Embedded in the bucolic Evans Valley just outside of Rogue River, Oregon is The Farming Fish, a 40-acre certified organic farm. Thirty of the acres remain wild and wooded so owners Michael Hasey and Olivia Hittner can harvest native edibles like mushrooms, berries, and ferns, while the remaining 10 acres are made up of pastureland for livestock, vegetable row crops, an orchard, and an aquaponic farming operation.
Although Hittner realizes aquaponic farming is not a “silver bullet,” she and Hasey do see it as an integral part of our agricultural future. In a world of scarce resources, aquaponic farming conserves natural resources like water while still producing a greater food output, says Hittner. As a result, Hittner sees aquaponics as a way to close the hunger gap and preserve resources for future generations.
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.
Urban Oaks Organic Farm resides in North Oak, a low-income area in New Britain, Conn. Urban Oaks was started to help improve the food-insecure neighborhood. “In our neighborhood, which used to be infested with crime and drugs and violence, it’s much less,” Elizabeth Aaronsohn, an active volunteer at Urban Oaks Organic Farm and Farm board member, said.
Mike Kandefer and Tony Norris (deceased, 2007) were originally herb farmers in Bolton, Conn., but when the city of New Britain, Conn., asked Kandefer and Norris to takeover an old, abandoned 3-1/2-acre flower farm (now known as Urban Oaks), the duo jumped at the chance. “The city put in $100,000. Lots of volunteers helped clean up the space. That was 15 years ago,” said Aaronsohn.
Matt Russell, one of Coyote Run Farm’s owners, grew up on a farm in Iowa. And before Russell went to college, he swore he would never do two things: Become a farmer, and live in a small community. Well, a few years out of college was all it took to change Russell’s mind. He moved back to Iowa with Patrick Standley, the Farm’s other owner, and founded the 110-acre Coyote Run Farm in Lacona, IA, in January of 2005. “I wanted to set roots in Iowa,” Russell said. “When we felt like we had enough money to buy a farm, we started looking in the fall of 2004.” The farmers found land through a real estate agent within six weeks of starting their search.
When Russell finally did decide to go into farming, he wanted to make certain his farm business model would mitigate risk. “I wanted to figure out a way to increase the net as a percentage growth. Instead of growing bigger, I wanted to have lower growth and lower input.”
Beginning an Aquaponics business takes hard work, the right partnerships and a patient nature when it comes to organic pest control. Viridis Aquaponics is a burgeoning startup based in Watsonville in the San Francisco Bay area. The farming business has been quite a learning curve for co-owner and former construction businessman Jon Parr. A mutual friend introduced Parr to Drew Hopkins. Finding they had complimentary business skills, they began devising a business plan for a sustainable greenhouse-based farm. That plan found an investor and soon became the eight acres of grow space that now houses Viridis Aquaponics, Inc. The company is days away from its first harvest.
The Santa Monica Farmers Market is celebrated throughout metro Los Angeles as perhaps the best, most family-friendly and most diverse of markets in the county. Launched in July, 1981, the beachside town’s farmers market began with a mere 23 vendors. Since then, it has grown to include some 85 farmers from as far north as the Oregon border all the way down to Tijuana, and has expanded to run four days a week in three different locations across the city.
Laura Avery has been running the market almost since its inception and said she has been feeding her own family, her children and her grandchildren on the bounty found in the colorful market stalls.
“We started this market through a program then administered through the California Food and Agriculture Department, and they went out and recruited farmers for us,” Avery said. “It’s thanks to Jerry Brown, who was governor then and who passed the Retail Marketing Act that allowed us to operate, even though all the big retailers and shippers were totally against it.”
Moved to answer a calling to help turn around our broken food system and reverse environmental damages, Missy Smith, Brett Ziegler and their children are embarking on a sustainable farming mission in Central Pennsylvania. Follow them as they start Barefoot Hill Farm, a journey that will begin with renovating an old farmhouse and revitalizing previously vacant farmland and will continue with growing and raising organic food, reaching out to their local communities to spread the healthy eating gospel and acting as good stewards to beautiful farmland. Missy will document the ups, the downs, the triumphs and the setbacks that come with starting a modern organic sustainable farm.
Funny enough, when we first realized our strong desire to get back to the land, the first thing we did was connect with technology. Our farm journey began with a lot of internet researching: What it takes to run a farm. What we needed to get started. How we can secure farming land.
Much of our research kept coming up with the same two answers: land and money—two resources that we had in quite a limited supply. At that point, we were living in Bucks County, Pa., an area that is historically rich in agriculture, but had been developed in lightening speed over the almost thirty years we lived there. Each time I entered my hometown of Quakertown on visits home from Millersville University, I noticed that more and more land was being gobbled up in the name of housing developments, retail stores and restaurants.
The recently established DROPP, Distributors of Regional & Organic Produce and Products, is a side project for the Great Basin Community Food Cooperative in Reno, Nevada. The food cooperative came into existence in 2005 under a buyer’s club model. Although the food coop is still going strong, DROPP is an effort to improve the infrastructure between the informed consumer and the sustainable grower and is best described as a food hub where farmer and fork collide.
“As we were building new relationships with local farmers we started sending out local availability lists to restaurants and members of our coop just saying ‘this farm has this and this farm has that.’