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Urban farms, beacons of self-reliance, change the Buffalo landscape

Urban farms, beacons of self-reliance, change the Buffalo landscape

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Mayda Pozantides slings burgers two nights a week in an Allentown restaurant but her career aspirations involve something much more grounded.

She wants to be a full-time farmer in the City of Buffalo.

Pozantides, 30, and her boyfriend, Anders Gunnersen – operations director with Buffalo Reddy BikeShare – bought a patch of land three years ago on the East Side. They spent two years stripping it of brush, rock and chunks of blacktop. This year, they brought in new soil and planted a large slate of vegetable crops.

"I used to be a teacher and Anders used to do environmental education," Pozantides said. "We want to bring that element to the farm. We're building slowly."

Groundwork Market Garden – a roughly 2-acre plot at Genesee and Leslie streets – is among several urban farms that have emerged in the city during the last decade.

While not self-sustaining, each in its own way has helped inspire the creation of community and residential gardens across the city, underlined the importance of access to healthy, affordable food, and helped serve as a linchpin in ongoing efforts to revitalize neighborhoods.

Each faces similar challenges: the cost and work involved in creating proper soil conditions; access to a cheap, dependable water supply after city regulations ended their use of hydrants; and looking to boost crop yields as they battle deer, woodchucks, rabbits and a limited Western New York growing season.

Dogs and fencing have slowed the critters. Grant money from the U.S. Department of Agriculture has helped some farms build high tunnels – also called hoop houses – that allow planting and harvesting even in the winter months. A cooperative called the Farmer Pirates is among those providing compost to help bring urban farm soil into a more hospitable pH to grow fruits and vegetables.

"A lot of the farmers have reasons they're farming that are other than financial…," said Megan Burley, farm business management educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Erie County. "Still, without a margin, there is no mission."

Urban farm owners in Buffalo all aim to serve as beacons of the local food movement, symbols of simple self-reliance, and examples that simple ideas that can work at the grassroots level. Some have a spiritual mission; all, a social one.

Eleven urban farms help lead the way in Buffalo. Several will be stops on the ninth annual GObike Buffalo Tour de Farms bicycling event next Saturday, Sept. 16. For more information and to sign up, visit


1172 West Ave.;

Matt Kaufmann is the farm manager for this Upper West Side farm, which since 2012 has expanded from three lots at West and West Delevan avenues to a couple more lots a block north.

The nonprofit farm is ministry of Buffalo Vineyard Church and is tended by Kaufmann; assistant manager Seth Brown, the lone paid farmhand; and a collection of volunteers from schools, community groups, the mayor's summer youth program, Buffalo Urban Ministries Partnership and 716 Ministries.

More than 80 vegetable varieties are in the ground here. They include amaranth, Asian cucumber and original white, egg-sized eggplant – all popular with recent immigrants in the neighborhood. Produce from the farm goes to 40 members of the 5 Loaves CSA, the Tapestry Charter School lunch program and the Lexington Food Co-Op. Much of it also is sold from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays through October at the Elmwood Village Farmers Market.


309 Peckham St.;

Terra Dumas started the farm five years ago and brought on partner Josh Poodry, who also owns a landscaping business, two years ago. The farm sits on 11 lots where nearly 40 vegetable varieties are grown for 83 CSA members and a farm stand on the property. The stand is open 4 to 7 p.m. Thursdays and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays through mid-October.

The owners dug a well on the site this year to better supply their crops with water and also erected a hoop house that has boosted tomato production. Students from SUNY Buffalo State and the nearby School 31 are among those who will help Dumas and Poodry tend the farm this fall.


Foot of Gittere Street, off Sycamore Street;

The Farmer Pirates are a farm collective that has purchased lots on the East Side in an effort to promote healthy eating and self-reliance. Those who tend urban farms and large gardens are welcome to participate. Farms in the fold include Common Roots, Wilson Street, the homestead off Gittere Street and the planned Michigan Riley Farm off Michigan Avenue, north of the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.

"Growing food in the city is often cited for its potential economic benefit," the Pirates say on their website. "Whether or not urban farming is an economically viable profession, let alone holding the potential for economic development, the real value growing food in the city is the potential to improve quality of life and strengthen communities."


1698 Genesee St.;

Cornerstones of the farm this first growing season have become a large wind tunnel that holds about 300 tomato plants, as well as the recent purchase next door of a three-story, 40,000-square-foot former manufacturing building that will be turned into a mixed-use project that helps support the farm.

Pozantides and Gunnersen sell their produce to the 20 members of their CSA – as well as neighbors who stop by Tuesday evenings for CSA pickups. They also sell produce at the North Buffalo Farmers Market from 3 to 7 p.m. Thursdays through October at Holy Spirit Church, 85 Dakota St., near Hertel and Delaware avenues.


