“Growing” Stormwater Solutions (and Local Residents’ Skills)
When you hear the word “farm,” what jumps to mind? Corn and soybeans, probably. Maybe livestock or even fish. But stormwater? Such farms do exist — in fact, there’s one right here in Peoria.
In October 2017, the City of Peoria, Fresh Coast Capital and the gifts in the moment (gitm) Foundation broke ground on a stormwater farm at 1013 SW Reed Ave., a vacant lot located in a combined sewer area.
On this farm, flowering bioswales, a stormwater forest and other green infrastructure will absorb excess stormwater and help prevent sewer overflows. But that’s not all. The site will also serve as a urban farming and agribusiness training ground. Every year, 20 local residents will take part in the gitm Foundation’s Urban Agriculture Apprenticeship Program — learning how to cultivate produce, cut flowers and sell their products.
Known as the Well Farm at Voris Field, the stormwater farm draws its name from the site’s history. The property was purchased in 1835 by brothers Francis and Samuel Voris.
“They came to Peoria because they believed that the City’s rich soil would allow them to farm and produce a great harvest,” says Michael Jackson, one of the residents who helped select the name, saying it describes the “many benefits of the farm, from helping to clean our water to being a working farm that creates direct opportunities for residents to learn to grow and sell their own harvest, to increasing health and wellness by providing fresh food and a calming space.”
The Well Farm at Voris Field is part of the Peoria Innovation Team’s (i-team) efforts to show how green solutions can help reduce combined sewer overflows, enrich community life and expand opportunities for residents. Another i-team project, Peoria Corps, trains young, unemployed Peorians for jobs developing and maintaining green stormwater infrastructure. (The Peoria i-team is part of the Bloomberg Philanthropies i-teams program to help cities solve problems in new ways to deliver better results for residents.)
Peoria’s stormwater farm is funded by a $1 million grant from the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, plus another $1 million in matching funds and resources.
“This Well Farm project exemplifies the type of innovation that we want to support through the Conservation Innovation Grants program,” says Kari Cohen, director of the Conservation Innovations Team at NRCS. “The integration of green infrastructure, agriculture and agroforestry has the potential to deliver enormous benefits to Peoria and similar communities throughout the nation.”