- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 30, 2014

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (AP) - When the city rejected its first applicant to develop a pilot “urban farm” earlier this year, it could have represented a setback in efforts to bring better nutrition to underserved areas sometimes called “food deserts.”

Instead, officials insist, it spurred changes that in many ways make the revised project more attractive than its predecessor.

“Maybe we should have done it this way originally,” said Heather Presley-Cowen, deputy director of the city’s Community Development Division.

She said the new location for what officials hope will be the first of several farms is located in the Renaissance Pointe redevelopment area and will result in the renovation and re-use of historic Fire Station No. 9 at 2518 Winter St.

When it opened a century ago, that station was the city’s first fully mechanical engine house. In addition to numerous new and renovated homes, the area near the fire station is also home to a small park and an old Coca-Cola bottling plant slated for redevelopment into housing.

Fort Wayne originally planned to locate the initial farm on 2.8 city-owned acres near Radcliffe Drive, and even sought zoning approval for the project. But in May the city said the committee organizing the “Victoria Acres” farm near the Autumn Woods Apartments had been disqualified because farming had begun before federal funding was approved.

Committee members said no one in their group was responsible for the violation. Burmese families living in the area had been farming the site until complaints caused the city to order the practice stopped in 2012.

Now city officials are seeking groups interested in farming the acre surrounding the vacant fire station, which fought its last blaze decades ago and has since housed a community center. The project’s budget has not been determined, but Project Manager Jack Close said the building will be renovated to include an office, storage area and kitchen.

“If you want to teach people how to cook, you need a kitchen,” he told The News-Sentinel (https://bit.ly/1rxec4y ).

That’s important, officials say, because the Renaissance Pointe area in the Hanna-Creighton neighborhood represents one of several food deserts in Fort Wayne - areas in which at least one-third of the residents live more than a mile from a supermarket.

Although Close calls the federally funded Renaissance Pointe farm a “Cadillac” project, he said the intent is to inspire more modest farms in other underserved areas. Applicants must present a viable business model that will not require ongoing city subsidies.

The city’s original guidelines required that at least 51 percent of the produce would be sold to the public to benefit nearby residents. Presley-Cowen said the city is “seeking a partner with experience in urban farming and farming operations … (who) may be for-profit or nonprofit, would be connected with other entities in the community, especially in the Renaissance Pointe area, and would have a business strategy that is both reasonable and sustainable.”

Before food is planted, however, an underground tank that stored heating oil for the fire station will have to be moved. City spokeswoman Mary Tyndall said no contamination has been found in the site’s soil, but a second round of tests will be conducted after the tank is removed to ensure any food grown there is safe. A request for proposals from would-be partners will be posted on the city’s web site soon, she added.


Information from: The News-Sentinel, https://www.news-sentinel.com/ns

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