Olivia Dish

A Farm in the City

In Fancy Farms, Local Flavor, South Carolina on April 6, 2010 at 1:53 pm
City Roots

Welcome to farming in town

You can build an asphalt plant in the neighborhood. But want to put in an organic farm? That requires an exception to the Columbia, SC zoning law.

City Roots pressed on (or should that be plowed ahead?) and now, less than a year later, is growing vegetables and developing a market for, among other things, darling delicious sunflower sprouts.

“Yeah, it’s cool that we’ve created a market for something that wasn’t there before,” Eric McClam says, as I rave about the sprouts.

Eric partnered with his dad to start City Roots.  He was pushing a hand plow when I arrived for my tour.  He showed me what was growing on their acres tucked in between warehouses–rows of garlic, broccoli, lettuces–bee hives over on one side. He picked a few early strawberries for me to taste.

Then we went to the greenhouse, where my beloved sunflower sprouts were popping out all over.

City Roots

Soon they'll raise tilapia in this pool

It was exciting to see an operation like this in person.  I’d read about how Will Allen, the MacArthur Genius Grant winner, does this kind of farming in Milwaukee, with worms, fish, and plants in a greenhouse, all contributing to the loop. And it is a literal loop–water circulates from the fish tank back through the plants, breaking down the fish poop and using it to fertilize plants growing in the “stream” as the water flows back to the tank.

Eric’s father Robbie spent six months making weekend treks to learn from Allen, so that’s why the set-up at City Roots looks so much like the one I’d seen on Allen’s Growing Power website. The central building was designed by father and son–the father an experienced architect, the son a recent graduate from architecture school.

City Roots

The barn in the distance was designed by the McClams

If you’ve grown up on a large farm, as I did, it’s tempting to underestimate these compact farms as glorified gardens. But they generate quite a bit of food at City Roots, enough to supply the All-Local Farmers’ Market every week, a number of restaurants,  Rosewood Market’s produce department and direct sales on site.  All that, and City Roots has been operating for less than a year. “We haven’t completed a growing cycle yet,” Eric points out.

Eric is hoping more people will seek out their barn in Columbia’s Rosewood neighborhood (take Holly Street and follow the signs to Owens Field airport) and buy produce on site. I left with a basil plant for my yard.  In a few weeks, you’ll be able to pick your own strawberries.


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