Startup Profile: Urban Farming Company Brings Food Production back to City One Garden at a Time
October 5, 2011 | Kelly Hatton
The 150 gardens that Los Angeles, CA-based urban farming startup, Farmscape, LLC has installed at residences, senior centers, schools and in communities since 2009 do more than provide yearlong bounty to customers – collectively, the small gardens represent a movement to bring food production back to the city.
“We were inspired by the number of people who were excited about growing food themselves but don’t have the time or knowledge to do so successfully,” said Rachel Bailin, Marketing Manager at Farmscape. “They were looking for someone who could guide them through the growing process, circumventing years of learning through trial-and-error frustration.”
The company’s founders, Jesse Dubois, Todd Lininger and Sean Williams, believe that small gardens can increase urban food security and help reduce the carbon footprint of food production. To achieve these goals, the co-founders work with customers, the majority of whom are homeowners, to set up well-designed and high-yielding vegetable gardens.
Farmscape’s gardens are based on a model design that utilizes raised beds and drip irrigation. Though the model can be adapted according to individual customer needs, a typical setup includes two 4’x7’ beds. Crops are grown using only organic planting methods and inputs.
Once installed, customers can elect to pay to have their garden serviced on a weekly basis by the Farmscape staff. The company currently maintains 90 gardens, providing successional planting, organic pest and disease management, and crop harvesting. Though Farmscape does most of the heavy lifting, they encourage a hands-on, educational approach to backyard farming when working with customers.
“Really, we just want to be getting people to grow their own food, whatever steps they need help with, we’re there,” said Bailin.
The service does come at a cost. Installation of two 4’ x 12’ beds is $2700, and the labor fees are $60 per week. The company points out that the fees are comparable to traditional landscaping services.
The company’s original marketing concept targeted “career parents;” that is, people with a vested interest in food and the health of their families, without much spare time, and in possession of the capital necessary to make the initial investment. But the demand and value of local, organic produce spans socioeconomic backgrounds, and Farmscape has found ways to reach out to a broader base of customers.
In 2010, Farmscape began offering its services to area schools and now provides maintenance and educational instruction for 12 school gardens. More recently, the company has begun working with community groups interested in pooling resources to establish gardens in their neighborhoods.
“It’s been a great experience to interact with people across LA who have an interest in good food,” said Bailin.
The company’s customer base has helped steer its growth. Interest in backyard homesteading and sustainable resource management has also spurred Farmscape to increase the services that it offers. Water conscious clients can now elect to have hardscape and native plants installed around garden beds to cut back on irrigation needs. This fall, Farmscape will offer fruit trees for clients looking to diversify their backyard bounty. Plans for backyard chickens and composting services are also in the works.
Currently, Farmscape has offices in Claremont, Pasadena and West Los Angeles and hopes to grow to serve a larger geographical region, covering Orange County, San Diego and San Francisco in the near future.
The biggest challenge for expansion will be to continue to educate potential customers about the new service and the advantages of backyard food production.
“While there is a lot of momentum behind sourcing local food, it takes courage to be a first-adopter of a new service,” said Bailin. “We have been lucky enough to work with some very forward-thinking residents, schools and restaurants that took a risk with us and have been rewarded with some great harvests.”