Posts By Karen Briner
It is believed to be a world first: a fully functioning greenhouse on wheels that plugs in much like an RV and that could offer up solutions to some of urban farming’s biggest challenges. The mobile greenhouse prototype, which goes by the name GrOwING GREEN, was born of a collaboration between architecture students at Ball State University and Butler University’s Center for Urban Ecology (CUE). It has already been recognized by the American Institute of Architects with a state award for excellence in architecture.
Timothy Gray, a professor of Architecture at Ball State, whose fourth year students designed and constructed the mobile greenhouse, points out that the mobility aspect opens up a world of possibilities, including the idea of bringing the farm to the people. As stated on their website, the prototype, “lends itself to the shifting and temporal nature of the urban farm.”
In what some might describe as a midlife crisis and others an epiphany, Daron Babcock, the executive Director of urban farming organization Bonton Farms, quit his all-consuming job in the corporate world and moved to Bonton, an impoverished inner city community in Dallas, Texas. He had already been volunteering there once a week, meeting with a group of men who had been in prison and were struggling to get their lives back on track. But two hours on a Saturday was not enough, so he decided to work full-time with the men.
After moving to Bonton, he noticed that many people were sick and dying at a rapid rate. He also learned that Bonton was a food desert, with the nearest grocery store a three hour return trip on public transportation. Daron recognized a correlation between the lack of access to healthy food and the high rate of cancer, stroke, heart disease, and diabetes – Bonton had a 300 percent higher death rate from diabetes than the county rate.
It was a collaboration between six men, three of whom suffered from diabetes and cancer, that led to a decision to plant a garden.
Dustin Lang didn’t set out to become an urban farmer. In fact, after high school he went on to study and practice corporate law. That is, until he was drawn back to the urban farm that he now runs together with his father Glen and father-in-law Jim Loy.
The aptly named LL Urban Farms in Raleigh, North Carolina, established by the Lang and Loy families in 2012, is a true family affair. The families first connected when their two eldest children, Dustin and Taylor Loy (now husband and wife), met in high school.
Coincidentally, at the time, both Dustin’s father and his future father-in-law were approaching retirement age and looking for viable small business opportunities to pursue. They looked at the potential of greenhouse agriculture and controlled environment systems, and despite the fact that neither of them had any previous professional experience in farming, decided to start a business to grow food for the local marketplace.
Backyard Growers Cooperative Demonstrates Community and Economic Development Potential of Urban FarmingOctober 26, 2016 | Karen Briner
Scott Henley, the urban farmer behind the backyard growers cooperative Whisper Farms in Pasadena, CA started the endeavor with the aim of finding out whether it would be possible to farm a small backyard plot that would generate enough revenue to offset the opportunity cost of not working a traditional job.
“I wanted to see if I could turn what for most people would be a source of consumption in a house, into one that at least balances out and is producing something,” he says.
Nolan Schmidt of Tower Urban Family Farm (TUFF) in Fresno, recalls a particularly eye-opening incident at one of his urban garden sites, when a group of children from a local school stopped by to sample some of their produce. “One of the kids tried a kiwi and you just saw his eyes light up like he had just discovered something he never knew was possible.” Nolan learned that none of these children had ever seen a kiwi. The irony was not lost on him. Not far from where these children lived, kiwis are farmed commercially on a large scale. “So maybe two miles from their home is a kiwi farm, but yet they’ve never seen a kiwi.” And just like much of the produce grown in this fertile area, it ends up being shipped elsewhere, served up in big city restaurants and markets around the world, while neighborhoods of Fresno are plagued with food deserts.
It was an unusual path that led Nolan to urban farming, for he is actually a chef by trade. At 17 he pursued the culinary arts, working in many restaurants in Fresno, until he realized that to progress he would have to move to a big city. He ended up working at a three star restaurant in New York. “It’s kind of funny that I had to cook in New York to realize I wanted to be a farmer in Fresno,” he says. It was there that he realized that Fresno and the Central Valley grow some of the best produce in the world, “And it’s then shipped around the world for all these chefs to define themselves.”