New Generation of Farmers Focused on Sustainable Practices

Monday, June 14th, 2010

In this article, Lesley Lammers discusses the passing of the baton from one generation of farmer to the next, citing the demographic of these new farmers as college educated and showing a 30% increase in women since 2002. This new generation of farmers is focused on taking farming into the future by growing sustainably. They’re not only serving areas that were formally food deserts, but also bringing organic produce to thriving metropolises.

Lammers also provides some great resources for farm funding, locating available land, training and support for new farmers. There’s even a link to 40 Farmers Under 40, which profiles some of the young farmers who are making a difference across the country. It’s a great article, definitely worth checking out whether you’re interested in farming yourself or just appreciate the people who are having a positive affect on our food supply!
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New York’s First Hydroponic Rooftop Farm

Saturday, March 13th, 2010

Virag Puri from Gotham Greens

Gotham Greens plans to produce 30 tons of produce annually with the first hydroponic rooftop farm in New York. Constructed on a church rooftop in Jamaica, Queens, at an estimated cost of $1.4 million, the 12,000 square foot greenhouse is powered by 2,000 square feet of solar panels and captures rainwater for irrigation.

They intend to create a model of sustainable urban agriculture. The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority awarded a $400,000 grant to the project based on their energy savings plan. They’ll even use a biodiesel van to deliver produce to customers throughout the city, including Whole Foods and local farmers markets.

Gotham Greens is already planning their next project, a 20,000 square foot hydroponic rooftop greenhouse atop a manufacturing plant in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. With hopes of ultimately building 100,000 square feet of hydroponic greenhouses throughout the five boroughs by 2030, this will be an interesting group to watch!
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Farm Bus Brings Healthy Food to Community

Friday, February 19th, 2010

Virginia businessman Mark Lilly discovered there were people in his community of Richmond who did not have access to healthy food and decided to do something about it. He bought an old school bus on the internet and began stocking it with organic produce sourced from local farms.

Intent on bringing healthy choices to the local “food deserts”, he and his wife Suzy began parking the bus in an abandoned supermarket parking lot and occasionally in front of fast food restaurants in order to make their point. It’s not enough to simply make good food available, according to Mr. Lilly, you have to change the mindset. “Folks here are addicted to bad food and first you’ve got to wean them off it before you can sell them the good stuff,” he says. He and his wife try to ease the transition by giving out cooking advice and recipe leaflets. Their approach seems to be working, they’ve already bought a second bus and hope to one day have an entire fleet.
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see the video

Windowfarms: A DIY Project Takes Root

Wednesday, February 17th, 2010

New York artists Britta Riley and Rebecca Bray launched Windowfarms in February 2009 with the goal of creating a hydroponic growing system so inexpensive and easy to replicate that inner city dwellers would be inspired to grow their own food. The vertical vegetable gardens were designed to be made from recycled materials or inexpensive items from the local hardware store.

Windowfarms made their initial design available on the internet and after 7 months and a mere $5,000 investment their idea took off. Articles turned up in Grist, Art in America, Wired Blog and others, along with hundreds of thousands of hits on their website from all over the world. The public embraced the simple design and submitted ideas for improvements. “A distributed network of individuals sharing information can implement a wide variety of designs that accommodate specific local needs and implement them locally. Ordinary people can bring about innovative green ideas and popularize them quickly. Web theorists claim that this capacity to ‘organize without hierarchical organization’ will be a fundamental shift in our society brought about by the web over the coming decades.” To date, 29 viable designs have been submitted and windowfarms are popping up all over the world.
video 1
video 2

The Future of Urban Farming

Thursday, February 11th, 2010

Architects and designers have come up with innovative ways to deal with our impending food crisis. As the world’s population moves toward urban centers and density causes green space to diminish, cities are contemplating how they will feed themselves. The trend toward urban farming is inevitable but anticipating limited amounts of land, designers are focused on vertical possibilities. Here are 26 innovative designs that address the concept of vertical farming.
Designs 1-9
Designs 10-18
Designs 19-26

San Francisco Urban Farm Hopes To Expand

Monday, February 8th, 2010

Little City Gardens in San Francisco, CA is hoping to expand their operation. For the past year, Caitlyn Galloway and Brooke Budner have been growing artisinal salad mix, braising mix and culinary herbs on a 1/16-acre backyard plot in the Mission District, which they sell to individual subscribers and local restaurants. They also hold workshops to teach the local community about farming in the city, and somehow have managed to maintain paid jobs off the farm the entire time. Now they’d like to expand to a 1/2-acre plot, dedicate themselves to farming full time and continue “the local, national, and global dialogue about growing food in cities”.

Brooke and Caitlyn have built a business worth investing in, and in addition to that they have created a model useful to anyone interested in starting or expanding their own urban farm. They have put together a business plan and stated their goals clearly. You can see from their Kickstarter page that their hard work is paying off. They are getting a terrific response from their community and we wish them the best in reaching their fundraising goals by May 4th, 2010!
Don’t miss the Little City Gardens video, just click on the Kickstarter image above.

Vertical Farms: Coming To Your Town

Monday, February 8th, 2010

Warning: this is an advertisement, but an interesting one. It’s an example of another method of sustainable local farming. There has been a lot of talk about vertical farming in the city, but mostly in terms of large scale production. Home Town Farms is promoting an individual produce shop that actually grows their food on-site using a vertical farm at the back of the store. As with most vertical farms, the produce would be grown hydroponically, which reduces water usage. HTF states that consumers would be able to buy vegetables and berries that have been picked fresh on a daily basis. It will be interesting to see if this concept gains momentum and competitors begin to surface. The demand for locally grown organic produce is rapidly gaining momentum, so companies like Home Town Farms will likely be popping up in towns across the country, all competing for our dollars. It’s the perfect time for consumers to demand affordable healthy food.

