490 Farmers: For the community, by the community
By: Portia Wojton
Once a vacant lot beside I-490, 490 Farmers has now transformed the area into a community garden. Since its start up, the site has grown to 78 garden plots, along with a free food stand, a community composting area, a children’s garden, and beehives.
490 Farmers was founded in 2017 by Chloe Smith who had a passion for beautifying the community.
“She walked by that vacant lot all the time,” said Executive Director Courtney Klee. “She reached out to somebody and asked how she could make it into a community garden. She got connected to the right people and got a permit.”
During growing season, 490 Farmers hosts volunteer days and workshops every Wednesday.
“We offer free informational workshops to kick off the season so people can learn what we’re all about” said Klee. “We’re really community driven.”
490 Farmers is not solely a space for community members to garden. It also provides assistance to people in need within the community.
“We weren’t producing enough food to feed as many people as we wanted,” said Klee. “We supplemented it by partnering with a farm in Niagara County and we take care of the families who are at high risk. They usually come to our Wednesday volunteer days, and we treat them as volunteers and give them the food when they leave. We don’t want them to feel like they’re high need, it’s more of a relationship than a handout,” Klee said.
They also have a free food stand facing Meigs street where houseless individuals can take what they need.
“The food stand gets used probably 12 to 15 times a day. We probably feed 100 families through that,” said Klee. “A lot of people come and refill it on a regular basis and we maintain it to make sure it looks presentable. Anything that’s left over and not being utilized is given to the free food pantry.”
One of the most important things to 490 Farmers is maintaining the land for the homeless encampment.
“The homeless encampment was on the state land before we were there,” said Klee. “When we decided to take on this garden, we wanted to make sure we didn’t impose. They were there before us. They may be there after us. It’s part of our principles of mutual aid.”
Many of the houseless individuals on the land are part of the 490 Farmers community.
“They are the decision makers. They are basically our family and friends,” said Klee.
“Tex,”one of the houseless individuals, has been living in Rochester since 2011. According to the 490 Farmers’ website, he helps build and design the space.
“I own two plots over there. It’s where I get my fresh vegetables from,” said Tex. “I just made my last batch of pickles for the season.”
“Tex” provides a voice for houseless individuals around the city. He is also an advocate for Peace Village, a homeless encampment in Rochester.
490 Farmers brings the community together by providing assistance to those in need, as well as providing a space for community members to grow fresh food.
“The farm doesn’t belong to one person, it belongs to the community,” said Klee.