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Urban Agriculture Takes Root in Rochester

Gardeners and Food Bank Planting Seeds for Urban Farming

Rachel Ward
WXXI Centre for Public Affairs

Audio story: Listen here.
WXXI’s Rachel Ward reports on a coalition of urban agriculture advocates hoping to find a new way to deal with hunger in Rochester neighborhoods.


ROCHESTER, NY (WXXI) – At first glance, the farm does not look promising. It’s overgrown with tall grasses and weeds. There’s a high brick wall surrounding it, which casts deep shadows over the cluster of apple trees. And there are kids running around everywhere.

But there’s also a warm, sunny greenhouse full of long tables of seedlings – a sign that some serious farming is going on here, according to coordinator Jan McDonald. She says the tiny farmers here at Franklin Montessori are growing 90 different varieties of vegetables, herbs and flowers in the courtyard of their school.

The students are part of Rochester Roots. They tend the plants and then take the harvest home, or sell it. But the program isn’t just about farming – it’s also about sustainability and nutrition. And soon, Rochester Roots will join forces with the area’s biggest food bank, Foodlink, to teach legions of people how to grow their own food, right inside the city of Rochester.

“Bigger than just agriculture”

Tom Ferraro is the founder and president of Foodlink, something of a local food bank empire.

“We really see this as part and parcel of how we correct some of the ills that are making that people are hungry. There’s just a lack of wealth and a lack of jobs.”

So Foodlink has stepped up its efforts, to make itself more sustainable, in the hopes of transferring that knowledge to the community. It has a farm where it grows produce to give away, and to sell. It’s cutting its delivery costs by brewing waste food into ethanol. And the food bank is hoping that soon it will be able to sell the leftover gunk from ethanol production to gardeners, as nutrient-rich soil, according to Ferraro.

“This is much bigger than just urban agriculture, I think as we begin to as a society be able to turn our waste stream into energy and do a variety of other things, the world as we know it is going to change rather quickly and dramatically.”

Read the rest of the story and listen to the audio story here.