Posts By Trish Popovitch
Straddling the rural urban divide, Shared Ground Farmers’ Coop in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota seeks to unite minority and immigrant farmers and help them gain access to local food markets, achieve economic viability, and enhance leadership skills all while emphasizing sustainable farming.
“Our coop aims to bring together farmers from diverse backgrounds to work towards a better living and more healthy food for folks in the city,” says Emily Hanson, co-founder of Shared Ground and co-owner of Amery, WI-based Whetstone Farm, a 40 acre property that is primarily in pasture with approximately five acres of vegetables is one of the founding farms of the cooperative. “We strive to help make farm ownership possible, especially for immigrants and others who struggle with land tenure.”
Against a backdrop of rising land prices, traditional farmers in Utah struggle to survive. However, a mix of resourcefulness and necessity is driving farmers to develop creative solutions in urban environs. Salt Lake City-based Green Urban Lunch Box (GULB) is one such endeavor that is utilizing innovative growing models to ensure urban farming fills the gap traditional farming cannot afford to maintain.
“We don’t want to do what other people are doing. If we cannot do it significantly better and significantly cheaper than another nonprofit is doing it then we shouldn’t do it, because we are just going to be competing with them for funds,” says founder Shawn Peterson.
A fifth generation Utah farmer and an experienced business entrepreneur, Peterson founded the Green Urban Lunch Box six years ago in the heart of Salt Lake City after watching the movie, Truck Farm (from the maker of King Corn) on using farm trucks in the urban setting.
The story in Salt Lake County, Utah is pretty typical of a post 2008 American community. Vacant lots, underutilized land and an ever-growing local populace who would rather have locally grown produce than chemically-saturated, origin-iffy imports. The difference in Salt Lake County, however, is that rather than a nonprofit or private company, the government is facilitating the local food and urban farming movement.
“The urban farming program is the brainchild of Councilman Jim Bradley,” says Supreet Gill, Program Manager for Salt Lake County Urban Farming. “He initially became interested in the program after reading an article by Michael Pollan on [the] benefits of eating healthy food. Since that time, the urban farming program staff has created and managed various projects aimed at promoting cultivation and consumption of local, fresh and healthy food.”
Salt Lake County Urban Farming is a mediator, a go between if you will, that facilitates the relationship between the producer and the consumer with nothing to gain monetarily (budgets are beyond tight).
When it comes to Controlled Environment Agriculture [CEA], Valerie Loew wants the U.S. to catch up with Europe and China before it’s too late.
“The rest of the world is so far ahead of us, because they are so limited with their own resources,” says Loew, who is professor and horticulture department head at Fullerton College in Southern California. “They are taking advantage of this technology way before us because we have sunshine and we have water; but we really don’t. Between Europe and China, the amount of greenhouses they have is just off the charts. We need to start catching up.”
By focusing on building a quality product, encouraging community and supporting their farmer customers, Laramie, Wyoming-based Bright Agrotech looks to have a bright and busy future ahead of it.
The company has continued to grow since Seedstock first profiled them here in 2012, something CEO and founder Dr. Nate Storey attributes to the broad appeal of the company’s mission.
“No matter if you’re like the uber liberal kind of person on the left side of things, or a super conservative person on the right side of things, everyone can get on board with the idea that local production is better,” says Storey. “Everyone can get on board with the idea that when we spend money in our communities, that money stays in our communities.”
In addressing homelessness with an aquaponics training program, Solutions Farms provides an opportunity for families to regain not only their financial footing and place in the community, but also their security and happiness. Solution Farms is a program that was created by Solutions for Change, a Vista, California-based nonprofit established in 1999 to address local family homelessness in innovative ways.
Kevin Gorham is the aquaponics specialist at Solution Farms. He came to the initiative with little experience, but plenty of enthusiasm.
“I heard about this place being built, so I drove over here and introduced myself. I just kept bothering them and telling them I’d like a job here. Once the system was up and going, they hired me to stay on and help manage and run it,” says Gorham. “I learned a lot more through my hands-on experience working here over the last three years.”
California water regulations prompted San Diego-based Sundial Farms to switch from growing orchids to producing organic hydroponic produce in 2012. The farm is also pioneering the use of liquid organics fertilizers. Seedstock last wrote about them here in December 2013.
Seedstock caught up with Tarek Hijazi, manager of finance and hydroponic systems for Sundial Farms, to get his take on the challenge of growing produce amid California’s drought. Hijazi will be a panel speaker at the 4th Annual Seedstock Sustainable Agriculture Conference on November 3-4 in San Diego. HIs panel will discuss indoor growing and the pursuit of market demand.
On top of a former Pfizer building in Downtown Brooklyn fish and produce grow together in a symbiotic system. The rooftop venture VertiCulture Farms, established in 2012, is an indoor aquaponic farm that offers fresh produce and fish to the surrounding area through several sales channels. The founders hope their rooftop farm model will illustrate the potential of aquaponics in cities.
“We’d heard about hydroponics and aquaponics before, and thought we’d give it a shot,” says Ryan Morningstar, one of the cofounders of the startup based in Brooklyn, New York. “We set up a small installation on the rooftop of the Metropolitan Exchange Building in downtown Brooklyn with recycled materials. We put a system together, got some tilapia and we saw that it worked.”