Making Our Ground Work

Not your typical family farm

Matthew Hencinski

“The community we’re in now, Genesee St. and Bailey Ave., is a food desert.  There’s no access to fresh produce in this area.” said Anders Gunnerson.  “We’re hoping to alleviate the food desert in this area.  We’ll have a stand here where people will be able to buy fresh produce.”

Groundwork Market Garden at 1698 Genesee is a two-acre farm started by Mayda Pozantides and Anders Gunnerson.  This Buffalo East Side urban farm is aiming to provide the community with fresh, organic and healthy food, establish a presence in farmers markets, supply local restaurants, and educate others to the importance of farm fresh foods.

Anders Gunnerson on tractor
Anders Gunnerson on tractor

Driving past Genesee and Bailey you would have no idea there was a farm there, at least not until the crops come up.  Who would even think to look for a farm along a busy street in the middle of the city of Buffalo?  Surrounding the farm is an eight-foot tall chicken wire fence, supported by wooden posts, with rows of tilled soil inside.  As I entered, Odin the garden guard dog greeted me with a healthy bark.  A row of about 16 fruit trees lined the back right side, and tiny pea and plants were sprouting in a few of the rows.  Garlic that was planted last year is already starting to pop up.  In a few weeks, this entire garden will be full a variety of over 75 different fruits, vegetables, mushrooms and herbs. There is just about every fresh produce food you could think of including eight different peppers–from sweet pepper to habanero, four different summer squash, eight varieties of tomatoes, eight different types of onions and leeks, melons, kale, lettuce and so on.  All of the produce is grown organically.

With the many empty plots in the city of Buffalo, not much is being done to renew, and rebuild the city and community.  Many houses sit, abandoned and vacant, but Groundwork Market Gardens has taken a step to renovate a small portion of this unused land.  The neighborhood around the farm looked to be filled with abandoned buildings, but the community was certainly not empty.  The number of people interested in lending a helping hand was amazing to Groundwork.  “Oh my gosh, the volunteers.” Anders said.  “We don’t know what to do with the volunteers that we have.  Everyone who comes by is really excited that this is what we’re doing.”

Anders Gunnerson has always had an interest in agriculture, starting from his grandmother’s Victory Garden.  He always had a garden in his backyard, and would help others in the city build chicken coops and raised beds.  He received his B.S. in Environmental Science from University at Buffalo, and worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture for seven years surveying fruit trees in Niagara and Wayne County.  “I always liked to grow things” Anders said.  “I’ve always kind of been interested in this, but never really had a place to go big.”  Following a visit to Growing Power Inc. in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Anders was inspired to start his own urban farm.

His business partner and girlfriend, Mayda Pozantides, has been farming for years.  She received a B.S. in Human Development from SUNY Binghamton and worked as an ESL teacher in Argentina and Colombia for years following graduation. Mayda has since then worked on many farms including, Solstice Hill Farms, and Arden Farm.  She has even started her own farm, Golden Hour Farm, along with Groundwork.  Mayda realized that food could be a tool used to break down the barriers of social constructs and unite communities around positive change.

Anders and Mayda start their farm produce at their home in Allentown
Anders and Mayda start their farm produce at their home in Allentown

After purchasing a two-acre lot next to an old warehouse on Genesee St. a year and a half ago, Mayda and Anders began to transform this area into a farm.  What was once all grass and blacktop, is now rows of farmland ready to be planted on. But this didn’t happen overnight, It took nearly six months of hard work.  They were able to turn this land into farmland using only a tractor and hand tools.  It is amazing that in such a short time, the duo was able to tackle such an enormous task. 

