While conducting a collection of oral history on behalf of the Hartford food Alliance I had the pleasure of interviewing Mr. Lorenza Christian. He is an urban farmer and has been affiliated with Knox, a community organization that advocates for urban farming in Hartford, CT for over three years. (0:17) He is originally from Alabama but has resided in Hartford for over forty-five years. (0:56)During the interview with Mr. Christian, he highlighted the fact that he comes from a family and a region of the south where farming is the norm, that farming is in his blood. He doesn’t look at urban farming as just some activity that he is interested in; urban farming is a part of who he is. (1:00) What he likes most about gardening is being able to feed himself with his own produce.
Challenges of Urban Farming
I asked Mr. Christian what are some of the challenges to urban farming in Hartford and he stated that finding suitable land for urban farming can be difficult and that soil contamination is always a concern. (1:20) He said that some of the biggest properties and those that are eyesores to the community could be and should be used to create large urban homesteads. He feels that having an urban homestead would provide a permanent place to support sustainable income for local farmers
The condition of, use of, and access to land for the purpose of urban farming is made more difficult by the zoning codes that govern land use in Hartford.
Prior to 2016, farming activities in Hartford were done under the radar. The zoning code in Hartford did not directly include a provision for urban farming. In 2015, the Hartford Food Policy Commission worked to update the city zoning code to increase the number of urban farms in Hartford. Due to the current update to the code urban farming is now allowed under law in all districts except in the downtown area.
Although advancements have been made on behalf of urban farmers the following challenges remain:
Soil Testing Cost:
Costly soil testing creates financial barriers
Per the zoning code, payment for soil testing is the responsibility of the individuals and organizations interested in acquiring property for farming
Problems with Finding Land to Farm:
License-only agreements on city-owned prohibit sustainable urban farming
This can negatively impact individuals like Mr. Christian
Without a permanent place or in his own words “an urban homestead”, his way of life in urban farming doesn’t seem sustainable.
License agreements are time-limited and can be revoked without the possibility of renewal
Challenges to profitability based on level of production :
City of Hartford zoning code limits the number of chickens allowed. (6:49-7:55)
Mr. Christians doesn’t feel it’s enough.
In spite of the challenges that exist in urban farming he still continues to be a productive urban farmer as a result of his involvement in the Knox program and his passion for urban farming.
(3:05) Mr. Christian became affiliated with Knox through their Hartford Blooms project and went on to complete an urban agricultural program under the partnership of Capitol Community College and Knox. He was one of two students to come into the incubation farm program at Knox, where he continues his urban agricultural activities. Knox is a community organization that offers positive development to a lot of people in the city of Hartford. Mr. Christian is one of those people whose food story has been positively impacted by Knox.
(3:35) Some examples of his productivity include the development of his business called CT. Collards which focuses on a variety of leafy green vegetables, and the production of an awesome(3:52) pepper jelly he makes from the peppers he cultivates. After our interview was over, he proudly shared a sample of his pepper jelly with me. I was amazed by the way he wonderfully balanced the flavor sensation of lightly sweet with a touch of heat.
Mr. Christian’s story is one of many stories related to the Hartford food system and the policies that impact this system. Although urban farming zoning codes have been updated, Mr. Christian sees a need for greater advocacy to relax policies that limit the activities of urban farming. (9:58) He hopes to see the day when more produce is grown in Hartford and “less is being brought into the city by trucks”.