A stint with one of the most famous urban farming pioneers in the world along with a budding interest in hydroponics and aquaculture delved into while in the pursuit of a degree of in biology led Bowen DornBrook to take the plunge into aquaponic farming.
In 2013, he launched Central Greens, a 15,000-square-foot urban aquaponic farming operation located on a one-acre parcel of land in the heart of Milwaukee just down the road from Miller Park, home base of the Brewers baseball franchise.
Central Greens, an intertwined network of five separate greenhouses, currently houses eight 1,200-gallon tanks which are the lifeblood of the operation. Each tank holds between 500 and 600 fish, and the fish effluent in the water provides an organic nutrient source, or natural fertilizer, for the thousands of plants being grown in the system.
The 2008 Farm Bill opened the door for new farmers and ranchers by allocating $75 million annually to launch the USDA Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Development Program. New farmers jumped into the program to start small, limited resource farms and ranches, and Congress increased funding to $100 million annually in the 2014 Farm Bill.
The 2014 bill also established a USDA microloan program to lend up to $50,000 to small farmers who may not qualify for traditional commercial loans.
Brothers Thomas and Daniel Garcia-Prats know a little something about starting a new farm from scratch. They founded Finca Tres Robles/Small Places, LLC, a small urban farm in east Houston, in 2014. The farm sits on an acre of land surrounded by industrial buildings and low income residential housing.
Fresh, locally grown food is neither ubiquitous nor available in many inner city neighborhoods across the country. Dormant real estate from vacant lots to hollowed out factory buildings in these neighborhoods, however, are not in short supply. It is out of this dichotomy that Green Collar Foods (GCF) was founded with a goal of helping community partners retrofit old buildings with low cost indoor aeroponic farms to increase food access and job opportunities to those in need across the United States and U.K.
The company founders, whose backgrounds range from automotive manufacturing and farming to finance, designed their indoor aeroponic farms, or “GCF Hubs”, with the goal of making them inexpensive and easy for a select group of local residents and entrepreneurs to build and run. The company generates revenue through collecting a franchise fee from these resident owners, as well as licensing fee for the GCF’s farm management technology. The local resident owners in turn accrue revenue from operating their GCF Hubs and reaping profit from the produce that they grow.
Green Collar Foods believes that it has created a business model to help insure the success of each local inner city GCF Hub owner.
Being your local neighborhood farmer is a job that Columbus, Ohio urban cultivator Joseph Swain takes very seriously—and, to prove that, he may just bring one of his intensive garden designs right into your backyard.
“We can relate to our neighbors because we, too, are backyard gardeners,” says Swain, whose first backyard garden transformed into a renowned urban farm that now produces for farmers markets, food trucks, local health stores and approximately 15 restaurants. “I’ll advise people on how to best maximize their space; how to get two rows where they thought there could only be one.”
Inspired by the high-density ideas promoted by the likes of Eliot Coleman, Swain adds, “I think we inspire people to grow food for themselves.”
“I grew up on the family farm, but there’s no place for me on the farm—the future’s not there,” says Ryan Reed, who was raised in Illinois and is now involved with the International Gay Rodeo Association.
“A nonprofit did not renew my contract after two years because of who I am,” says lesbian urban farmer Ari Rosenberg of Philadelphia.
“Farming in general is rural, and in a rural environment, LGBT does not fly,” says Nathan Looney, a transgender urban farmer in Los Angeles.
Their voices are among many LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) farmers who strive to be true to themselves—not only in terms of vocation, but also regarding their core selves as expressed through sexual orientation and gender identity. This can be difficult, but a number of organizations are engaged in some serious advocacy work to help LGBTQ farmers live up to and into their truest selves.
In the economically depressed and food insecure City of Petersburg, VA, a former YMCA building long neglected, but not forgotten, has become a beacon of growing hope in the community. Over the past two years the building has been refurbished and transformed into a high tech indoor farm and urban agriculture research center to provide workforce development training and increase food access through the production and distribution of high quality, fresh produce to area residents.
The center known as Harding Street Urban Agriculture Center is run by Duron Chavis, a community advocate and Indoor Farm Director at Virginia State University – College of Agriculture. Seedstock recently spoke to Chavis to learn more about the origin of Harding Street Urban Agriculture Center and its indoor farm, its goal, the sustainable methods employed in the indoor farm’s operation, and more.
In a neighborhood in Kansas City, Missouri, blighted by crime and lack of economic opportunity, a transformation is taking place. A vacant lot less than an acre in size has been cleared and a greenhouse has been built that will house a self-sustaining aquaponics system. Already growing on the property are basil, thyme, parsley, a variety of leafy greens as well as tomatoes, onions, and peppers – all using home compost and with no added chemicals.
Dre Taylor, the founder of Males to Men, is the entrepreneur behind the Nile Valley Aquaponics 100,000 Pounds Food Project that aims to bring fresh, chemical-free, healthy food to a neighborhood that is considered a food desert. When asked what led him to become an urban farmer, Taylor doesn’t hesitate, “I became an urban farmer because I wanted to be self-sufficient.”
News Release – The National Association of Conservation Districts, in partnership with USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service, has awarded $2 million in grants to 42 conservation districts in 25 states to boost technical assistance capacity for urban agriculture and conservation projects.
“NACD and the conservation districts we represent work on a scale that no other conservation organization or coalition does,” NACD President Lee McDaniel told an audience of conservation leaders in Minneapolis on Sunday. “We have the reach we need to engage the 98 percent of folks who don’t necessarily produce our fuel, fiber, and food, but still can make a sizable and positive difference on the landscape.”
“With today’s announcement, NACD is broadening its base and the base of support for conservation in this country. We are going to reward, support, and encourage conservation implemented on every landscape.”