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Fostering Sustainability and Innovation in Agriculture
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Posts By Charli Engelhorn

From Supermarket Rooftops to a Storied Ball Park, an Urban Farming Co. Increases Access to Local Food

September 12, 2017 |

Since its inception in 2008, Green City Growers (GCG), a Certified B Corporation that installs and maintains vegetable gardens and farms within the greater Boston area, has assisted in the production of more than 175,000 pounds of organic produce, donated more than 12,000 pounds of fruits and vegetables, and engaged more than 7,500 people through their efforts. 

“The mission is to grow food in unused spaces and provide people access to fresh produce,” says Jessie Banhazl, CEO and co-founder of GCG. “Having that mission as the core of our trajectory has led us into so many different spaces, which has been really fun and interesting and made us realize that there are so many possibilities for this kind of work.” Read More

For Profit Hydroponic Farm in Chicago Seeks to Increase Employment Opportunities in Underserved Community

September 7, 2017 |

Darius Jones, general manager, vice president, and part of owner of Garfield Produce, an urban hydroponic farm located in Garfield Park, a west-side community in Chicago. Photo courtesy of Garfield Produce.

“Education is the most important thing,” says Darius Jones, general manager, vice president, and part of owner of Garfield Produce, an urban hydroponic farm located in Garfield Park, a west-side community in Chicago. “We’re trying to create an environment that inspires people to grow and feel valued.”

Since its inception in 2013, Garfield Produce has been working to improve economic growth and employment opportunities for Garfield Park community members. The for-profit business was born from a collaboration between a successful retired couple, Mark and Judy Thomas, and an engineering major from DePaul University, Steve Lu.

Through missionary work with the Breakthrough Urban Ministries, Mark and Judy saw that their misconceptions about poverty—that it is the result of laziness and not taking advantage of the same opportunities afforded to others—were inaccurate, according to Jones. What the Thomas’ discovered was that people did want to work, but there were no opportunities available and a number of systemic obstacles in place that hindered people’s ability to work. Read More

Apps for Ag Hackathon Seeks a Technological “Steel Plow” to Revolutionize Agriculture

August 28, 2017 |

Sreejumon Kundilepurayil, left, and Vidya Kannoly accepting their award for first prize at the Apps for Ag Hackathon in July 2017. Their app, Dr. Green, uses IBM’s Watson system to diagnose ailing plants.
Photo courtesy of Evett Kilmartin.

The collision of technology and agriculture might be just what the world needs to respond to an impending food crisis if global food production does not double by 2050, according to Robert Tse, State Broadband Coordinator and Chief Strategy Officer for Agriculture Technology and Innovation for USDA CA Rural Development.

According to Tse, the world’s population will grow by approximately 2 billion people by the half-century mark, and the current rate of increase in food production globally is less than half of what is needed every year to account for it.

“The application or development of technology applied to agriculture is critical,” says Tse. “There are only two ways to increase food production: increase acreage or increase yield. There is no more exploitable land for farming around the world, so one of the ways we’re going to reach the percentage increase we need is through ag technology that enables us to increase production across the board and reduce waste.”   Read More

Atop a Parking Garage in a Staten Island Residential Development, an Urban Farm Builds Community and Thrives

August 14, 2017 |

Empress Green Inc. co-founders Zaro Bates and Asher Landes at their farm stand. Photo courtesy of Empress Green Inc.

Sometimes, the best laid plans do not always work out, and for Zaro Bates, co-founder and proprietor of Empress Green Inc., this small deviation from her plan would come to encapsulate her life in every facet.

Empress Green Inc. is an urban farming business specializing in organic food production, education, and consulting. Bates and her husband, Asher Landes, started the company in 2016, shortly after moving into the residential development Urby, a 500+ apartment complex that sits on the north shore of Staten Island, New York. The couple built and now maintain a 4,500-square-foot urban farm on top of one of the complex’s parking garages between two of the main buildings.

“During a 3-year development consultancy, we evolved several green roof and urban farm concepts that would be attractive shared amenities for the residents,” Bates says. “We decided on an intensive green roof urban market garden with a Farmer-in-Residence to manage the farm and run workshops and events for the community.” Read More

In Face of Challenge to Hold onto its Land, a Farm Built to Heal a Community Forges Ahead

April 10, 2017 |

Inspiration comes from many directions, even from tragedy. That was the case for Randy Bekendam, proprietor of Amy’s Farm, a 10-acre farm located south of Ontario, California. Bekendam runs Amy’s Farm with Amy herself, who is also his daughter.

Originally a cattle farm, Bekendam was moved to make a change and do something to bring the community together after a 3-year-old boy was killed by a drive-by shooter in nearby Pomona. Bekendam’s idea? Bring everyone together to heal their neighborhoods by growing food as a community.

“When the little boy was shot, I had never planted anything. I was not a farmer, so with this vision of growing food to build community, maybe have an impact on gang violence, and bring urban farming to the city, I realized I better become a farmer,” he says. Read More