Jesse Adkins was working a landscape design and installation job in Pelzer, South Carolina when he saw a sign by the side of the road that read, “Hydroponic Tomatoes.” His curiosity piqued, Adkins sought out the grower, Paul Lee. Lee entertained questions about his operation and hydroponic growing that provided Adkins, a 35 year landscape design and nursery industry veteran, with the impetus to take on a new career challenge.
“It seemed to be a profitable way to grow and offered a way to use marginal land to grow a large amount of clean, healthy produce on a small footprint,” Adkins says.
Under Lee’s tutelage and after taking a short course in hydroponic growing from Mississippi State University, his confidence grew. When Lee retired, Adkins took the plunge and bought his greenhouse and growing equipment. He also procured a USDA loan to buy a second, larger greenhouse to accompany the one built by Lee, and by 2006 his fledgling hydroponic venture Hurricane Creek Farms was up and running.
Gateway Greening has been taking a holistic approach to urban agriculture, gardening, and education in St. Louis for more than three decades.
“Our mission is to educate and empower individuals to strengthen their communities through gardening and urban agriculture,” Gateway Greening’s Communications Manager Jenna Davis says.
While the group started out as a gardening club focused on ornamental, native, and perennial plants, Davis says it has since blossomed into a three-pronged catalyst for grassroots community building.
Monroe Organic Farms is Colorado’s oldest organic farm, and it has the rich history to prove it. Seedstock recently spoke with co-manager Jacquie Monroe to hear the story in her own words. Although Jacquie joined the farm’s family in 1984 when she married Jerry Monroe Jr. , she feels like she’s been farming alongside the Monroe’s since they got into the industry nearly a century ago.
The Monroes began farming in Kansas in the 1920s, but the family decided to move to Colorado to get away from the bad weather and tornadoes. Once settled, Lester, Jerry Monroe Sr.’s father, farmed a small place northwest of downtown Greeley.
“Jerry Sr. remembers selling produce door to door,” Jacquie Monroe says. “He remembers selling sweet corn, a baker’s dozen—13 ears for a penny—he was maybe 6 or 7 years old around 1933 or 1934.”
Eric Kelly, founder of Charm City Farms, has always appreciated the great outdoors. Since he was a kid, Kelly dreamed of working outside with his hands and communing with critters. But when he became an adult, reality set in—he had to get a 9-to-5 job.
But Kelly’s life took a turn after he was in a car accident. He decided to make a change. So, he left his job and hiked part of the Appalachian trail. “I tried to reconnect to myself,” he says. “I already liked plants and had a great relationship with animals, but I wanted to learn more.”
“Conventional-farmers call us bioterrorists,” says Joel Salatin of the much heralded Polyface Farm.
“They are literally scared to death that one of our unvaccinated animals is going to get sick and then bring a disease to the area and shut down everybody’s farming and destroy the planet’s food supply. They would like us to pack up and leave. I could either respond with viciousness, depression, frustration and you know, ulcers or whatever, or I can just have fun with it. I decided to have fun with it.”
Joel Salatin is a holistic farmer in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, and an iconic figure in the sustainable food movement. Salatin practices a healing-the-land approach to farming in the face of much criticism from both traditional and sustainable agriculture advocates. Salatin self-deprecatingly refers to himself as a “lunatic” and is rather proud of it. A wordsmith and wise meat producer, Salatin offers perspective on all things farmer related.
People become farmers for many different reasons—family tradition, a love of the land, a desire to make a difference, and so on. But for Indiana-based This Old Farm co-founder Jessica Smith, motherhood was the main motivator.
“I started looking at agriculture from the standpoint of having children and wanting to feed them well,” says Smith. “Our kids motivate us and that’s really the motivation for looking at agriculture.”
Jessica and her husband Erick started This Old Farm in 2000 because they wanted to bring healthy food to their family and other local families as well. The operation began as an 88-acre row crop farm that they gradually converted to pasture. They have focused primarily on livestock, raising Katahdin lamb, pastured pork, and pastured poultry. They are, however, looking to increase their produce production, and have 10 acres of lettuce going out this year.
What was once a vacant lot in the heart of San Francisco is now a 3/4-acre urban farm bridging the gap between production and consumption.
“I think making sustainable agriculture visible and accessible within city limits is an important tool for education and awareness about the larger movement of small scale farming,” says Little City Gardens co-founder and head farmer Caitlyn Galloway.
Galloway’s fellow co-founder Brooke Budner first decided to start an urban garden in 2007 after spotting an overgrown abandoned lot from her rooftop. By the time Galloway and Budner met in 2008, Budner had already created a thriving garden on the spot. The two women began gardening together and eventually developed the vision and business plan for Little City Gardens.
Brought together by a shared love of sustainable agriculture, Lars Prillaman and Leslie Randall launched 8.5-acre Green Gate Farm in the small, historic town of Shepherdstown, West Virginia.
Prillaman and Randall see agriculture not as an efficiency and profit-maximizing endeavor, but as an intricate process guided by natural cycles, ethical responsibility, and community enrichment, and work hard to maintain a farm that realizes their vision of what agriculture should be.
That being said, these young, new farm owners have been tremendously successful for a first-year start-up.
“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t care about making money doing it,” says Prillaman, “If I didn’t make money doing it I wouldn’t be able to do it.”
Thus far, the pair runs a thriving CSA which currently has a wait-list for next season, sells to a popular local restaurant, has tables at two farmer’s markets, and has received accolades from established farmers who are impressed and astonished with their first year success.