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How the Plant Sale has nurtured RI’s urban agriculture movement

City Farm Plant Sale

“A few years ago nobody knew about urban agriculture,” says Roberta Groch, an SCLT board member who is also an urban planner for the state. “But, slowly we started incorporating it into the zoning in Providence and in other communities. And now it’s up at the State House, it’s in the Comprehensive Plan and in state regulations. Urban agriculture is now allowed everywhere, and is a huge part of what’s important to the state.”

This didn’t happen on its own.

The explosion of interest in growing food in and around Providence has been fueled in large part by our Rare & Unusual Plant Sale. Every May it brings more than 2,000 people to City Farm over one weekend. The money raised pays for training programs for urban gardeners and beginning farmers, for agricultural resources, for health education and for plots of land where people can grow food.

The Sale also supplies the local food system annually with upwards of 20,000 vegetable and fruit plants that will be grown, sold, shared and enjoyed by Rhode Islanders.

When SCLT was founded 36 years ago, its goal was to create resilient communities, in part, by empowering people with limited financial means to grow food close to home and without toxic fertilizers and pesticides.

Over the next four decades, staff and volunteers have helped change statewide agricultural policies and zoning regulations, including an ordinance permitting people to raise chickens in Providence. We’ve launched the RI Food Policy Council and built a network of 58 community gardens and farms in Providence, Cranston and Pawtucket where roughly 1,200 people grow food. We co-founded farmers markets and growers collaboratives and provided education and employment to hundreds of young people.

The Plant Sale has raised Rhode Islanders’ awareness of our food needs, availability and belief that anyone can grow it.

Apart from its impact on urban agriculture, Rich says his wish every spring is that people to “come to the Sale, take a look across the street at the Somerset Garden [the state’s first community garden], and see people casting seeds and watering their plots. See that City Farm’s tomatoes are already in the ground, and that you can buy that same tomato plant, take it home and put it in your own garden, and realize that you, too, can grow your own food – right where you live.”

– Jenny Boone

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