community supported agriculture
Local urban farmers in Detroit have recognized that the whole is often greater than its parts—and so they’ve combined forces to strengthen the local food scene and their own bottom lines.
Six Detroit farm businesses have combined to create City Commons, a cooperative in which members support the six farms with a purchase of seasonal shares of fresh produce and other farm products. Members receive a weekly box of fresh-from-the-farm, organically grown food that has been raised entirely within Detroit’s city limits. The coop model is advantageous for customers who like a wide variety of seasonal fruits and vegetables. It’s also advantageous for independent farmers who are trying to make a living exclusively by farming—especially those who share a passion for fresh, local food for an urban population.
When Don Webber got a phone call from an organic farmer-friend asking for help selling produce, his mental gears started to turn.
“I have a background in sales and marketing,” says Webber. “I was very intrigued from the financial aspect and the social aspect. After researching local Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) business models, I decided we’d do things a little differently: reach out to a market segment that had not been involved in CSA—the regular old Joe.”
Nic and Jen Welty wanted to see more locally grown, nutritious foods offered to the students at their daughter’s school in Leelanau County, Michigan. Having previously worked as Farm Manager at Black Star Farms in nearby Suttons Bay, Nic Welty was poised to start his own venture. So, in 2008, the couple started their own company, 9 Bean Rows, and built a Community Supported Agriculture program with a focus on supplying local food to area schools. Soon, the couple snared a contract to supply the Leelanau County Public School System year-round with fresh salad greens.
An Ohio native who moved to the bright sunny state of Southern California, Jeff Mott decided his life had a different purpose. That purpose meant leaving behind the SoCal lifestyle, buying an Amish homestead on the Virginia/Ohio border and initiating a lifestyle change that has not only proven to be profitable, but has also changed his entire perspective.
35 miles outside of Wheeling, West Virginia lies the Mott Family Farm, the Ohio-based haven of two former California residents, Jeff and Shelley Mott, who craved a back to basics approach to life, a slowing down of pace and an opportunity to share a love of growing that began in California. Land prices and moving closer to Jeff’s father were only part of the equation. Mott felt his California lifestyle was missing a sense of community.
“Climbing was great training for farming. They are both really exhausting, painful, frightening experiences that look impossible on the face of them but somehow you get it done.” David Bell, Bell Organic Farm
Located 12 miles north of Salt Lake City, Bell Organic farm of Draper, Utah is what happens when you outgrow your garden and tap an ever expanding marketplace for fresh organic produce. For David and Jill Bell it all started with a bumper crop of heirloom tomatoes.
In 1997, David Bell ran a successful rock climbing business and his wife Jill spent her days waitressing in a local restaurant. They began growing their own vegetables in the backyard, producing far more tomatoes than needed. A local restaurant owner put them in touch with his chef who immediately purchased their excess veggies. Soon after, a local market owner who imported his tomatoes from a greenhouse in Holland wanted to make a purchase.
Among city-dwellers, there are those that dream of a different life. This dream often brings them out of the city, back to the land, and, in some cases, leads them to a life of organic farming. When Todd and Julia McDonald met they shared such a dream. Living in Chicago, Todd and Julia often entertained the idea of becoming organic farmers.
“I distinctly remember one of our first conversations in which we both disclosed our ideas for our futures, what we wanted to be ‘when we grew up.’ [Todd] said ‘I don’t have any great ambition. I just want to be an organic farmer,’” said Julia McDonald.
As a fourth generation farmer, Elaine Lemmon has a fond relationship with dirt. But growing up, she didn’t plan on becoming a farmer later in her life. When the real world called, she answered, studying anthropology and archeology at Penn State University. But, her studies would later steer her back to farming. “I soon got disenchanted with how science-for-profit really wasn’t good science,” says Lemmon. “The part of archeology I really loved was working outside and working in the soil.”
John Muir Ranch in Pasadena, Calif., has only been in full operation since 2011, but during the past two years, the once small, test garden has grown into a large, vegetable and flower producing farm.
The Ranch resides at the John Muir High School campus. When Doss Jones, former biology teacher, master gardener and founder of Muir Ranch, planted the Ranch’s first plot, she only used it as a learning garden for one of the high school’s elective courses. “It was six rows. [At the time,] she was working with another master gardener and they had a little bit of grant money to try and build a curriculum, but the money, after two years, it was gone. They couldn’t really do much more with the garden [at the time],” Erika Redke, former CSA manager at Muir Ranch, said.