Excerpts from an article in The Associated Press by Paisley Dodds
PERRYVILLE, Ark. (Aug. 19) - No overalls or straw hats in this crowd. Fresh from Chicago's Cabrini Green housing complex and another development in Milwaukee, a dozen kids are visiting Arkansas to learn how to become inner-city farmers. Growing cucumbers may keep 16-year-old Helen Marshbanks from joining a gang. Raising catfish under an apartment window sill may put more food on the table for the family of 14-year-old Darius Moore. For 19-year-old Eric Brown, urban farming is a ''cool'' complement to playing basketball and watching television. ''I want to be a writer when I grow up,'' Brown said. ''But this thing, yea, it's been real cool.'' ''For me, doing these kinds of projects has kept me out of trouble and out of gangs that are in my neighborhood,'' Marshbanks said Monday.
All are at a four-day, inner-city farming seminar at the Heifer International Project, an international grassroots organization. The seminar, held on Heifer's 1,100-acre ranch in central Arkansas, provides some of the budding farmers their first time out of the city. They stay at the ''Heifer Hilton'' - a barn that sleeps about two dozen. For many here, growing things isn't new. Marshbanks is already involved in one of Chicago's inner-city gardening projects, where community members grow vegetables, then sell them to restaurants. The seminar aims to show how to boost inner-city crops and expand into rooftop beekeeping, catfish harvesting, worm composting, goat-cheese making and organic farming.
The crops and produce can feed a family or be sold for cash, said Rex Enoch, global education manager for Heifer International. ''Even if these kids don't end up becoming farmers, these projects can help a family who doesn't have a lot of money for food, and it also gives them something to do,'' says Jonathon Woods, an aquaculture trainer from Toronto. ''Two essential things needed for these projects to work is a desperation for food and accessibility of land - two things quite common in American cities,'' he said. The idea is a step beyond community gardens, common in Chicago and most other North American cities, to urban farms. Europe already has about 850 of them, Enoch said.
One day is devoted to learning to harvest fish - catfish and trout work best in an apartment environment, with barrels serving as tanks. Composting techniques use earthworms and kitchen scraps to produce fertilizer. Another technique is how to make cheese from goat's milk - a simple process of heating the milk, separating the curds from the whey, then wrapping the product in cheese cloth. ''We feel really good about doing this,'' Moore said. ''There are a lot of people who can't afford things in our neighborhood. I think when people see what we're doing, they'll want to get involved too.'' Learning professional techniques could help the gardening projects already running and encourage donors to keep them afloat, Marshbanks said. ''We can see what a difference it's made in our neighborhood,'' she said. ''It makes people happy.''
AP-NY-08-19-97 0734EDT Copyright 1997 The Associated Press. The information contained in the AP news report may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed without the prior written authority of The Associated Press.