Southside Community Land Trust’s sale marks its 25th anniversary May 20-21.
With 20,000 plants, live music, and a team of expert gardeners on hand to answer questions, the Southside Community Land Trust’s Rare and Unusual Plant Sale is a perfect start to the growing season.
At the sale, you’ll find seedlings for Pineapple Bicolor tomatoes, whose fruit will grow to be almost too beautiful to eat. “They are sherbet pink with an orange blush,” describes City Farm’s steward, Rich Pederson, wearing a bright orange shirt himself with a beanie to match. “It’s a great slicing tomato, delicious to eat on its own and a very productive plant.” You can also pick up Sacred Basil with its invigorating aroma, Yellow Patio Choice tomatoes that grow well in a container garden, and Sun Gold cherry tomatoes, a fan favorite.
Last year’s sale drew a record crowd of more than 2,000 people. This year, the sale celebrates its 25th anniversary. “Come meet the faces behind the food, hear the stories of the people who are part of it,” Pederson says, enthusiastically gesturing to seedlings neatly packed together. “We want all these plants to go to good homes to help our entire city eat better.”
In a greenhouse painted with a mural of a bucolic agrarian scene, preparations for the sale have been under way for weeks at City Farm, on three quarters of an acre nestled in the middle of Providence. “It’s really an amazing production,” declares Jenny Boone, the Southside Community Land Trust (SCLT) Grants and Outreach Manager. “It involves cultivating 20,000 plants from one small greenhouse over about seven to eight weeks.”
Led by Pederson and other staff, such as farm apprentice David Kuma, volunteers from every walk of life seed and transplant hundreds of varieties of fruits, vegetables and herbs for the sale. Affectionately named a “citizen scientist” by Pederson, Kuma is working his first season as an apprentice, learning the skills to fix what he calls an unbalanced food system. “I get to learn from really good people, like Rich, and people who even come in on their lunch breaks to help out on the farm.”
Today’s urban agriculture movement began in the 1970s. It includes practices like backyard, rooftop, and balcony gardening, raising chickens or beekeeping, and reclaiming vacant urban space for community gardens and farms. But growing food in cities has a long history, including in Providence. In the 1920s, the Biltmore boasted a rooftop garden and chicken coops. The land on which Providence Place mall now stands was once a school garden. Urban agriculture is taking off across the country, but it truly thrives in Providence. As Pederson contends, “It’s part of our vocabulary now.”
Since the first plant sale in 1993, the event has supported SCLT’s urban agriculture mission. But its executive director, Margaret DeVos, adds, “It’s not really about the plants. It’s not even about food, though we all love food and its part in good health. It’s about the people. It’s about community.”
The Rare and Unusual Plant Sale takes place, rain or shine, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, May 20, and Sunday, May 21, at City Farm in Providence, located at 168 West Clifford St. at the corner of Dudley Street. For more information, visit southsideclt.org or call (401) 273-9419.