The Farmer’s Apprentice

Laura Lavoie-Brown in the greenhouse at City Farm.

Meet Laura Brown-Lavoie, our new City Farm apprentice for the 2011 growing season! We’re very glad to have her on board this year.

Laura first started farming midway through her college career at Brown, where she was studying creative writing. She had decided to take a break from classes and spend a few months abroad working on a farm in France. The experience, she says, gave her a new raison d’etre. “After I got back, I returned to school, but I missed farming. I felt like I was rotting in the library. So I started looking up urban farms on the internet, and I found City Farm.” She volunteered there once a week throughout the summer of 2009.

Over the next year, Laura continued to seek opportunities to participate in small-scale agriculture while finishing up her degree. That fall, she completed an independent writing project centered on urban farming, dividing her time between City Farm and Red Planet Vegetables, and last summer, she helped to start a garden for a restaurant in Maine with her sister, Tess.

After graduating from Brown in December, Laura decided to stay in Providence and have a go at farming for herself. She started scouting for empty lots and found one in south Providence owned by a landlord who was willing to let Laura, her sister, and their friend Fay Strongin fix it up and turn it into a productive space. Through a lot of hard work, that abandoned property would become Sidewalk Ends Farm, named for the beloved Shel Silverstein book Where the Sidewalk Ends.

But while she was making plans for Sidewalk Ends, Laura heard that the apprenticeship slot was open at City Farm. She immediately contacted Rich. “I had already made it through the vetting process,” she jokes. “And I was persistent!” Her dedication paid off: Laura now has an hourly wage guaranteed through the fall with basic health insurance provided by the Community Land Trust. “For someone like me who’s looking to learn a lot about farming and make a living, it’s really ideal,” Laura says.

Despite all the time she’s spent there pulling weeds and turning compost, Laura is still enchanted by City Farm. “It’s a wonderful feeling to walk off the street into a farm—it creates a space in the city that’s really magical. I say I got the bug in France, but really it was City Farm that inspired me to think of farming as my future,” she says. “I love living in the city and seeing the relationships urban farmers have with the community.”

Laura is forming many relationships with the community herself: she continues to be involved with Sidewalk Ends Farm, which has launched a new CSA (Community-Supported Agriculture) food share in partnership with former apprentice Than Wood called Backyard Farms. Their collaboration was recently profiled in an article on the ecoRI website. With several customers already signed up to receive their homemade bread and veggies, and thousands of seedlings growing in their apartments, they’re off to a great start.

We are so gratified to see a new crop of knowledgeable urban farmers emerging in Rhode Island and know that Laura will be an enormous help to Rich over the coming months.

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