Keeping bees, growing mushrooms, and raising backyard chickens may not seem like the sort of activities one associates with an urban environment. But more and more Jamaica Plain residents are finding that city dwelling and agricultural pursuits aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive.
Longtime JP resident Bill Perkins is tapping into this growing interest with his new Amory Street urban farming supply and education center, Agricultural Hall. Stocked with products that run the gamut from garden hoes to chicken feed to maple sugaring equipment to mushroom kits, as well as a host of literature, the shop also recently hosted JP’s first Urban Agricultural Fair.
Perkins spends much of his weekends here — during the week he manages the Dorchester nonprofit, Boston ReStore — and took some time out on a recent Saturday to talk about his new venture, which opened in April, and his passion for getting people to reconnect with the earth.
What inspired you to open Agricultural Hall?
I feel like it’s important for people to maintain connections to the earth, mother nature, whatever you want to call it, and people are sort of losing that, especially in the city. I started it as a catalyst to help people to reconnect to where their food comes from and what they depend on for survival, what sustains them. I also feel that the stronger that connection is, the more they respect the earth and nature, and the more they pay attention to things going on today like climate change. . . This is one way I thought I could sort of help strengthen that awareness. And it’s fun!
I had chickens and goats in another lifetime, 30 something years ago. I’ve lived in cities ever since. [This venture] wasn’t a concrete image until I was walking in downtown Brighton and I saw a plaque on a building that said “Agricultural Hall.” It’s where the stockyards were, a meeting place, kind of like Boston’s grange. It made me think this is something we need to bring back. While I do sell products here, my main purpose is not to make money. It’s to help and be a resource for people to come and get supplies and the information to do the things they might be thinking about or might not even know about, or try something new. There’s no other place like it.
To whom or what do you attribute your own interest in connecting with the earth?
I think my parents. I grew up in [a] suburban, almost rural [setting]. . . My dad always used to have us outside doing stuff.
What do you do to connect with the earth in your own space?
We only have about 10 feet on either side of our house, and it’s lead-laden soil. I compost and I keep bees in an adjacent lot that my neighbor lets me use. I don’t have chickens but I’d love to. I started growing mushrooms. I can a little bit, I do yogurt, and cheese making is my next experiment. I also have a garden plot on Paul Gore [Street] where I grow raspberries, tomatoes, okra, basil, garlic, and Swiss chard.
Tell me about the Urban Agricultural Fair.
The Urban Agricultural Fair was sort of like our grand opening. I’ve been dying for years to bring the flavor and atmosphere of the county fair back to the city. There used to be gatherings like this some 100 years ago where people could come and show off their produce, cattle, and livestock and exchange ideas.
There is agriculture going on here and people like to share what they’re doing. The fair drew between 100 and 150 people. The gardeners, beekeepers, canners, and kitchen producers were encouraged to bring things they’ve grown or made. We had about 25 entries and five judges, who awarded prizes from Ula, City Feed, Boing!, Revolution Bikes and Video Underground.
What are some trends? What can people do in their own urban environment?
There’s a waiting list at all the gardens. . . But that doesn’t mean you can’t kind of homestead. Bees can go almost anywhere. And there are things you can do with the food you get from farmers markets. There’s canning and cheese making. I think there’s a trend to get more greenery in smaller spaces using vertical gardening. It’s not hard and it looks great. . . Almost everyone has some sun where they can grow something in a vertical space, and it helps make that connection to the earth.
Urban Farming Supply and Education Center
243-245 Amory St., Jamaica Plain
Hours: Saturdays and Sundays 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. or by appointment — call 617-388-7378