Urban agriculture ventures of all different stripes – from commercial hydroponic enterprises and rooftop aeroponic farms to community gardens planted atop formerly vacant lots – are not only disrupting the food system, but also generating community and economic capital.
To give you an up close and personal look at a series of innovative urban farming operations that have emerged to tackle challenges to food access, meet marketplace demand for local food, and increase food security, Seedstock has put together the ‘Future of Food – Urban Ag Field Trip’.
Scheduled for Friday, January 27, 2017, the field trip will look at the impact of urban farming in Los Angeles County, the most populous county in the United States, and include lectures on such topics as the past, present, and future of urban agriculture, vertical farming, and sourcing local food from urban farms.
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 two 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.
When it comes to Controlled Environment Agriculture [CEA], Valerie Loew wants the U.S. to catch up with Europe and China before it’s too late.
“The rest of the world is so far ahead of us, because they are so limited with their own resources,” says Loew, who is professor and horticulture department head at Fullerton College in Southern California. “They are taking advantage of this technology way before us because we have sunshine and we have water; but we really don’t. Between Europe and China, the amount of greenhouses they have is just off the charts. We need to start catching up.”
Joe Icet has a message for humanity: the world is in sad shape, and we’re here to lift it up through sustainable agriculture. His friends have even dubbed him a “land evangelist” because of his passion in talking to students and community members about the power of positive land stewardship.
“This is the ‘Disneyland of Sustainability’, haven’t you heard?” he asks as he guides visitors around a slightly hidden farming campus in Houston’s Fifth Ward residential neighborhood.
This retired union pipe fitter has made sustainable and organic farming his life’s mission. He founded The Last Organic Outpost, a nonprofit farm and social entrepreneurship incubator, in 2004. Since then, he has built up a thriving community education program and urban farm on less than two acres of land.
The Grow Local OC: Future of Urban Food Systems Conference presented by Seedstock in partnership with the OC Food Access Coalition, and scheduled for Nov. 10 – 11, 2016, at California State University, Fullerton, will explore the community and economic development potential of fostering local food systems in cities.
The Future Farm Field Trip on Day 2 (Nov. 11) of the conference offers an excursion into the diversity of urban and state-of-the-art hydroponic and aquaponic agriculture operations in Orange County. Tour participants will be treated to lectures and sessions from pioneering farmers who are embracing innovative business models and growing systems to both increase food security and take advantage of the escalating demand for local food.