Open Space 

Buying the farm

As spring shoots poke through the soil at the River Road Neighborhood Farm and Community Garden, farm manager Greg Price rattles off the dozens of different types of greens that he'll nurture this season.

"Kale, corn, potatoes," he says, "celeriac, which is a celery root..."

Price has served as the farm manager since 2002. As the Missoula City Council deliberates a proposal that, if approved, will enable him to plant a wider variety of produce on the 3.25-acre property, he's even more excited about the farm's prospects than in years past. "It's a huge deal for us," he says.

Missoula nonprofit Garden City Harvest manages the farm, which already grows more than 25,000 pounds of food annually. That food is donated to the Poverello Center and sold through a community share agriculture program. Additionally, the farm rents 55 community garden plots to primarily low- and moderate-income people for $40 per season.

For the past several years, Garden City Harvest has leased the property, growing food on about half of the parcel. In an effort to ensure the farm is preserved from development in perpetuity, the nonprofit is asking the Missoula City Council to draw $200,000 from a pot of money set aside in 2006 to protect open space and to help buy the farm.

Jackie Corday, Missoula's open space program manager, says the project, if approved, will fill a thus far unmet directive included in the city's 2006 Open Space Plan that calls to preserve urban farms. "It's the first community garden that we've ever been asked to contribute money toward," Corday says.

The entire purchase price, including associated costs, is $440,000. Garden City Harvest has pledged to foot the remaining $240,000 with a fundraising drive.

Corday acknowledges that some may see the purchase as a steep expenditure. However, she says it's tough to find land in Missoula's urban core that's suitable for community gardening. This project is especially valuable, Corday says, because it serves people who might otherwise face challenges accessing fresh produce on a regular basis.

City Council and the Missoula Board of County Commissioners will deliberate the proposal April 22.

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