Posts By Jocelyn Kerr
Teresa O’Donnell built her 2015 TEDx talk around a simple question, “Can an urban farmer earn a living wage?” O’Donnell is executive director of Plant It Forward Farms, a Houston nonprofit founded in 2012 that helps refugees build sustainable urban farms.
“What we mostly do at this point is try to establish markets so they can make a living,” O’Donnell said. “There’s a lot of vacant land in Houston. We partner with schools, civic organizations and churches. Churches and schools ask us [to partner] all the time.”
The idea for Plant It Forward came while O’Donnell was looking for ways for her software company to give back to the community. She became interested in the plight of refugees and helping them build businesses after reading about how actress Tippi Hedren had helped Vietnamese refugees gain the business skills necessary to open nail shops in Southern California.
Amidst Iowa’s abundance of monocrop farms, which collectively grow more corn than any other state in the union, farmer Jenny Quiner says serendipity led her and husband Eric to bring a small quarter acre urban farm to life on the outskirts of Des Moines.
Prior to the inception of their urban agriculture endeavor, Jenny and Eric had spent some time working on a farm in Greenly, Colorado while she pursued her Master’s of Education degree. When she finished the program in 2010, they returned to their hometown of Des Moines where she’d been offered a job teaching science.
“I wanted to do homesteading and it wasn’t right with our setup. Then this plot went up for sale by owner [near their home]. My husband sells real estate and we flipped it, it became a rental for us,” Jenny said.
The property was in an unincorporated area just outside Des Moines, and it had enough land that she was able to turn a quarter acre of the property into a fledgling farm.
To combat food access challenges and build community, eight acres in and around Baltimore’s Clifton Park have been transformed into Real Food Farm.
After two years of research and fund development, the farm harvested its first crop in 2010. Since then, the farm has produced thousands of pounds of food for distribution across Baltimore’s food deserts.
Chrissy Goldberg, Food and Farm Director for Civic Works, the nonprofit that oversees Real Food Farm, said more than 13,000 pounds of food have been distributed between January and August 2016. One of the primary methods of distribution is the Mobile Farmers Market program.
“The goal is to strengthen Baltimore communities,” Goldberg said. “We’re a little more nuanced, we believe in local and sustainable. We’re promoting a local food system that can support itself.”
Joe Icet has a message for humanity: the world is in sad shape, and we’re here to lift it up through sustainable agriculture. His friends have even dubbed him a “land evangelist” because of his passion in talking to students and community members about the power of positive land stewardship.
“This is the ‘Disneyland of Sustainability’, haven’t you heard?” he asks as he guides visitors around a slightly hidden farming campus in Houston’s Fifth Ward residential neighborhood.
This retired union pipe fitter has made sustainable and organic farming his life’s mission. He founded The Last Organic Outpost, a nonprofit farm and social entrepreneurship incubator, in 2004. Since then, he has built up a thriving community education program and urban farm on less than two acres of land.
By September 30, 2017, the USDA plans to increase investments across its New and Beginning Farmer and Rancher Program by $5.6 billion over two years. During this period, targeted outreach and technical assistance initiatives aim to increase participation in the program by 6.6 percent.
“We’ve got a big challenge in front of us—new farmers are hard to find,” said Lilia McFarland, USDA New and Beginning Farmer and Rancher Program coordinator.