Backyard Growers Cooperative Demonstrates Community and Economic Development Potential of Urban FarmingOctober 26, 2016 | Karen Briner
Scott Henley, the urban farmer behind the backyard growers cooperative Whisper Farms in Pasadena, CA started the endeavor with the aim of finding out whether it would be possible to farm a small backyard plot that would generate enough revenue to offset the opportunity cost of not working a traditional job.
“I wanted to see if I could turn what for most people would be a source of consumption in a house, into one that at least balances out and is producing something,” he says.
Glenn and Paula Foore say their urban farming style uses common sense and basic practices.
“We’re wanting, and we are getting, back to where we came from,” Glenn Foore says, referring to decades past when he says more families picked fresh vegetables from their own gardens.
The couple owns and operates Springdale Farm within the city limits of Austin, Texas, and grow about 75 different types of vegetables — including tomatoes, peppers, asparagus, arugula, zucchini, broccoli. The Foores grow the vegetables all 52 weeks of the year on just under five acres of land in the central Texas climate.
They started Springdale Farm in 2009, but the Foores bought the land where the farm sits in 1992 through an economic development program in east Austin. The land served as the site of their landscaping business as a part of the city’s program, which incentivized small businesses to come to east Austin through low-interest loans as long as the companies employed eastside workers.
The Grow Local OC: Future of Urban Food Systems Conference presented by Seedstock in partnership with the OC Food Access Coalition is only THREE WEEKS away. Slated for Nov. 10 – 11, 2016, at California State University, Fullerton (Hosted by U-ACRE), the conference will explore the community and economic development potential of fostering local food systems in cities.
Below is a summary of the conference details:
Day 1 – Conference Day
Day 1 (Nov. 10) of the conference, attendees will convene at the Portola Pavilion at California State University, Fullerton in Orange County, CA for a series of panels and keynotes that will address such topic areas as:
Press Release – WASHINGTON, Oct. 20, 2016 – The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) today announced the availability of a streamlined version of USDA guaranteed loans, which are tailored for smaller scale farms and urban producers. The program, called EZ Guarantee Loans, uses a simplified application process to help beginning, small, underserved and family farmers and ranchers apply for loans of up to $100,000 from USDA-approved lenders to purchase farmland or finance agricultural operations.
“Over the past seven years, we have been transforming our loan programs at USDA so that they can be attainable and useful to all kinds and sizes of producers,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “These EZ Guarantee Loans will help beginning and underserved farmers obtain the capital they need to get their operations off the ground, and they can also be helpful to those who have been farming for some time but need extra help to expand or modernize their operations. USDA’s Farm Service Agency has offices in nearly every county in the country, and we encourage all farmers, including those in urban areas, to stop in and inquire about this program.”
Nolan Schmidt of Tower Urban Family Farm (TUFF) in Fresno, recalls a particularly eye-opening incident at one of his urban garden sites, when a group of children from a local school stopped by to sample some of their produce. “One of the kids tried a kiwi and you just saw his eyes light up like he had just discovered something he never knew was possible.” Nolan learned that none of these children had ever seen a kiwi. The irony was not lost on him. Not far from where these children lived, kiwis are farmed commercially on a large scale. “So maybe two miles from their home is a kiwi farm, but yet they’ve never seen a kiwi.” And just like much of the produce grown in this fertile area, it ends up being shipped elsewhere, served up in big city restaurants and markets around the world, while neighborhoods of Fresno are plagued with food deserts.
It was an unusual path that led Nolan to urban farming, for he is actually a chef by trade. At 17 he pursued the culinary arts, working in many restaurants in Fresno, until he realized that to progress he would have to move to a big city. He ended up working at a three star restaurant in New York. “It’s kind of funny that I had to cook in New York to realize I wanted to be a farmer in Fresno,” he says. It was there that he realized that Fresno and the Central Valley grow some of the best produce in the world, “And it’s then shipped around the world for all these chefs to define themselves.”
In Los Angeles, CA, community members involved in the urban farming and food justice movements are keenly aware of the food insecurity that is so prevalent in its South Los Angeles neighborhoods. It was this insufficient access to healthy, nutritious food that spurred Florence Nishida to co-found LA Green Grounds, a volunteer organization that works with residents of South L.A. to convert their front lawns and parkways into edible landscapes and urban farms.
“If you have a garden in the front yard it leads to conversation, and that’s the most important thing,” says Nishida. “The minute you start growing squash, tomatoes, or something people have never seen before, they start asking questions, and that starts the conversation. Those conversations lead to a sense of community.”
Making vegetables a visible part of the community is what has guided LA Green Grounds ever since its founding in 2010.
Teresa O’Donnell built her 2015 TEDx talk around a simple question, “Can an urban farmer earn a living wage?” O’Donnell is executive director of Plant It Forward Farms, a Houston nonprofit founded in 2012 that helps refugees build sustainable urban farms.
“What we mostly do at this point is try to establish markets so they can make a living,” O’Donnell said. “There’s a lot of vacant land in Houston. We partner with schools, civic organizations and churches. Churches and schools ask us [to partner] all the time.”
The idea for Plant It Forward came while O’Donnell was looking for ways for her software company to give back to the community. She became interested in the plight of refugees and helping them build businesses after reading about how actress Tippi Hedren had helped Vietnamese refugees gain the business skills necessary to open nail shops in Southern California.
Urban farming plays a vital role in community development—it provides access to healthy, local food and creates a bond between the farmer and local residents.
Yet sometimes, that bond can be taken away.
That’s what happened to Patchwork City Farms in Atlanta when the farm, which was situated on land belonging to the Atlanta school district, lost its lease, says Jamila Norman, an environmental engineer turned farmer, who started the urban agriculture venture with her business partner Cecilia Gatungo.
Their interest in farming began in 2010, when they helped a local church that was growing food onsite to distribute produce to local markets. Norman and her partner Gatungo had no background in farming, except that they had grandparents and great grandparents who were farmers.