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.
Quickley Produce Farm represents a modern take on the family farm. It’s not a farm that has been passed down from one generation to the next, but rather a newly formed high-tech hydroponic farming operation run by four generations of family members.
Located in Galena, Missouri in the heart of the Ozarks, the farm, which officially took root in 2011, is run by David and Terry Quick. The couple’s daughter, Alisa Welch, and son-in-law, Russ Welch, play a pivotal role in day-to-day operations, and their three children — Dusty, Dawson and Bristol – lend a hand. Terry’s mom, Pauline Hedrick, also pitches in to make the farm a true family affair.
The family’s lineage points to a strong background in farming and gardening, but more recent generations had been working in a different trade: construction. That all changed in 2008 when the economy began to slow.
An urban farming project in West Sacramento, California, aims to fill the area’s food deserts with fresh produce and create new farmers in the process.
Founded in 2014, the West Sacramento Urban Farm Program is an initiative of the agricultural education nonprofit Center for Land-Based Learning, headquartered in Winters, California. The program converts vacant lots in urban West Sacramento neighborhoods to increase food access, and support production of fresh fruits and vegetables.
“We’re growing about 25,000 to 30,000 pounds of produce a month, so it’s definitely a significant amount of produce that all stays within West Sacramento for the most part,” program founder Sara Bernal says.
Against a backdrop of rising land prices, traditional farmers in Utah struggle to survive. However, a mix of resourcefulness and necessity is driving farmers to develop creative solutions in urban environs. Salt Lake City-based Green Urban Lunch Box (GULB) is one such endeavor that is utilizing innovative growing models to ensure urban farming fills the gap traditional farming cannot afford to maintain.
“We don’t want to do what other people are doing. If we cannot do it significantly better and significantly cheaper than another nonprofit is doing it then we shouldn’t do it, because we are just going to be competing with them for funds,” says founder Shawn Peterson.
A fifth generation Utah farmer and an experienced business entrepreneur, Peterson founded the Green Urban Lunch Box six years ago in the heart of Salt Lake City after watching the movie, Truck Farm (from the maker of King Corn) on using farm trucks in the urban setting.
In what some might describe as a midlife crisis and others an epiphany, Daron Babcock, the executive Director of urban farming organization Bonton Farms, quit his all-consuming job in the corporate world and moved to Bonton, an impoverished inner city community in Dallas, Texas. He had already been volunteering there once a week, meeting with a group of men who had been in prison and were struggling to get their lives back on track. But two hours on a Saturday was not enough, so he decided to work full-time with the men.
After moving to Bonton, he noticed that many people were sick and dying at a rapid rate. He also learned that Bonton was a food desert, with the nearest grocery store a three hour return trip on public transportation. Daron recognized a correlation between the lack of access to healthy food and the high rate of cancer, stroke, heart disease, and diabetes – Bonton had a 300 percent higher death rate from diabetes than the county rate.
It was a collaboration between six men, three of whom suffered from diabetes and cancer, that led to a decision to plant a garden.