Turning this city plot into farmland did not happen without the help of all of the generous people that donated to Groundwork on their gofundme.com campaign. That campaign had a $10,000 goal to enable the couple to purchase a hoop house. They reached over $6,000 on gofundme.com and that along with other donations pushed them over the top. A big help was a fundraiser put together by Mike Shatzel and the staff at Allentown Burger Venture at Shatzel’s Marcy Casino in Delaware Park on Earth Day. That fun night in support of Anders, Mayda and local agriculture drew a surprisingly large crowd of people who enjoyed food, wine, beer and live music on a beautiful night in April. The whole community has been supportive of the venture including a Love In Motion yoga class donating class fees to the farm and a great plug from Buffalo Rising.

“Without the fundraising money, I don’t know what we would do.  It would be a lot more difficult to get where we’re at, and where we’re going to be.” Anders said.  “It gave us the money needed to buy the tools and the equipment and the irrigation. We’re getting a hoop house soon.”    A hoop house is a structure, much like a greenhouse, that would provides a temperature controlled space to house the seedlings in early spring, and plant directly into the ground after it is too cold to grow outdoors. With a hoop house, the farm will be able to extend their growing season and provide the community with fresh produce year-round. 

“I spent the entire, spring, summer, fall, last year prepping the soil, this winter we built the fence. I got a lot done in the winter that I didn’t think I would be able to.” Anders joked. 

Every plant that is in the farm was started in Anders home in Allentown from seeds.  “We have 40 or 50 flats of various different plants growing in my living room.  It’s like I’m living in a greenhouse, which sounds great, but it’s kind of humid.”1

As we walked around the farm, I was able to see the plants and soil up close.  It was really impressive. They converted this abandoned plot of dirt into a soon to be thriving farmland. At this time of the season you see the beauty of the farm beginning to take shape, plants just sprouting above surface.  Many urban farms are springing up throughout major cities nationwide, with Detroit at the forefront.  It’s wonderful that Buffalo is also a part of this movement. 

The farm is part of the Bailey Green Initiative, which is a plan to revitalize the neighborhood and bring homes, greenhouses, and a community garden.

In the middle of a food desert where there are no nearby supermarkets residents are forced to shop at undersupplied corner convenience stores. Being part of the community and providing food is one of the main goals of Groundwork Market Garden.  “When you have communities that are of lower income and they might not necessarily have a car and easy way to get around and transport system isn’t providing extensive enough service to get people where they need to go, you’re in a food desert.  You can’t get food.” Anders explained.  The farm’s mission statement is to be committed to serving as an example of the viability and sustainability of food production as an integral part of the urban landscape.  They are dedicated to promoting the production and purchase of locally grown high quality, nutritious, affordable food for the benefit of the community. 

“We’ve thought about grabbing up these lots across the street to create community garden space, so that we can have a combination of our farm business and a community structure.” Anders explained.  “It’ll be great to have.” 

The recent closing of The Corner Store on Genesee St., it made access to fresh foods that much more difficult for the neighborhood.  “So right now if you were walking where would you go to get fresh food?  There’s a McDonald’s.” Anders stated  “It’ll be healthy foods, because we’re growing everything organically.  So there’s not going to be pesticides or anything awful on the produce we make.”  The benefit of the community is definitely in the farm owners minds. 3

In addition to their food stand at the farm, Groundwork Market Garden will have a presence in farmers markets around the area.  “This season we’re in the North Buffalo and South Buffalo farmer’s market.” Anders told me.  This is the first year that the farm will have a presence in the market.  “Last year was building the beds, moving tons of soil and compost, and making all of these rows.” 

The only worry that Anders had was with the deer and other wildlife getting into the plants.  Anders eventually wants to have fish and chickens.  “Hopefully in a couple of years we can do 20 or 30 chickens, I think that’ll be plenty for me.  If each chicken lays an egg every day, that’s a lot of eggs.” Anders laughed.  A friend of his is going to be bringing bees to the farm this summer, and they hope to have success with that.  However, Mayda has visions of getting cows, sheep, and other farm animals.     

“Everyone who comes by is really excited that this is what we’re doing.” Anders said.  “It’s different.  Who could be mad about a farm?” he laughed.