Winter 2010

Urban plots

Farm interns share stories of dirt, bugs, and trips to Starbucks.

By Carrie Golus, AB’91, AM’93
Photography by Dan Dry


To her family in North Carolina, “a farm in a city doesn’t make any sense,” says third-year Emily Howe. “Even my friends here don’t understand. They think I work indoors or on a rooftop.”

“I’ve worked on a big pumpkin farm before,” says fourth-year Elspeth McGarvey, who grew up in Arcola, Illinois, population 2,700. “The weirdest part for me isn’t the dirt, or the grossness. It’s being right next to Western Avenue.”

As interns for geology professor Pamela Martin’s Feeding the City project, Howe, McGarvey, and ten other undergraduates spent the summer collecting data on the sustainability of small farms. Howe commuted to her job at City Farm, 1204 North Clybourn Avenue, on the 55 bus and the Red Line (sometimes stopping to get coffee at Starbucks along the way). Howe worked at several different sites, including West Side Technical Institute, 2800 South Western Avenue, where raised beds and paved walks gave the farm the appearance of a formal garden.

Is urban farming sustainable? Maybe. This summer was just a pilot study. Is it dirty, sticky, exhausting, unglamorous, and fun? Definitely.