Have you been walking down Cottage St recently and notice the new garden beds? It’s going to be FRESH’s newest site: The Cottage Street Urban Farm!
FRESH first began growing on this parcel of land during the summer of 2019. This almost acre parcel was thickly overgrown when acquired by a local couple. During 2019, they approached FRESH New London and invited us to envision the stretch of land as an urban farm. Since then, we’ve worked with properties to create a vision – all based in the findings of the Five Year Urban Agriculture Plan (that was created in 2019, with the input of over 250 residents!)
The long term vision includes rows of sustainably grown vegetables, a community greenhouse, gathering and connecting space for FRESH folks, a huge water harvesting and irrigation system (10,000 gallons!), solar panels co-located with the vegetable plants and snack beds. The crops will go towards FRESH’s community food distribution (which in 2020 was our CSA).
Getting to know the land has been an important step in the process. Before the current owners and FRESH began working here, we learned that there were originally two houses on this lot. However, one burned down and the other may have been torn down. Then, the land was forested for a long time because it was not big enough to build new housing according to newer zoning laws. This still leaves a lot of questions about the history of this land. First, why are there terraces? What use would they have provided in the past? Based on the levels of organic material found in the area, it could have been an old cow pasture. It is important to recognize the land’s history as it affects its condition in the present. Since there used to be two houses on this lot, we first discovered a lot of lead, glass and other rubble. The terraced nature of the land has also made it difficult to work safely as well. Therefore, we have worked on creating stairs and paths to allow easier movement. Now, Cottage St is a part of our Edible New London initiative as we repurpose this land to create an agricultural hub in New London.
So what has been happening at Cottage St? During the summer of 2019, Sean, our farm project and manager, led a group of interns and volunteers to work on Cottage St. We first tested the soil to learn lead and nitrogen levels, which were not promising. We also had a harvest before we even planted any produce! We found an abandoned pez dispenser (sans pez candy) and a little Bo Peep stature among other treasures. One we cleared out sections for agriculture, we planted winter squash, summer squash, melons and pumpkins on the steep hills. By growing these crops, we could test the fertility of the land. We noticed that although they grew, we were not comfortable enough with the produce to include it in our CSA boxes that season. However, what did end up growing really well were a patch of tomatoes on the second level. We also planted peas and oats that summer as a cover crop. Peas are nitrogen fixing which means that they add nitrogen to the soil which was desperately needed in the area. Oats provide a trellis for the peas and are also organic matter that gets tilled into the soil.
Then, as we transitioned into fall, we tilled the large area that sits on top of the third level. That fall, we planted winter rye as a cover crop to prevent soil erosion and keep the land moist. During the winter, we let the winter rye grow to be used as an organic matter to be tilled into the soil in the spring. In the spring, we tilled the whole area and then made beds to organize our growing process and planted seedlings!
Despite the setbacks of the COVID-19 pandemic, our Cottage St garden kept growing! Levo International, an outside group, installed hydroponics by the sidewalk, which are pictured above. We ended up harvesting 1,561 pounds of produce from Cottage St this year, many of which went towards our CSA boxes. We harvested 312 lbs of slicing tomatoes, 202 lbs of collards and 165 lbs of kale! We can’t wait to see how it expands next year!