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Homebuilder turns local property into farm and garden

Date: 4/14/2009

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

SPRINGFIELD It's a sunny, but cool April afternoon and Leslie Clement is cutting potatoes -- not for a meal, but to plant on her new farm in Springfield.

A farm in Springfield?

Clement, a veteran homebuilder and renovator, has adapted the attitude, "if life gives you lemons, make lemonade" when it comes to the current housing market. She is taking three acres that once were planned to be a sub-division in the Forest Park neighborhood and putting them into agricultural production.

The 12-acre parcel on Brentwood Street will be the home of a farm and garden center that will feature produce from her garden as well as the products from other area farms. She said the property used to be a farm and that her neighbors are "thrilled" with her plans.

The land abuts the area when she built eight homes in the Craftsmen style.

She said the city zoning ordinances allow agricultural uses on parcels three acres in size and greater.

She described herself as someone who loved growing flowers and designing the landscaping of the houses she built, but she hadn't any experience growing vegetables. She has been thinking about such a project since last fall and did considerable research over the winter as well as start thousands of seedlings for the farm at her Longmeadow home.

With a rented Bobcat bulldozer, Clement built the raised beds she has covered with the rotted mulch she had found on the property. She intends to grow her crops organically and the raised beds will require cultivation by hand rather than rototiller or tractor.

"The land was originally a farm, and the top soil is more than two feet deep with a subsurface of beautiful sand for good drainage. The soil analysis results assured me that what we will be growing in is wonderful rich stuff in which a wide range of plants will prosper. The PH factor is 6.8, which is virtually perfect, and with the addition of a small amount of organic fertilizer and lime, the conditions are ideal for flower and vegetable growing," she said.

Clement is looking for people who would be interested in helping her project grow and has the following list on her Web site: farming and growing advice; old lawn and patio furniture; community gardeners; teachers for workshops; someone to teach canning and freezing; and old garden and farm tools, vases and pots.

As this reporter met with her, a Forest Park resident came by to discuss having some goats on the farm.

There are already about a dozen chickens running about and June, Clement's youngest daughter, helped her mother gather eggs from the henhouse. Clement periodically has to remind the family dog Kelsey not to chase the chickens.

Besides putting the first season of the farm in order, she is also renovating a house on the property and using the garage as the farm stand.

Clement is not only interested in developing agri-tourism in the city, but also in building a community of like-minded people interested in urban agriculture.

"For 30 years, I was fascinated by all the things there were to learn about designing and building good homes. I also greatly enjoyed the comradery of working with my 'guild' of tradespeople who built the homes I designed. But now, on the other side of a painful divorce and the collapse of the housing market, I'm now enjoying a new fascination," she said. "There is so much to learn about growing, marketing and running a farm and garden center. I'm looking forward to having a new 'guild' of fellow growers and garden customers. It's a happy business, and it seems like everyone loves a farmer!"

For more information on her start-up farm, contact Clement at 567-7887 or at her Web site