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Urban greenhouse to open in Providence

Proponents of space tout educational, environmental, economic opportunities for city

This fall, the first urban greenhouse in Providence will be built on a vacant lot at 433 Prairie Ave., according to a press release from the City of Providence’s Office of Sustainability and Healthy Communities Office. The project was funded by the Lots of Hope program, which transforms empty city-owned spaces into urban farms.

The 3,200-square-foot lot offers a range of environmental, educational and economic opportunities, said Chris Barnett, senior public affairs officer of the Rhode Island Foundation, a nonprofit that donated $55,000 to build the greenhouse. Local students, farmers and environmental enthusiasts all stand to benefit from the new space, he said. The foundation’s donation was matched dollar-for-dollar by the environmental nonprofit Partners for Places, according to the city’s release announcing the greenhouse.

The greenhouse, which will be built near Mary E. Fogarty Elementary School and Robert L. Bailey IV Elementary School, can facilitate hands-on environmental education and help the Providence School Department reach its goal of having 15 percent of food purchases be locally sourced, according to a statement released by Mayor Angel Taveras’ office.

But since greenhouses generate more products during summer months than others, the Lots of Hope greenhouse may not have a significant impact on local school meals, said Dawn King, visiting assistant professor of environmental studies. Given existing demand, just one greenhouse in the neighborhood would not provide enough produce for all of the schools, she added.

Brown students have been intimately involved in developing the Lots of Hope program, King said, citing two students who worked on the greenhouse project this summer.

The city government hopes to develop agricultural micro-businesses by offering farmers who use the new greenhouse low-cost leases, according to the press release from the Office of Sustainability and Healthy Communities Office.

Urban agriculture is already a booming sector in Rhode Island, King said. Though the total number of farms across the country declined, Rhode Island saw an increase in farmland from 2007 to 2012, the Providence Journal reported in February. Locally grown food contributes to Rhode Island’s food culture, but King said she hopes sustainability “isn’t just a passing trend.”

The Lots of Hope program’s other initiatives ­— including the Meader Street Farm, Manton Bend Community Farm and improvements to an urban farm in Olneyville that are currently underway ­— have been great ways to engage the community, Barnett said.

The Lots of Hope program partnered with the African Alliance of Rhode Island, a nonprofit that works to improve the lives of African residents in the state, and other community organizations to develop the Meader Street and Manton Bend Community farms in the last couple of years, King said, citing these collaborative efforts as positive examples of inclusive environmental movements.

The Lots of Hope greenhouse is expected to begin growing plants and produce this May, according to the Office of Sustainability and Healthy Communities Office press release.



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