Rebecca Koetz said Purdue Extension's new urban farming program is similar to the Gary Urban Farmer’s Initiative Urban Agriculture Certificate Training, Extension helped launch in 2020.  Image provided
Rebecca Koetz said Purdue Extension's new urban farming program is similar to the Gary Urban Farmer’s Initiative Urban Agriculture Certificate Training, Extension helped launch in 2020. Image provided
CROWN POINT — Planting schedules, soil health and a crash-course in municipal regulations: A new program out of Purdue Extension is equipping local farmers with all the skills they need to grow in the city.

Launching this spring, Purdue Extension's Urban Farming Signature Program will guide participants through the complexities of growing in urban spaces while connecting with other local farmers. An introductory course designed for anyone interested in farming in an urban setting, students will gather at the Purdue Extension-Lake County office in Crown Point every Wednesday afternoon from Jan. 26 to March 2.

The classes will feature local urban farmers as guest speakers, helping form a network of growers. Interest in urban farming has grown in recent years, said Rebecca Koetz, of Lake County Extension.

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"Most of the questions I get related to farming are people interested in either gardening or farming in an urban setting," Koetz said. "During the pandemic we saw an increased interest in how our food system works."

The curriculum spans everything from the basics of growing to the history of urban agriculture. Participants will be given a workbook and will engage in hands-on activities, crafting and revising a site plan for their farm along the way.

Urban farmers navigate a unique set of challenges, Koetz said. Classes will look at creative ways to farm in small spaces, such as vertical farming, container growing and raised-bed planting. City growing also involves specific environmental considerations. Decades of construction and industry has left some land parcels with no top soil, depleted nutrients and ample contamination. The class will teach farmers how to monitor for pollutants and how to rebuild soil health with cover crops and organic matter.

Farmers producing on a smaller scale can implement creative pest management tactics as well, Koetz said. Participants will learn the 'lasagna method,' which involves covering the ground with cardboard or newspaper and then layering a mixture of soil and compost on top to help the paper materials decompose over time before planting. The lasagna method helps suppress weeds while enriching the soil.

The classes will guide farmers through the social element of urban farming. Koetz said participants will learn about relevant city ordinances that may limit permitted structures and pesticide use, as well as how to build relationships with neighbors.

“Community buy-in is really important, because you are not in the middle of nowhere,” Koetz said. "It’s important to recognize urban farming as a legitimate way to strengthen local food systems.”
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