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News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.

Urban farming group teaches sustainability

Fort Wayne Urban Farmers members, from left, are Warren Crawfish, Ephraim Smiley and Bishop George McCowan are part of a program that produces vegetables for free distribution to inner-city families. The 1941 Allice Chalmers garden tractor is one of three vintage machines used to plow, disk and cultivate the 17-acre farm on Tillman Road. (By Rod King for The News-Sentinel)<br />
Fort Wayne Urban Farmers members, from left, are Warren Crawfish, Ephraim Smiley and Bishop George McCowan are part of a program that produces vegetables for free distribution to inner-city families. The 1941 Allice Chalmers garden tractor is one of three vintage machines used to plow, disk and cultivate the 17-acre farm on Tillman Road. (By Rod King for The News-Sentinel)

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Volunteers are always welcome with Fort Wayne Urban Farmers. Anyone interested in volunteering or learning more about urban farming can call 445-7298 or 220-0680. Donations of equipment and financial assistance also are greatly appreciated.

 
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They hope to harvest about 4,000 pounds of vegetables, which will go to families in the central city.

Monday, August 29, 2016 02:56 am
Every Thursday around 7 p.m., a group of dedicated people gather at the 17-acre plot of land just west of Fellowship Missionary Church on Tillman Road, ready to get their hands into the soil. They're part of Fort Wayne Urban Farmers (FWUF), who've been tending to this field for the past seven years. Last year, the acreage produced more than 2,000 pounds of corn, cabbage, squash, tomatoes, watermelon, green beans, mustard, collard and turnip greens that were given to churches for distribution to families in the inner city.

This year, according to Bishop George McCowan and Southern organic master gardener Ephraim Smiley, who head up the program, the crops are doing very well and, with a little rain, should allow them to double their output to 4,000 pounds.

"Two years ago," McCowan added, "most of our crops were pilfered, which nearly devastated our year and left us without a market presence at all."

After the 2014 debacle, McCowan made an arrangement with some Amish families in Adams and Wayne Counties to grow okra, purple-hull peas, kale and other leafy greens for FWUF.

"We hire them to plant and harvest the vegetables, and we market them at the South Side Farmers Market on Warsaw Street," he said. "Money earned from the sale of this produce goes to purchase seeds for the Tillman Road farm, to buy gas and to maintain our tractors."

In addition, the Allen County office of the Purdue Cooperative Extension program (McCowan is a member of its board) has established an Urban 4-H program in conjunction with the Boys & Girls Club of Fort Wayne to teach young people the importance of self-sufficiency through gardening.

Fifty to 60 youngsters from the Boys & Girls Club and Fellowship Church youth group helped prepare the ground, plant seeds and cultivate. They'll also be participating in the harvest.

"Our hope," said McCowan, "is to make this a year-round program starting in 2017 for children who live in the concrete world. They'll not only learn the basics of tilling, planting and cultivating, but marketing their produce as well. We will also urge them to display their produce at the Allen County Fair.

"We owe a lot to three retired gentlemen who have brought their broad backgrounds in electrical, mechanical and farming to our program," he said.

Roger Van Camp, 90, who retired from the railroad, is an Allis Chalmers tractor used parts specialist and keeps FWUF's seven vintage tractors operating. Warren Crawfish, a retired electrician/missionary, maintains the equipment at the Tillman Road farm and oversees the tilling. David Tinney, a retired truck driver/auto mechanic, assists in the equipment upkeep.

As McCowan and Smiley attest, every year is a learning experience. "We have gained so much from the three retired men about what it takes to have a successful season and experience at bountiful harvest," they said.

Smiley, who acts as the property manager, points out that the Tillman property is not an organic farm and does not use manure or chemicals. He also makes presentations to churches and service organizations.

Co-sponsors of the project are Fellowship Missionary Church, New Jerusalem Church, Fort Wayne Fishing and Charismatic Orthodox Church, the latter of which McCowan is Bishop.

 

More Information

Learn more

Volunteers are always welcome with Fort Wayne Urban Farmers. Anyone interested in volunteering or learning more about urban farming can call 445-7298 or 220-0680. Donations of equipment and financial assistance also are greatly appreciated.

 

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