Sometimes a farm is more than just a farm. For the 20-something women who run Sidewalk Ends Farm, farming is a platform for social issues and creativity as much as a way to provide great food and beautiful flowers for their community.
Tess Brown-Lavoie, 25, says farming provides an opportunity to “explore the political dimensions of issues regarding food access, justice and environmental sustainability through our relationship with land, and the principles of stewardship we work within.” It’s also “creative work” that allows them to “manifest” their “interests, values and aesthetics,” she says.
Tess Brown-Lavoie and her older sister, Laura Brown-Lavoie, along with Sarah Turkus, both 27, grow a variety of vegetables and flowers on two separate plots. One, a 5,000-square foot urban garden in the city’s Armory Park neighborhood, was started in 2011. Last year, the farm expanded to include a two-acre plot in nearby Seekonk, Massachusetts.
The farm was started by the Brown-Lavoie sisters and Fay Strongin, 27, of Brookline, Massachusetts, at what was once a vacant city lot, but thanks to lots of hard work and dedication has become a food production hub and focal point for community agricultural education, with classes on such subjects as seed sharing and soil remediation.
“We don’t make lots of money, but we eat the best food there is, and we are able to be generous with it with our friends and neighbors,” says Tess Brown-Lavoie.
Strongin is still helping out with the farm when she can, but is headed off to graduate school at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to study urban planning this fall. Turkus joined the farm last year.
Besides selling their produce and flowers at a nearby mixed-income market, they have a 50-member CSA, and also provide produce to Providence and East Bay restaurants through the Little City Growers Co-op, a wholesale cooperative of small farms.
“We try to take advantage and give back to the resources in our community as much as possible, by trading homemade bread for tractor repair advice from a neighbor, harvesting seaweed from the Rhode Island coast to add fertility to our soil, shoveling manure at the Providence Mounted Police stables to add to our compost piles, along with the food scraps from a few local soup kitchens,” says Turkus in an email.
The Brown-Lavoie sisters and Turkus began farming right out of college. They are first-generation farmers, and all three have apprenticed at various farms before their involvement with Sidewalk Ends Farm.
Besides farming, the three have other passions they pursue. Laura Brown-Lavoie writes and performs poetry and stories. Tess Brown-Lavoie writes and is the drummer for the band Mother Tongue. She and Turkus also coordinate the Young Farmer Network, an organization that works to support young farmers in the region. Turkus does after-school programs with young children.
“We love working with our bodies and being outside. We don’t make lots of money, but we eat the best food there is, and we are able to be generous with it with our friends and neighbors,” says Tess Brown-Lavoie.
Photo: Sophie Sarkar