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Fostering Sustainability and Innovation in Agriculture
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A Homecoming Plants Seed for Establishment of Urban Farm

September 14, 2016 |

Michael Meier, co-founder and head farmer at Ground Floor Farm in Stuart, Florida. Photo credit: Zoe Aparicio.

Michael Meier, co-founder and head farmer at Ground Floor Farm in Stuart, Florida. Photo credit: Zoe Aparicio.

The crew behind Ground Floor Farm never expected to return home to Stuart, Florida, and start an urban farm and community space. And yet, that’s how life happened—and they fully believe that others should consider pursuing the same idea in their communities.

The idea behind Ground Floor Farm was conceived about three years ago by Jackie Vitale, Mike Meier, and Micah Hartman. The three founders came from various career and college backgrounds, and none had set out to work in farming. For example, Vitale had studied and worked in theater, and Meier said his attraction to farming was more from a political and environmental angle than a focused interest in agriculture.

Yet when returning home one winter about three years ago, they broached the idea of starting a farm. “We started to talk about what our town needs,” Meier says. “We thought about a community space, food, fun, and art.” After finding a spot in downtown Stuart, they officially opened in March 2015.

Ground Floor Farm operates on an acre of farm space that includes vertical hydroponic planters and intensive planting techniques to maximize their growing area. Because they do not do wholesale business, they focus on fresh market crops, such as greens, salad mixes, tropical fruits, and heirloom tomatoes. The use of hydroponics helps them grow more food per square foot than they would in a more traditional space, Meier says.

The farm generates revenue and fosters community via a small CSA, a local green market, and a weekly market where other craft food makers and artisans are invited to come sell their goods. The owners also have a kitchen workshop (upcoming classes include butter and yogurt making and pickling vegetables), an arts space, and a banquet area. “Our business is pretty open-ended. The underpinning is to grow a more sustainable town. We want people to have fun, connect, and do important work,” Meier says.

Because Stuart is a more conservative area, the three partners have been pleasantly surprised at how well-received Ground Floor Farm has been by the community. “We thought that there would be more pushback, but everyone wants good food and opportunities to build the community,” Vitale says.

So far, the farm has been fairly profitable, Meier says—something that has been possible with the help of a 2014 Kickstarter campaign that raised more than $20,000. “Had we not had that, the farm would look different. We’ve been able to make money to cover costs and grow the farm,” he explains.

Vertical hydroponic tower array at Ground Floor Farm. Photo courtesy of Ground Floor Farm.

Vertical hydroponic tower array at Ground Floor Farm. Photo courtesy of Ground Floor Farm.

Yet frugality also helps. “We’ve been scavenge-oriented, which is actually dumpster-oriented,” Meier quips. They have found old wood, fencing, crates, and buckets they could use that were free or almost free, and that’s one way they’ve helped to keep costs down. They also purchased a used hydroponic system from a farm that had lost its lease. The folks at Ground Floor also work with some local restaurants to obtain old food that they can use for composting.

That access to free or cheap material is one advantage that urban farms have, Meier says.

Another advantage of urban farming is easy access to expose the community to the joys of agriculture and eating locally. For instance, someone who can’t haul out to the country can easily visit a place like Ground Floor Farm and learn about farming and the importance of sustainability. It could even inspire future careers. “I’m passionate about growing the next wave of farmers,” Meier says.

The success behind Ground Floor Farm is a lesson that Meier and Vitale believe could apply to other cities. “Stuart is not a hip place. This isn’t just something for twentysomethings in Brooklyn. Every town wants something, and agriculture has a place everywhere,” Vitale says.

The owners of Ground Floor Farm are also proud to have brought the concept to their hometown, and to demonstrate the how an urban farm is viable and profitable.

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