VINES began the expansion of the Binghamton Urban Farm in 2019, increasing the farm from its original ½ acre to 2.25 acres. The new growing space allows VINES to both hire more youth to work at the farm, expanding the Grow Binghamton program to a year-round program, and to grow more food for the community.
Read on to learn more about the projects and innovations on the Urban Farm.
STRAW BALE BEDS
VINES is using the new space to research new soil development techniques for urban agriculture. The goal is to refine a raised bed system that will be more cost effective than traditional methods, minimize lead exposure risks, and support a productive and sustainable growing operation. VINES is utilizing straw bales to give structure to the beds, free wood chips, manure and other organic matter will be buried at the base of the bed in between the straw bales, and a layer of a compost and soil mix capping the bed to create a growing medium. This modified hugelkultur bed is designed for commercial scale agriculture with the goals of reducing costs, maximizing the farm output, minimizing labor, and creating a sustainable system that will support production for many years. Building healthy soil on a limited budget is a major challenge to growing food in an urban environment, as there are often unsafe levels of lead present or little to no existing topsoil post build demolition.
Going into the second full season of managing the straw bale raised beds, we have found them to be very productive. These raised beds are very well drained which makes them resilient in large rain events, compared to our other fields which can easily flood with a heavy rain. As the straw bales continue to decompose new organic matter will need to be added to the walking paths. We have found these permanent raised beds are best managed with no-till tactics, utilizing tarps and added compost, which makes soil structure and fertility a priority.
The Urban Farm expansion adds an extension to an existing hoop house and an additional new hoop house. Having a hoop house extends the growing season and allows the Grow Binghamton youth to have a hands-on experience with season extension techniques. As well, with a longer growing season VINES can provide produce for more months to the local community. Having two hoop houses allows for easier crop rotation through each growing structure. By doing this, we can take time off from a certain crop in one hoop house and grow it in another.
SOLAR ENERGY SYSTEM
The Solar Energy System installed at the Urban Farm provides power for the hoop houses at the farm as well as for the soon-to-come office building. The 22kW system of 60 photovoltaic panels are pole-mounted to allow for the space underneath which is used for other farm activities like washing and packing vegetables or educational workshops. The addition of solar panels make it possible for wifi (super important in the year of COVID for our Green Thumb streaming and virtual tours for students that can’t be here in person), cold storage, heat in the spring for seeds, ventilation in the hoop houses, automatic timers for watering, thermometer that can be viewed remotely. Not to mention a tea kettle and coffee pot!
The system is connected to the electric grid, allowing VINES to feed excess power into the grid and draw power to maintain operations on cloudy days. The solar array is visible from the 343 Highway, bringing attention to the local solar industry.
- Expanded perennial plantings, including apples, more pawpaws, more blueberries.
- Land managed by VINES has a positive impact on the ecology of the downtown area including: insects, birds, storm water mitigation (less impermeable surfaces = better infiltration into the ground water), and better air quality with more plants and trees.
- Urban green space enhances the well being of the community surrounding it including: reducing health disparities, improving community health and safety, increasing residential empowerment, and encouraging sustainable communities.