Posts By Abbie Stutzer
Food is food because it’s meant to be eaten. But all too often, what’s intended for the table ends up in the dumpster. To address the issue, a growing movement of developers is creating easy-to-operate tech tools to help people produce volumes of food with less surplus and rescue food that would typically go to waste.
For generations, the face of farming in America has been the face of a sun-baked, hard-working man. Even with record growth in the number of female farmers, men still make up approximately 70 percent of primary and secondary farm operators, creating a collision course between entrenched gender biases and taboos and the realities of farming’s changing demographics.
Annie’s Project, founded in 2003 by University of Illinois Extension educator Ruth Hambleton, is one organization pushing to help the new generation of female farmers and ranchers over those hurdles to access the tools they need to be competent, successful growers, farm business managers, and business partners. The 18-hour curriculum combines an introduction to the five traditional risk areas of farming–farm risk management, production, marketing, legal, and financial and human resources–with lessons learned by Hambleton in more than two decades of field support.
“In my first 25 years of extension work, I listened to the many concerns and requests that farm women had,” Hambleton says.
Growing up in the corn and soy fields of rural Indiana, Andy Schwartz has seen first-hand what large-scale farming can do to soil quality. But it wasn’t until he managed farms of his own and made his own compost that Schwartz realized the role large-scale composting could play in keeping the quality of soil high and protecting the environment.
“When I made enough compost for myself and the food waste kept coming in I realized that I had to come up with a plan,” he says. “The plan was and is to keep valuable organic materials out of the landfill and use them to create a healthy growing medium for plants. Heirloom tomatoes and peppers from my garden are a much better outcome for food waste than producing methane gases and harmful leachates in a landfill.”
Determined to “feed the food that feeds you,” Schwartz studied successful composting projects around the country and launched Grow.Eat.Repeat, a compost pick-up company in Savannah, Georgia. With more than 300 restaurants, 100 hotels, and 50-plus schools in the city, Schwartz had no trouble identifying his primary market.
Growing produce isn’t a cakewalk—and selling greens? That’s not easy, either. That’s why Local Line wants to simplify communication between growers and sellers.
The idea for this streamlined company that bills itself as “a commerce platform to build your brightest future in food” was sparked in October 2013. That’s when Cole Jones met the company’s other co-founder, Cole McLay, at a pitch competition. McClay and Jones were both undergrads at the time—McLay was a fourth-year environmental studies student at the University of Waterloo, and Jones was a third year philosophy student at Wilfrid Laurier University. The original concept behind Local Line was to distribute local food from farmers to consumers, but the young, budding business partners soon changed their focus to supplying chefs.
In January 2014, Local Line was accepted to the Laurier Launchpad program. “The program taught us to talk to potential customers before trying to build or sell anything,” Jones says.
Rishi Kumar, co-founder of The Growing Club, got into urban farming because he loves plants and wanted to learn about eating healthy. It turns out he’s not the only one.
What began in 2009 with Kumar and his mother taking over increasingly large sections of a residential backyard to grow more fresh food has developed into an educational non-profit that facilitates a network of demonstration sites in Los Angeles’ San Gabriel Valley. These sites include a ½ acre demonstration farm in Pomona, a new public demonstration garden in Claremont called The Growing Commons, and the original Growing Home, which has evolved into a heavily integrated demonstration of sustainable living techniques that can be implemented by the average homeowner or tenant.
Monroe Organic Farms is Colorado’s oldest organic farm, and it has the rich history to prove it. Seedstock recently spoke with co-manager Jacquie Monroe to hear the story in her own words. Although Jacquie joined the farm’s family in 1984 when she married Jerry Monroe Jr. , she feels like she’s been farming alongside the Monroe’s since they got into the industry nearly a century ago.
The Monroes began farming in Kansas in the 1920s, but the family decided to move to Colorado to get away from the bad weather and tornadoes. Once settled, Lester, Jerry Monroe Sr.’s father, farmed a small place northwest of downtown Greeley.
“Jerry Sr. remembers selling produce door to door,” Jacquie Monroe says. “He remembers selling sweet corn, a baker’s dozen—13 ears for a penny—he was maybe 6 or 7 years old around 1933 or 1934.”
Food equity is emerging as one of the most important social justice issues influencing the modern food system. It’s jarring that people throughout the United States are still unable to easily access healthy local produce when processed chips and soda can be bought at every corner store.
So Seedstock wanted to take the opportunity to recognize five organizations that are doing everything possible to get healthy, local produce in the hands of everyone who wants to eat well—no matter their location in a city.
1. Massachusetts Avenue Project & Growing Green
The Massachusetts Avenue Project & Growing Green’s (MAP) beginnings date all the way back to 1992. Although the Buffalo, New York organization’s start was modest—it was first classified as a “block club”—it is now a thriving nonprofit dedicated to growing food that nourishes while beautifying and bringing the neighborhood it resides in together. Although the organization has evolved over the years, it still aims to build food equity, while also engaging young people.
When the mushroom company he was growing for closed down its operation, Allyn Brown, who has been farming for nearly 40 years, wanted to find something similar to mushrooms that would provide him with year-round cash flow.
That’s when Brown decided to grow hydroponic lettuce. But he knew he had to learn how to run a hydroponic operation from an expert to become successful. So, he spent some time at Cornell learning from Lou Albright, a well-known hydroponic guru.
“I did a short course in hydroponics and started to convert my facility over to lettuce,” Brown says. “That got successful and within one year, it doubled in size.” He christened the operation, Maple Lanes Farms 2.
To meet demand, Brown immediately started looking for another greenhouse space.