laws help a community determine the future that they see for themselves. It would be a grave mistake to acquire land in a community and then find out you have to apply for a zoning change in order to farm it.