36 Brewster St.

Refugee farmers – mostly from Bhutan of Nepalese descent, Congo, Palestine and Syria – help tend two patches on a small side street behind the Tri-Main Center at Main Street and Jewett Parkway. They earn a small wage as part of the Journey's End Green Shoots for New Americans program, Program Manager Beth Drouhard said.

Sixteen farmers tend more than 30 vegetables at the farm, which includes a hoop house. Produce here helps feed 20 CSA members and those who stop by a market table from 1:30 to 6 p.m. Thursdays in the Tri-Main Center. The program also will provide free produce at 2 p.m. Wednesday alongside the Brewster Street farm, while supplies last.


389 Massachusetts Ave.;

Established in 1992 and incorporated in 2000, this nonprofit farm operation on the West Side is the largest urban farm force in the city. Since 2003, its Growing Green program has provided jobs and training to more than 700 low-income  youths ages 14 to 20.

MAP looks to open its new $2 million Farmhouse & Community Food Resource Center next spring. It will include a teaching kitchen, meeting and training space. The farmhouse has swallowed nine of a dozen tracts on its main farm, limiting production this season. Its produce is available at two weekly MAP Mobile Food Markets: 4 to 6 p.m. Thursdays through October at Elim Christian Fellowship, 70 Chalmers Ave.; and 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Fridays at the Moot Senior Center, 292 High St.

"The construction is really limiting us," Development Director Erin Carmina said. "Next year we'll be in full swing," including other farm plots on Winter and Breckenridge streets.


206 Best St.,

Garden Manager Caesandra Seawell has led the transformation of four vacant city lots across the street from City Honors into an outdoor school and community garden.

The garden – a key part of the school's fifth- and sixth-grade curriculum – includes a rain garden, a dozen raised beds for vegetables, fruits, and herbs, edible flowers, and cherry, plum, peach, and native serviceberry trees.

Bordering neighbors also have been encouraged to plant crops in raised beds on the site. Produce here is tended by volunteers and students. Some of it makes it home to families, Seawall said, though much of it doesn't even make it across the street and back to school.


462 Elk St.; between Orlando and Babcock streets;

Seneca Gospel Mission is a Christian ministry that started in a Seneca Street storefront in 1936 and moved to the Valley Neighborhood of South Buffalo two years later. Promise Valley started as a small garden tended by children and became an official urban farm last year with the hiring of Farm Manager Aaron Belleville.

"The produce goes to 12 CSA members; our NeighborShare program allows donations to subsidize costs to qualified local residents in Seneca Babcock and the Valley neighborhoods which have no fresh food access and oftentimes lower incomes," said John Brown, executive director of Seneca Gospel Mission.

The mission is installing a commercial kitchen and continues renovation of its ministry center for future food education and ministry programs. "We're also raising funds for a hoop house for next season," Brown said.


Dupont Street at Glenwood Ave.;

More than 20 raised beds sit on a corner parcel and a second site nearby on Glenwood. Owner Allison DeHonney started this venture in late 2013 as both a nonprofit and limited liability company farm. DeHonney and farm manager Sandra Bynum gather vegetables from the urban farm, coupled with fruit from a pair of growers in Niagara and Erie County, to provide to corporate wellness programs for eight companies, including New Era Cap and Lawley insurance, and the new Neat restaurant in Clarence.

DeHonney also looks to build greenhouses, starting as early as this fall, at Zenner and East Ferry streets, as part of a Bailey Green sustainability and revitalization project spearheaded by Harmac Medical Products.


246 Normal Ave., at Vermont Street;

Started as an urban farm this year to provide its West Side community with naturally grown produce using sustainable practices. Vegetables, herbs, micro greens and mushrooms are produced at this farm, much of it in a new hoop house.

"We got our first batch of oyster mushrooms last week, which is exciting," said Carrie Nader, who owns the farm with her partner, Alex Wadsworth.

Much of their produce makes its way to the new Roost restaurant on Niagara Street and 100 Acres Kitchen in the Hotel Henry. Their salad mix is served at both Lexington Co-Opp salad bars. The farm stand, around the corner at 235 Vermont St., will be open 5 to 7 p.m. Fridays through September.


Wilson Street, between Broadway and Sycamore Street;

Janice and Mark Stevens, parents to seven children, operate this nine-year-old farm, which launched the urban farm movement of recent years in Buffalo. "We grow everything but corn," Mark Stevens said. Produce is sold at a farm stand that has closed for this season, as well as to 14 CSA members through October. The farm also helps supply several restaurants and Five Points Bakery.

Steven is a carpenter who does contracting work, helping the family subsist on the East Side. "The farm is not self-sustaining but Janice and I come from a homesteading background. We're terrible salespeople who love to eat what we grow, so we eat up most of our profits."

He's from Olean; she's from Rochester. "We're really about building a good community, a good neighborhood," he said. "All of the urban farms have a slightly different slant on things. We're more on the community building aspect of it. Whether we make a living is not exactly our point on things."


Twitter: @BNrefresh, @ScottBScanlon



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