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.
On Nov. 10-11 hundreds of attendees from across Southern California and beyond showed up for the inaugural Grow Local OC Conference: The Future of Urban Food Systems held Nov. 10-11 in Orange County, CA at California State University, Fullerton to learn more about the community and economic development potential of fostering local food systems in cities.
The conference attendees were treated to lectures from the foremost urban farming experts, entrepreneurs, and community advocates in the sustainable and local food system space. Topics explored by the speakers and panelists included the role that food plays in bridging the rural urban divide, the potential for urban farming to generate community and economic capital, the challenges faced by entrepreneurs seeking funds for their local food and farming ventures, the potential for controlled environment agriculture in cities, and the power of community development initiatives to increase access to healthy, local food.
The conference provided ample opportunity for the local food champions, entrepreneurs, and advocates in Orange County to continue to strengthen their base of support to increase food access, improve health outcomes, and meet the demands of a thriving local food marketplace.
Like many great plans, Vermont’s Green Mountain Harvest Hydroponics operation began as a barroom conversation among friends. In the early 1990s farmer David Hartshorn and his now business partners, brothers John and Ted Farr, sat around discussing their dream of building a greenhouse to enable them to grow produce year-round. At the time, though, the energy costs required to bring the project online were so prohibitive that they tabled the idea.
Approximately twenty years later, though, the timing was right. In 2013, with a loan procured from the Vermont Economic Development Authority, Hartshorn and the Farrs launched Green Mountain Harvest Hydroponics (GMHH) in Waitsfield, Vermont.
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.”
Rod Palmer of Owls Hollow Farm in Gadsen, Alabama, wants people to think a little more about what they’re eating.
If they continue to eat the same processed foods that have led to an epidemic of diabetes and obesity, then they shouldn’t be surprised if their health isn’t improving.
If they continue to buy expensive produce grown outside the U.S. at the supermarket, then they won’t be able to stretch their dollars that much.
Owls Hollow gives both residents and employees at local companies in nearby Birmingham a way to eat healthier while saving money.
Palmer comes from a background in home building, and he never focused on farming as a career. When growing up, everyone around him, including his family, lived on a small farm. It never seemed like something unique.
For Paul Mock, founder of Mock’s Greenhouse and Farm in Berkeley Springs, WV, farming is more than a career; it’s a way of life.
“My family’s been farming for over a hundred years,” says Paul. “I’ve technically been in the business since I was five years old.”
However, the hydroponic greenhouses that Paul manages now are in a whole different field than the Christmas tree farm he grew up on. After working on the family farm for most of his adult life, Paul moved off the farm in 2003 to start his own hydroponics greenhouse system. His reasons for this dramatic change were straightforward.
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.
Presenting subjects ranging from window farming to food security and lighting systems, the Indoor Agriculture Conference features two full days of education on controlled environment technologies, aero/hydro/aquaponic best practices and business models, automated nutrient systems, future trends, and financing options …