From Suburb to Sustainable: Urbavore Urban Farm Brings Fresh Produce to KC
March 7, 2013 | Abbie Stutzer
Brooke Salvaggio, founder and owner along with husband, Daniel Heryer, of Kansas City, Mo-based Urbavore Urban Farm, started farming in Kansas City when she was 24 years old. She grew up in suburbia, surrounded by fertilized lawns, SUVs and plastic bags. “I was a bit jaded as a teenager,” Salvaggio said.
When she turned 18 years old, Salvaggio started traveling. “I was looking for answers and thought I might find them in older parts of the world,” she said. “I experienced simple living off the land and I was hooked.”
Just a couple of bad seeds
When Salvaggio returned to Kansas City, she started to grow gourmet, market crops on a 1/4-acre and founded BADSEED, a “green” event-space in downtown KC. She sold the produce she grew at farmers’ markets. In 2009, Heryer, co-owner, joined Salvaggio and began working at the farm. “I began hosting a weekly market for other rebel farmers, artists, and eccentrics. Both the farm and the market expanded rapidly. The farm (known as BADSEED Farm) became a vibrant homestead and commercial garden full of edible plants, fruit trees, flowers, and animals. The hodge-podge market gradually turned into a very legitimate organic farmers’ market featuring loads of awesome products and producers,” Salvaggio said.
Although BADSEED Farm closed in 2010, Heryer and Salvaggio found new land to farm on the east side of KC. The new space is named URBAVORE. Antiquated zoning ordinances and uncooperative neighbors made farming in the city difficult, Salvaggio said. The farm owners eventually got the support of garden-friendly city councilpeople, neighborhood leaders and non-profit groups, though, and the URBAVORE space was successfully re-zoned from residential to agricultural. “We lost the battle but won the war with the passing of an urban agriculture zoning code and the purchase of a 13.5 acre urban property,” she said.
Produce at URBAVORE is grown with sustainable methods. The farmers’ forego the use of drip irrigation, high tunnels and tillers. The farm is no-till and has living soil. Heryer and Salvaggio are committed to biodiversity and plant herbs, and flowers that help attract beneficial insects and wildlife. “We are absolutely adamant about crafting our growing practices to be as sustainable as possible — no compromises. We do not irrigate our crops nor do we spray anything on them, including pesticides and fungicides approved for certified organic production. We aim to enhance nature rather than control it as we truly believe that a healthy ecosystem is one that represents all elements — both good and bad — and only then can you strike a balance and grow healthy food,” Salvaggio said.
The farmers grow over 100 varieties of gourmet vegetables, and raise large plantings of blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, and asparagus to compliment the farm’s baby orchards (apple, pear, peach, and plum trees.) Heryer and Salvaggio also raise about 100 heritage-laying hens and sell free-range eggs.
While URBAVORE is profitable, the money the couple earns goes into the farm. “Our saving grace is that we don’t have debt which allows us to move forward and continue building our farm piece by piece on our own dollar,” she said.
Why farm in the city?
Urban farms can help the average city dweller become more self-sufficient. Self-sustainability allows people to empower their lives through ethical food production in big and small, and creative ways, Salvaggio said. “Considering the financial crisis that so many Americans are in coupled with the crisis concerning factory-farmed foods — thriving urban homesteads are an obvious solution.”
Urban farms also put vacant landscapes to good use. “My farm is essentially a big ‘backyard’ for a number of households. Their properties back up right to it and they can see (and taste) everything that we do. We are a living, breathing resource for food, education, and exercise. Neighborhood-based farms like ours have the power to reinvent the landscape and bind communities in a magnificent way.”
In addition to the URBAVORE Farm and farmers’ market, Heryer and Salvaggio also run a successful apprenticeship program at URBAVORE, and provide a citywide composting program. “Our apprenticeship program is going strong,” Salvaggio said. “We have lots of interest from individuals all over the country. We have recently hired our 2013 crew and we will hit the fields on March 1.”