Steve Rock spoke to the Madisonville Community Council
in mid-June about an update and a request. He and a team of volunteers
plan to convert a derelict industrial building on Whetsel Avenue into an
urban farm and education center, employing the latest technology to
grow fresh meat and produce in the neighborhood.
response of the more than 50 people in attendance showed that innovation
is not just about ideas and experiments; it's also about connecting
with people and building community support.
"I think education is
huge in this project," says Rock, an environmental engineer by trade
who has taken on the urban farm project in his spare time, partly to see
if some of its more unusual ideas will work. He spent part of the
meeting - and much of the time afterward - explaining various aspects of
the project: a system of vertical integration would grow both
hydroponic vegetables and tilapia in the building (a former laundry)
using waste from the fish to fertilize the plants. A classroom and
community gardens would help area residents learn about agriculture and
grow their own food. And a program to train at-risk youth would help
staff the facility while improving the employment prospects for its
But questions also revolved around the building
itself. Madisonville Community Council president Bob Igoe explained that
the building, which has been vacant for years, is slated for
demolition. "We've got to be confident Steve can make this thing work,
or we're going to be stuck with [the building] for another year," Igoe
Several Madisonville residents asked pointed questions
about timelines and the likelihood of the project getting grant funding;
Igoe pointed this out as an indication - the project's merits aside -
that city residents wanted to see progress in their community.
"You have a room full of people who have had a handful of promises for decades," he says.
the end of the meeting, the community voted to place a three-month stay
on the demolition. This gives Rock time to try to secure grant funding,
showing the community the project can raise the $500,000 to $1 million
he estimates it will take to launch. Volunteers have launched a website
and have drafted handouts to help spread the word about the project, and
Rock said he hopes to hear about grant funding prior to the community
council's next meeting on the project, planned for September.By Matt Cunningham
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