Urban Farmers Shelve English Mall Idea

Thomas MacMillan File PhotoAfter resistance from neighbors, a local environmental group has decided not to pursue a plan to convert an acre of Fair Haven open space into urban farmland.

New Haven Farms had hoped to create the farm, and work with neighbors to grow food, in part of a long two-acre strip called English Mall. Its two blocks of grass, stately trees, and impressive boulders are bordered by Clinton Avenue and Rowe, English and Peck streets.

“We are not pursuing English Mall this year. We do not have the time or resources to dedicate to generating the kind of community support we would want for next year’s growing season,” reported New Haven Farms Executive Director Rebecca Kline.

The decision comes two months after the organization floated its proposal at what turned out to be a contentious neighborhood meeting.

At that time Kline and her staff said that the moment was right for the organization to try to consolidate eight separate farm plots across pockets of Fair Haven in order to promote nutrition and health through urban agriculture. The move would reach a wider population than New Haven Farms’ core group, patients with the Fair Haven Community Health Center.

New Haven Farms had its eye on only one acre of the two acres of English Mall. Some neighbors said they’d rather keep the space for cookouts and other leisure activity. Part of the land has become a magnet for illegal dumping.

Click here to read details of both sides of the argument, which became a culture clash between those who want to advance urban agriculture’s multiple advantages and the property rights —and expectations—of longtime homeowners. 

Allan Appel PhotoNew Haven Farms still plans on increasing their production in 2014 in order to respond to the growing number of families on its waiting list for food, according to Kline. Instead of English Mall, its has found three small alternative sites, one in Fair Haven, one near the airport, one in West Rock. The three lots total 2.5 acres. It is negotiating with the city’s Livable City Initiative to buy two of the lots, with a private owner for the third.

The goal, according to Kline, is to double the number of families the program feeds in 2014. Right now New Haven Farms grows food for about 200 people, from some 50 families, on eight plots of land. Besides growing food, New Haven Farms hold demonstrations on gardening, cooking, and nutrition. The program serves people living within 200 percent of the federal poverty line and those suffering from diet-related chronic diseases like diabetes.

In 2014 the not-for-profit, which formed in 2012, will seek to raise an additional $200,000 from charitable donors to keep the program going; a Kickstarter campaign will begin in March to raise money to acquire the new land. Meanwhile, the group has not given up on revisiting English Mall in the future as a possible farm site, Kline said.

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