Urban Roots Farm: Growing Food & Community Downtown

April 12, 2017 | sandy nance

It’s not everyday you meet inspirational people who, seeing a one and a half acre of land in the middle of town harboring old furniture, trash, and drug activity, say: “We need to make a farm here!”

Welcome to the story of Urban Roots Farm, a farm, yes, a FARM, in downtown Springfield. Urban Roots Farm harvests an average of 350 lbs. a week from  ¾ acre of soil. They are living in the possibilities.Quote1

When Adam and Melissa Millsap first bought the blighted property, it was bulldozed yearly to remove the accumulated junk. Now it’s overflowing with lovely, green, growing things as far as the eye can see.

In the summer, neighborhood kids ride their bikes to the farm to help out, follow Farmer Mel around, ask questions and share their stories. They often return home with a greater sense of community and some food to share with their mom and dad.

“We’ve created kind of a ‘safe zone’ in West Central…the kids call this place ‘Narnia,’” says Melissa Millsap, also known as Farmer Mel. “It’s hard to place what kind of impact the farm has on the neighborhood. You can’t really put numbers to it, but you can see it and feel it.”

Urban Roots Farm is a story with many themes, and one of them is transformation.

It’s also a story of Food and Community and Dreams.Quote2

Adam and Melissa care about food, and want to make it readily available for their community. A Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program is a great way to do that.

A CSA partnership is a progressive and sustainable way to receive fresh, locally grown food and support local farms. Joining a CSA is like hiring a local farmer, and getting paid back in food for the rest of the season. The community agrees to support the farmer by purchasing food in advance, and the farmer supplies, in this case, a weekly supply of locally grown food, Certified Naturally Grown.

The 2017 Summer CSA on Urban Roots Farm runs from May 9 – October 24, and includes twenty-four shares. Urban Roots Farms offers both a Small share and a Large share option. The also offer local-friendly add-ons such as organic bread and/or bagels from Legacy Bagelry, and a specialty blend of coffee from The Coffee Ethic, available to CSA members only. For more information on this summer’s CSA, review the basics & all the details.

Melissa says when shopping for a local CSA, it’s important to compare the details. Look at the pick-up times and locations, and if volunteering is required. Also, some CSA’s require the entire season’s payment up front, or add a charge for the option of monthly payments. IMG_7069-2Urban Roots Farm has a payment plan option for no additional charge: 30% up front, and monthly payment for six months. Their weekly pickup is conveniently located in downtown Springfield on State Street, just west of Grant. And although many CSA members volunteer at the farm, it’s never required.

With the summer season, and their farm, right around the corner, sign-up time is now.

Because of Urban Roots Farm’s progressive nature, farmers from all over the nation visit to learn the methods of this downtown farm.

By using High and Low Tunnels and Greenhouses, combined with lots of hard work and volunteer support, Urban Roots Farm is a four season farm, Certified Naturally Grown. They also have a firm commitment to protecting our watershed.

IMG_7062-2“Agriculture is the number one pollutant of our waterways around here,” Melissa says.

A weather station was installed on top of the greenhouse which shuts off all watering in the fields for forty-eight hours after a rain, while everything in the high tunnels still gets watered. They use a drip irrigation system.

The water from their wash stations moves underground to their drain garden, which also redirects water to percolate out at the back. With drains and an underground system, they direct the water where it needs to go. When farmers from larger farms visit the Urban Roots Farm, Adam and Melissa walk them through their process of redirecting water and reducing runoff.

“Everyone needs to pay attention to our watershed, “ says Melissa.

IMG_7059-2The farm also hosts events, such as Volunteer Days on the weekends, and a dinner exclusively for their CSA members. Their annual plant sale, held each Earth Day weekend, is April 21-22. Follow them to catch upcoming event details. 

Anyone is welcome to show up at the farm to volunteer or purchase food from their Farm Stand, Monday through Friday, 8 – 5 pm. Most volunteers are not CSA members, and are always welcome. Melissa says they love it if you email in advance and let them know when you plan to help, but drop-ins are always welcome.

Because Adam and Melissa’s last name is Millsap, they are sometimes confused with Millsap Farm outside of town. They are related, have similar methods, and share equipment, but are two completely different farms.

Urban Roots Farm has three primary outlets for their food. Their first priority is their CSA members. Then, local restaurants place their orders from the farm. After that, any food that is left goes into the Farm Stand on the property. Stopping by the self-serve Farm Stand is a great option for gardeners who don’t need the CSA share, or someone exploring before making a CSA commitment. Food in the Farm Stand is likely, but not guaranteed.

Melissa explains, “Most of the food I’m growing is already sold.”

Check out Urban Roots Farm to see which restaurants they’re selling to, and learn about their many CSA share options.

Walking around the farm, it’s hard to imagine a blighted lot. But the beginning of the story is inspirational to everyone with a dream and no idea how to make it happen.

Melissa developed a romance with farming as a child on her grandfather’s farm. When she was fifteen, she knew she wanted to be a farmer. She intentionally choose jobs where she could cultivate that passion: a peach orchard, a nursery, and landscaping.

Through different jobs and life changes, Melissa was thinking, “There’s a nursery or a farm in the future…”

It took a while for Adam and Melissa to realize the farm was actually going to be the lot right next to their home in West Central.

They met with the city for eight months to create solutions to safely grow and sell food in town. Melissa enthusiastically explained how much she enjoyed working with city government.

Quote3She says, “In order for Springfield to continue to move forward and grow, people need to feel comfortable saying, ‘No, I have an idea, and I really think this would work, so let’s work together and make it happen.”

Adam and Melissa used “slow money,” loans from people in the community rather than banks, to purchase the property in 2009. It took almost a year to get the land ready, and they planted in the fall of 2010. They also borrowed some space in a MSU greenhouse.

As Melissa shares the story, it’s clear help came from all corners of the community. She calls this the “love story between me and my community.”

“I always had this mindset that this place doesn’t have what I want, or wanna be,” but the farm and building something with others has changed that.

“No, I belong here. I have something to offer and the city is supportive. The community has been great. The volunteers have been great…this is home. This is a really cool place to live.”

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