This past weekend was the spring instance of a fair I wrote about last fall. “Get Growing” was a nucleus of urban agriculture education within Mayfair, a large and well-established annual street festival in Harvard Square. One of the biggest problems of the fall event was attendance, and it was a pleasure seeing the Mayfair crowds get drawn into the Get Growing corridor and alleviate that problem.
But even more gratifying a sign of the fair’s growth was the caliber of exhibitors. This urban ag component of Mayfair hugged the sides of the cobblestone alley that connects two of the most-trafficked streets of Harvard Square. A beekeeper, a book swap, an urban compost program: more than 25 tables offered advice, knowledge, or products addressing the challenges of growing and harvesting food in the city.
My personal favorite was the League of Urban Canners. They’re not a business. They’re not really even an organization. They’re just a bunch of people who hate seeing good food in the city go to waste, and they get together to harvest the fruit that grows on public land (or private, with permission) in the Boston area–cherry and apple trees, grapes and blackberries, mulberries and peaches–and turn it into jam. Which they eat, and share. They’re launching interactive Google maps of the edible urban landscape and are always seeking contributions.
The beekeeper and vertical gardens were popular stands. A slightly odd note was a rabbit table next to these–not teaching folks how to raise rabbits for meat, but rather, encouraging them to rescue rabbits and keep them as pets. (As a friend observed, “They were a little…anti-agriculture.”) Out of the couple dozen tables, though, only one was not completely on-target, which is a considerable achievement for a still-young event with a highly focused message.
One practical product for any gardener–not just in an urban space–was a simple, well-designed rain barrel setup. Inexpensive and made of repurposed food grade storage barrels, these painted-to-order collection vessels divert rainwater from a gutter, filter it, and store 60 gallons at a time that can be easily drained out and used to water lawn or garden. A clever overflow tube allows excess to be directed at always-thirsted spots like saplings or rosebushes. I love useful clever repurposed things that solve a problem.
What else? Mushroom logs made from organic, locally sourced substrate. A service that will bike to you, take your food scraps, and bring you back nutrient-dense, mature compost. The wonderful Boston School of Herbal Studies, offering insight into the uses of plants that grow even in harsh city conditions yet are generally ignored. The Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA), with guides to Boston-area farms, raw milk providers, and more.
And the belle of the ball, Lucifer (Or Lucy, if you’re feeling affectionate.) Placid, pettable, and helping to demonstrate that chickens in close quarters have their upsides, she drew in passers by who may never otherwise have stopped to find out that most Boston suburbs have zoning laws that allow backyard coops.
This event has so much room to grow, and this one Saturday demonstrated that the audience and the vendor base for an upwards trajectory. This is what the sustainable food movement needs: actionable, small steps that anyone can take; passionate advocates; and some fun. Connecting with our foodscape, however it’s boxed in or trellised or regulated, should never be a chore.