A backyard on South Rindge Avenue gets strong and steady summer sun, and the eggplants, bell peppers and sungold tomatoes Charlie Radoslovich has planted in a garden there are thriving.
Less than a mile away, it's a shady space off Lowell Street where Radoslovich is cultivating Jericho lettuce in a small farm plot beside another home.
Radoslovich's "Rad Urban Farmers" brings the idea of local food right into the backyards or onto the lawns of 15 families, including 11 in Lexington and four in Arlington. In total, Radoslovich farms a quarter of an acre spread throughout the communities.
"It's a lot of work, and I'm loving it," Radoslovich said.
Rad Urban Farmers, known also as RUF, looks to change lawns into gardens, and reconnect people with the land and their food. Each family gets a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) portion of the yield from all of the gardens, while the rest Radoslovich totes by bike to the Lexington Farmers' Market on Tuesdays.
"Folks come by and they're curious about the name," Radoslovich said. "Always the initial question is, 'You grow where?' People appreciate that someone's out there using people's properties for something other than grass."
That ride up the Minuteman Bikeway is hard work, with Radoslovich toting 200 to 250 pounds of fresh vegetables – many pulled from the ground that morning – to the market in a trailer behind his bike.
While he does use a truck for a portion of his mid-week trips to the backyard farms – which he visits about twice a week – he's chosen houses that aren't far from the Bikeway so that he can bike from plot to plot, or to market, in a further effort toward an eco-friendly process.
Radoslovich began RUF in 2009, finding many participants through an eco-fest in Arlington, and by word of mouth. A former landscaper and teacher, Radoslovich modeled RUF after programs he saw as successful in Portland, Ore., where he lived until moving to Arlington in 2003. He sees RUF as blending his passions for teaching and the land.
The concept has proved popular here, as Radoslovich has seven families on a wait list to participate. His venture is unique, and differs from the one other program closer to Boston that brings gardens into people's living spaces.
The benefits for families involved come in the fresh vegetables they get weekly, and in the benefits of having a garden, but one planted, weeded, cultivated, pest controlled and maintained by Radoslovich. Families say they love converting their lawns into gardens, and the teaching points it provides their children.
Members pay a fee to join the program, and also take care of costs like an initial soil test, fences and irrigation systems where needed and water usage. In return, families get a half-share of the produce, about five pounds per week on average.
Ten RUF families in Belmont do not have space for backyard microfarms, but this summer were accepted as Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) members who pay to receive a half-share.
There's a community aspect of it as well. Radoslovich says he enjoys interacting with the families, and promoting a sense of community within the families. He hopes to do more in the future with teaching children about sustainability.
So far, Radoslovich says he's about pulling even with the venture, which has evolved into a fulltime job for him as tending the gardens alone is about 30 hours of work per week.
The vegetables are organic, but the RUF produce is listed as sustainable agriculture since it would be more of an investment to meet all of the criteria necessary to be labeled as organic, Radoslovich said.
As Radoslovich gets to know the foibles of the gardens he tends, he is learning what thrives where, and is already thinking ahead to fall garlic and spring potatoes. He hopes to grow RUF next year, bringing on an assistant grower and adding small farm plots to even more backyards.
Tomorrow, read about some of the families involved with RUF, and their take on the backyard farming concept.