CRA-Funded Urban Farm Coming to Mass Market

Mass Market Urban FarmAn urban farm under construction at the Mass Market redevelopment project in the Parker Street neighborhood will teach Lakeland Christian School students about food production and become a venue for community workshops, according to the teacher promoting the idea.

Jennifer Canady, director of the LCS Research Innovative Stem Entrepreneurship Institute, said the farm will give students from pre-K to 12th grade a chance to implement in the real world what they’ve learned in the classroom.

Construction began at the corner of Plum Street and North Massachusetts Avenue in June and is scheduled to end in the fall. A grand opening has been scheduled for 5 p.m. Oct. 26.

The farm is being developed on a third of an acre leased to the school for $50 a year for 10 years by the Lakeland Community Redevelopment Authority, which has provided a $63,245 grant to build the farm. The agreement, which also allows LCS to be reimbursed $15,000 to operate the farm in its first three years, was approved by the Lakeland City Commission May 15. (Watch Canady’s presentation at that meeting.)

CRA Manager Nicole Travis said the farm helps complete Mass Market, a complex that includes an event space, kitchen for food entrepreneurs, art gallery and market-rate apartments: “The entire idea and project started with just a simple idea of maximizing the vacant corner of the project.”

The official name is the Everette Taylor Urban Farm in memory of a Department of Citrus auditor who was passionate about gardening and making connections across generations, Canady said; he died in July 2015.

LCS students will be hands-on during development, using design thinking to create a sustainable infrastructure, through trial and error, that can be run by future students, Canady said. 

“The primary focus of the garden is education for students at Lakeland Christian School and in our extension program for homeschoolers,” Canady said. She said she hopes the urban farm will give students “the opportunity to prototype solutions that help people not only in our own community, but across the country.”

Urban farm construction: the view from Massachusetts Avenue.

The students have already begun developing their own solutions to agricultural problems at their on-campus garden, the Land Lab. When trying to solve issues with irrigation, engineering and robotics, students teamed up to create solutions. They recycled food-grade, five-gallon buckets from nearby restaurants and created self-watering portable bucket gardens that draw water from a reservoir to the plant’s roots.

This means that the gardens are more easily maintained because the reservoir can be refilled with a gallon jug or hose every few days. With this system, it’s easy to grow beautiful vegetables in a small space,” Canady said. The bucket gardens have helped grow heirloom kale, butter lettuce, Everglades sweet tomatoes and various culinary herbs.

Learning how to create a sustainable urban farm is part of what Canady calls “the joy of the project.” She believes that it will not only help the students learn and grow, but will benefit the Lakeland community by offering workshops and make-and-take events.

Their first event will be the grand opening on Oct. 26 at 5 p.m.. Canady also anticipates that a bucket garden workshop will be one of their first community offerings.

They will also be donating to ElderPoint Ministries, a non-profit agency in Lakeland that supports elders by providing transportation, housekeeping, supplying produce, and assisting with other errands. Through ElderPoint, LCS will provide fresh produce to hundreds of elders across Lakeland.

Learn more about the LCS RISE Urban Garden on their Facebook page or on their website lcsrise.com.

Here’s a schematic for the garden. Massachusetts Avenue runs along the bottom and Plum Street is to the right:

CRA Report and Lease Agreement: