Sow the Seed
My father grew up on the East Side of Buffalo and occasionally shares stories from his youth. He recently told me one about how he worked for a neighbor who farmed his property. This man, remembered by my father only as Mr. Shuh*, owned three homes in a row. He lived in one and rented out the other two. But he farmed all three backyards. He had chickens, grew vegetables, and also loved to grow flowers.
My Dad would work for Mr. Shuh all day on Saturdays in his garden, for $1 and all the eggs he could carry! This was good money to a 12 year old kid in 1950, and my father described how he loved to be there, working in the soil and learning from someone who knew what he was doing. And I bet my grandparents appreciated the eggs!
The lessons my father learned in the backyards of Mr. Shuh have proven to be invaluable, and gardening has since become a lifelong hobby for him. He can grow anything and always seems to know what to do to make the yard look gorgeous all summer long. Dad’s flower pots rival those of any nursery, and his flowers bloom longer than anyone else’s I’ve ever met. I once walked into his back room which is unheated, in December, and was pleasantly surprised to see a huge, beautiful geranium in a hanging planter. The same one that hung on his front porch since late spring. When I exclaimed about it being December, my father said simply, something to the effect of, “Well, this spot gives it just the right amount of light and heat from the sun, and I’m still enjoying it.”
Dad’s geranium in December!
I never knew until recently that the flowers I’ve enjoyed all these years were due in part to an urban farmer, Mr. Shuh from Glenwood Avenue on the East Side of Buffalo.
Shortly after my father told me the story of working for Mr. Shuh, I saw a facebook event for a tour of an urban farm here in Buffalo. I was intrigued, thinking about Mr. Shuh and my father at 12 years old. I decided to go.
Watch It Grow
The farm hosting the tour was Groundwork Market Garden on Genesee Street. The farm is owned and run by Mayda Pozantides, the head farmer, and Anders Gunnersen, the systems builder. Together they make a great team. Mayda takes care of most of the growing, weeding, harvesting and day to day work. Anders does technical work and the heavy work like turning the soil and building things like fences and the high tunnel where they grow their tomatoes. He also works a full time job. They both seem to be capable of doing all of these things though. Together, they plan for the future of the farm. And they have big plans.
The buildings in the background are on the opposite side of Genesee Street.
When I arrived for the tour, there was a meeting in the middle of the field that was just breaking up. It was a meeting between Buffalo urban farmers and Cornell Cooperative Extension. As it turns out, Buffalo’s urban farmers work together so that they can all succeed, sharing tips, ideas, best practices, and keeping up on regulations. Reminds me of the craft brewing industry in Buffalo. I like it. And it makes perfect sense to help each other succeed. This type of cooperation is incredibly good for a community.
The tour begins and Mayda is both engaging and friendly as she shows us around the fields that are her farm. She explains that the soil on an urban farm must undergo extensive testing before planting can even begin. The history of the property is looked at under a microscope, quite literally. In this case, Groundwork’s property was formerly used as a lumber mill, a relatively benign industry environmentally. If there were any contamination whatsoever the farm would not have received their permits.
We discussed the permits necessary for urban farming in Buffalo. Groundwork Market Garden carries permits that allow them to sell produce both on site and at farmers markets, to restaurants, and as farm shares (CSA) as well.
For those who may not be familiar with how a farm share, or Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) works, it’s where you pay a fee up front in the spring to a local farm, and you receive a share of the crops weekly as they are harvested. Talk about knowing where your food comes from! You get to meet and interact with the very people who are growing your food.
On a side note, I’ve been purchasing a farm share for about 10 years now, and it’s worked out great for me. I’ve eaten more veggies than I ever would have thought to buy from the grocery store. The best part though, is knowing who grows my food, how and where, and being part of a community that supports each other. You can be sure I’ll be looking into an Urban Farm Share in the coming years. As far as I’m concerned, Community Supported Agriculture is a win win.
Mayda stresses soil quality over all else, the importance of testing the soil regularly and keeping the proper pH level. Groundwork is a USDA Certified Organic Farm, and Mayda’s commitment to keeping the soil healthy is clear. As it should be with all farmers. Healthy soil makes for incredibly healthy and nutritious food.
Poncho, a gorgeous German Shepherd joins us for the tour. Mayda tells us how she decided to get a dog after losing about 50 heads of lettuce in one night to possum. Possum are a problem apparently. So are deer. Who would have thought? In the middle of the city! Anyway, Mayda’s plan to have a dog to scare away the possum didn’t work. In her words, Poncho is ‘useless when it comes to pests’. He’s just too darn friendly. Although he’s only 5 months old, so that may change. He may end up earning his keep eventually. He’s beautiful, no?
But back to the tour. Groundwork Market Garden is now in their 4th growing season and it appears to me to be a very healthy harvest. Mayda knows what she’s doing.
Reap The Harvest
I am especially impressed with the high tunnel where the tomatoes are grown. Mayda explains that they are producing 500 pounds of tomatoes, twice a week. I could never have imagined the type of system they use for their tomatoes, but once she explained it, it makes perfect sense. The tomatoes are trained upward by wires, and they grow tall and narrow, and boy do they produce! I have never seen so many tomatoes on on a single plant!
Where the tomatoes grow! And grow!
Anther shot of the high tunnel. Note the wording on the adjacent building “Farm Seeds”. When they came to view the property before purchasing it, Mayda took this as a sign that it was a good place to have an urban farm.
Mayda discusses with us about finally being able to hire someone to help her out this summer, about the process of harvesting, cleaning and prepping the produce for the farm shares, to be taken to the market for selling and for delivery to restaurants.
We are interrupted briefly by the appearance of Anders, who says a quick hello before disappearing into the high tunnel with a couple of neighbors who are there to buy tomatoes for their evening meal. I love this.
Poncho lounges while Mayda does all the work!
A couple of tour participants peel off and leave, and a couple more have joined us. It’s all very casual and comfortable. Mayda offers a quick stop in the building they have acquired on the property adjacent to the farm, to climb upstairs and out onto the roof for a beautiful evening view of the farm, and the surrounding city.
She and Anders are working with an architect to design this space that will include a living space, storage space for equipment, an indoor growing space to be able to grow and harvest year round, along with space for future educational activities (Mayda began her career as a teacher).
From the roof, looking toward Genesee Street.
I find all of this to be fascinating. It’s not very often that someone will give you a tour with insights into their business plan and discuss all of it openly and freely. I love every bit of what they’re doing here.
Mayda talks about all of it very humbly and matter of factly. She has a clear plan for the future of Groundwork Market Garden.
CSA Members arrive to pick up their farm shares and it’s quite a haul!
I consider Mayda and Anders to be pioneers of a sort, or visionaries if you will. People who see into the past as well as the future. They are farming the way it has been done for centuries before we began spraying pesticides and producing food in factories. They turn the soil by hand, plant seeds and weed the fields the same way. They have a close relationship with their soil. They rotate their crops to maintain the best soil quality, and in turn they produce the most nutritious food possible for themselves and their community. This is both the past and the future of food in America. We are (finally!) demanding it.
And Mayda and Anders are delivering.
What an unusual and awesome way to spend a summer evening! I couldn’t be more enthusiastic about what is happening here on a small urban farm on the East Side of Buffalo. I think we can be pretty sure that Mr. Shuh would share my enthusiasm; I know my father does!
Groundwork Market Garden is located at 1698 Genesee Street, at the corner of Leslie Street. Stop by and say hi, or find them on
or their website: http://www.groundworkmg.com/
You’ll love them as much as I do!
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* My father is unsure of the spelling of the name Shuh, which was pronounced Shoo.