June 2 2010 12:00 AM

City’s first urban farm on a formerly unproductive patch of land could feed an entire neighborhood


Buried deep at the south end of Hayford Street on Lansing’s east side lies a small patch of land that nobody loved until very recently. It was an empty lot that will soon be Lansing’s first urban garden, thanks to two Michigan State University professors.

The professors, in conjunction with the Ingham County Land Bank and the residents of the Urbandale neighborhood, are literally getting their hands dirty to create a thriving farm that will eventually deliver fresh produce, becoming an oasis in a food desert.

The Urbandale Farm Project is the idea of Laura DeLind and Linda Anderson. DeLind is a professor of anthropology at MSU with a specialization in local foods and their implications for community. She has been working in food issues for 20 years. Anderson is a former professor in the college of education at MSU, and since retiring has become interested in sustainable food sources and has spent considerable time volunteering.

The two first met years ago while attending a lecture by Joan Dye Gussow, an urban gardening guru. The two became close when Anderson volunteered on a community
farm in Mason founded by DeLind. The two have been planning the garden
since last year when, during a scouting mission, discovered the plot in

The spot seemed right for several reasons. First,
its about a half an acre, ideal for big yields. It is also in a food
desert, an area characterized by minimal or no access to fresh meats or
produce. While lacking in healthy sustenance, food deserts tend to
contain a high preponderance of fast-food restaurants. A more readily
available source of fresh produce could mean that more people will make
healthy eating choices.

seeing the land, the pair contacted Ingham County Treasurer Eric
Schertzing, who oversees the county Land Bank, which owns the property.

“When we contacted the Land Bank we found that they owned it and were willing to have us consider using it,” says DeLind.

Land Bank is in possession of a large number of parcels in the county.
The plots are maintained by the county, some at a cost of around
$350,000 per year.

costs us money if we have to mow them,” Schertzing said. “If someone
else can take on the responsibility, we don’t have to do anything.”

grew up on a farm in Stockbridge, maintains a garden in his yard and
continues to remain passionate about agriculture. Using the Urbandale
plot seemed to him like it would provide a leg up for a community. The
Land Bank is leasing the parcel for $1 per year.

community garden in Mason founded by DeLind closed when it was sold.
The Urbandale farm may avoid this fate because it is in a 100year flood
plain, meaning that every year there is a 1 percent chance of a
devastating flood. The most recent was in 1975. Construction in the
flood plain is heavily regulated by the Federal Emergency Management

The structure for the Urbandale project will be different from the Mason project.

is not a community garden, this is a production-oriented farm,” insists
DeLind. At a community garden, individuals use sections of the land to
grow food for personal use. Produce from the Urbandale farm will be
grown and sold at a discount within the neighborhood.

of the crops being grown include broccoli, lettuce, tomatoes, potatoes,
summer squash, and beans. The production in the garden will utilize
organic techniques. No chemicals or synthetic fertilizers will be used
in the garden.

team plans to work in the garden every Saturday afternoon. The first
workday was April 17. The grand opening, which they are calling an
“open farm,” is 1 p.m. on June 19.

garden is expected to yield several thousand pounds of food for the
community. To help put that number in perspective DeLind gave an
example of a previous project.

had a (community supported agriculture project) years ago. We
cultivated pretty intensively about two acres and we fed from that 55
families all the vegetables they ate for about five to six months of
the year.”