Farmers need to be good at a little bit of everything—from growing and marketing to strategic planning. Chaz Shelton of Merchant’s Garden in Tucson, Arizona, approaches farming from a slightly different angle. He earned his MBA at Indiana University-Bloomington and is using that broad business knowledge to manage his hydroponic and aquaponics operation with co-founder Bill Shriver.
Shelton’s interest in farming began more out of an interest in public health. While working with the Philadelphia Department of Public Health in Pennsylvania several years ago, he often saw how poor eating led to adverse health outcomes. He solidified his idea that instead of shipping food from faraway farms into urban environments, he could bring farming into the city.
That led three years ago to the formation of Merchant’s Garden, an urban farming enterprise whose mission, according to the company website, is to “make fresh food accessible and affordable to everyone using the science of aquaponics and hydroponics.” The farm was started with the help of investors and the business accelerator organization Startup Tucson. It launched just as Shelton was finishing up his MBA.
Farming Supermarket Rooftops and a Storied Ball Park, a City Farming Operation Increases Access to Local FoodApril 17, 2018 | Charli Engelhorn
Since its inception in 2008, Green City Growers (GCG), a Certified B Corporation that installs and maintains vegetable gardens and farms within the greater Boston area, has assisted in the production of more than 175,000 pounds of organic produce, donated more than 12,000 pounds of fruits and vegetables, and engaged more than 7,500 people through their efforts.
“The mission is to grow food in unused spaces and provide people access to fresh produce,” says Jessie Banhazl, CEO and co-founder of GCG. “Having that mission as the core of our trajectory has led us into so many different spaces, which has been really fun and interesting and made us realize that there are so many possibilities for this kind of work.”
Careful planning, adequate startup capital and experience working on a traditional rural farm are just three of the elements that veteran urban farmer, and co-founder of Vancouver’s Sole Food Street Farms, Michael Ableman feels are necessary to be successful in the new urban agriculture movement. Founded in 2008, Sole Food Street Farms would be considered by many growers as established and successful, but for Ableman there is still much work to be done both at Street Farms and in the development of the city farm movement.
“The skill level required to be a farmer is not something you get just by wearing the right clothes, having the right tools and having started last year. It takes five to ten years to develop that skill level,” says Ableman. “What we’re trying to do is demonstrate that it is in fact possible to have a credible model of agriculture in the city, so the scale and production levels, the volume we produce, the number of people we employ is significant.”
At the root of Louisville, Kentucky’s ongoing and successful local food system implementation, which has generated considerable community and economic capital, is data.
A principal objective of Mayor Greg Fischer’s Six-Year Strategic Plan outlined in 2012-2013 to create new jobs and stimulate the economic development, is to develop ways to promote the city’s local food economy. Toward this end, three studies were conducted by the Local Food Economy Work Group, made up of elected officials from six counties and two cities, to gauge the needs of farmers and consumers pertaining to demand for local foods.
One of the studies showed that of Louisville’s $2 billion in food purchases a year, only $300,000 was going toward local food, and consumers and commercial buyers wanted to at least double that amount if opportunities were available. Another study highlighted the desire of local farmers to reach larger markets.
To Transform the ‘Hood for Good’ Urban Farmer Chanowk Yisrael Plants Seeds not only in the Ground, but in MindsApril 3, 2018 | Charli Engelhorn
A common perception of farming encompasses the process of growing food and selling it to the masses. For many American farmers, this process represents their entire enterprise. Yet, for Chanowk Yisrael, being a farmer has greater significance for his family and community. With his wife and nine children, Yisrael operates the Yisrael Family Urban Farm on a half-acre plot in his backyard in South Oak Park, a historically working-class neighborhood in Sacramento, California.
Started in 2007 as a way to safeguard his family’s livelihood in the event of a recession, it took time before Yisrael got the hang of urban farming. However, once he did and came to understand the value of farming in a community, he transitioned full-time to life as a farmer.