local food systems
“Taro farmers are my heroes and I wanted to emulate the people I admired and respected. Farming was a big part of my life so I wanted to become a farmer,” says Adam Asquith, founder of Kealia Farm, Kauai, HI. Initially rejecting the farming tradition of his Wisconsin youth, Asquith spent a few years exploring the career market only to decide that the tradition of farming did mean a lot to him after all. So much so in fact, he moved to Hawaii and established a taro farm. For Asquith, it was more than the challenge of it; it was about retaining the tradition of taro farming in Hawaii and turning his 30 acres of irrigated green space into an example of what can be done in terms of sustainable agriculture education and farming on the “Garden Isle” of Kauai.
Atop a Parking Garage in a Staten Island Residential Development, an Urban Farm Builds Community and ThrivesAugust 14, 2017 | Charli Engelhorn
Sometimes, the best laid plans do not always work out, and for Zaro Bates, co-founder and proprietor of Empress Green Inc., this small deviation from her plan would come to encapsulate her life in every facet.
Empress Green Inc. is an urban farming business specializing in organic food production, education, and consulting. Bates and her husband, Asher Landes, started the company in 2016, shortly after moving into the residential development Urby, a 500+ apartment complex that sits on the north shore of Staten Island, New York. The couple built and now maintain a 4,500-square-foot urban farm on top of one of the complex’s parking garages between two of the main buildings.
“During a 3-year development consultancy, we evolved several green roof and urban farm concepts that would be attractive shared amenities for the residents,” Bates says. “We decided on an intensive green roof urban market garden with a Farmer-in-Residence to manage the farm and run workshops and events for the community.”
Located in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area, Rooftop Roots is a social enterprise taking the restrictive needs of a city littered with zoning laws and height restrictions as a challenge worth going vertical for. Designing, installing and maintaining custom gardens on rooftops, and creating community gardens across the city, Rooftop Roots is helping to build the conversation on how the nation’s capital utilizes its green spaces.
“We’re a nonprofit landscaping company but instead of mowing lawns we build gardens and maintain gardens for residential, commercial and community partners,” says Thomas Schneider, Executive Director of nonprofit Rooftop Roots.
After discovering their dream of office buildings with built up gardens on top was practically impossible to achieve with D.C.’s height restrictions, Rooftop Roots had to rethink its business plan. “We won’t only put gardens on roofs but we’ll put gardens in every nook and cranny and urban landscape we possibly can,” says Schneider.
When PhD graduate Noah Wilson-Rich looked around for a way to raise capital for bee health research, he stumbled upon the idea of starting a beehive installation company. Before long, The Best Bees Company, founded in 2010, was delivering, installing and maintaining beehives across New England before branching out into several major cities including Washington D.C., Denver, Chicago and Los Angeles. With a focus on creating a healthier bee population and preventative messages to combat multiple stress disorder, Wilson-Rich and his nationwide team of trained beekeepers are collecting regional bee data, disrupting traditional patterns of honeybee home choice and encouraging the restoration of America’s dwindling pollinator habitat.
“Everything we do is in Boston, it’s like our experimental area; then we scale that across the different sites,” says Wilson-Rich, founder and Chief Scientific Officer of Boston-based The Best Bees Company. Custom built hives, installation and monthly maintenance as well as the bees necessary to make the whole thing work runs
Inspiration comes from many directions, even from tragedy. That was the case for Randy Bekendam, proprietor of Amy’s Farm, a 10-acre farm located south of Ontario, California. Bekendam runs Amy’s Farm with Amy herself, who is also his daughter.
Originally a cattle farm, Bekendam was moved to make a change and do something to bring the community together after a 3-year-old boy was killed by a drive-by shooter in nearby Pomona. Bekendam’s idea? Bring everyone together to heal their neighborhoods by growing food as a community.
“When the little boy was shot, I had never planted anything. I was not a farmer, so with this vision of growing food to build community, maybe have an impact on gang violence, and bring urban farming to the city, I realized I better become a farmer,” he says.