Seattle’s 2010 Urban Agriculture Campaign

Friday, February 5th, 2010

Seattle has launched a new campaign to promote local and regional food sustainability and security. Their goal is to make healthy food available in all neighborhoods by finding innovative ways to encourage local and regional food production. The Seattle City Council will partner with other NE Seattle organizations to launch a number of programs, including developing additional community gardens, creating a new urban food bank farm and looking at the potential for new land use codes that support urban agriculture.
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see upcoming events

Abandoned Lot Becomes Urban Farm in San Francisco

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010

photo by Chris Martin

Residents of Hayes Valley in San Francisco, CA descended on an abandoned lot this past weekend and transformed it into an urban farm. The lot had been sitting unused for about 15 years, when as part of the city’s interim use agreement, it was handed over to locals for temporary farming. For the next 2-5 years, until the city moves forward with development plans, the neighborhood can enjoy classes, workshops, work parties and site tours on a beautiful urban farm.
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OGP Catches Up with BK Farmyards’ Stacey Murphy

Monday, February 1st, 2010

While in New York we met with Stacey Murphy, founder of BK Farmyards. She’s been connecting farmers, consumers, landowners and developers in order to establish a strong local food movement in Brooklyn.

Stacey locates available land throughout the city and hires locals to farm that land. Available land can include unused patches unsuitable for other businesses as well as local backyards. She also meets with developers to encourage consideration of community gardens in future development plans. We talked with Stacey about her progress, the obstacles that she faces and her plans for the future of BK Farmyards.

OGP: Stacey, it seems that Brooklyn is seeing a lot of growth with their urban food movement. What changes have you noticed in the time that you’ve been here?
The food landscape has been completely altered in the last year. BK Farmyards, Eagle Street Rooftop Farms, and Gotham Greens all started businesses to try for a financially sustainable urban agriculture. While Gotham Greens did not grow this year, they are ramping up for a rooftop hydroponic farm this season to sell to Whole Foods. The Brooklyn Food Coalition created neighborhood activist groups as well as issue-focused groups that debate food issues with local politicians. A group in Bedford Stuyvesant has mapped all vacant lots and their owners in an attempt to identify new sites for urban agriculture. New food co-ops are being organized in Fort Greene, Bushwick, and Bay Ridge (those are just the ones I know). Journalists like Jill Richardson and Novella Carpenter are including Brooklyn stops for their book tours. The Brooklyn Botanical Garden has been working with others to create a Farm School for urban agriculture. Slow Food NYC has been working to develop its first youth farm in Brooklyn. When I go to brunch it is not uncommon to see ‘Red Hook eggs’ on the menu. I am ecstatic about the growth in the movement this year and I am sure that next year holds many more surprises.

OGP: Brooklyn residents appear to be very receptive to the idea of sustainably grown local food, but are you getting the political support that you need?
There are many people in local government who are sympathetic to our cause: Scott Stringer, Catherine Quinn, Marty Markowitz, and Senator Montgomery to name a few. Some of these politicians are trying to rectify a giant oversight in PlaNYC, when food was completely overlooked as an element to a sustainable city. In the last two months, the FRESH initiative was publicly announced and Scott Stringer hosted a NYC Food & Climate Summit. I am hopeful that some of the discussion from the Food & Climate Summit will make it back to policy planners to promote urban agriculture. While it didn’t make any sense to seek political support with the backyard farms, we are now seeking support for a project in Crown Heights where we have partnered with the High School for Public Service to develop a 1-acre farmyard. We are hopeful that we will get some funding since the project covers so many agendas: food justice, environment, health, and education. Wish us luck!

OGP: Where would you like to see improvements made in order to facilitate the local food movement?
Specifically, to increase the number of urban farming ventures, I would love to see the Department of Agriculture do a land study of any state-owned land that could be used as farmyard, but they are completely overworked. The New York State Department of Agriculture is fielding all NYC urban farming requests, so we desperately need a city position, one that also reports to the mayor’s office. There needs to be a new section of PlaNYC that is dedicated to food. The ‘comprehensive’ plan to make New York City an unparalleled sustainable city is completely flawed without addressing the link between food and climate. The first item that should be included in that plan is to reinstate compost collection and leaf collection in the city to close the loop on our local food system and bring food waste back to build our soil.

OGP: Congratulations on being a finalist in The Buckminster Fuller Challenge this year. Has that nomination opened any doors or provided more visibility for BK Farmyards?
The Buckminster Fuller Organization has been immensely helpful in the formation of BK Farmyards. The entry process is something I highly recommend to anyone starting a new venture. They were vested in the success of the project even if they could not award us the prize. As we got promoted to semi-finalist and finalist standing, we noticed a lot of spikes in the number of people visiting our website from all over the world, and we continue to get notes from people who found us through the Buckminster Fuller Organization’s website.

OGP: How many properties has BK Farmyards acquired and roughly how much produce are you providing to the community at this point?
Acquired is a funny word: the more fitting term is borrowed. Last year, we were only selling produce from one site, because we got such a late start: June 15th! We had a 6-member CSA last year. Several clients that we found last year, we had to put off starting until this growing season, because it was going to be too expensive to set up and not grow for the whole season. We have approximately 15 sites that are pending contracts for this growing season. We have been focusing a lot of energy on the 1-acre farmyard at the High School for Public Service, because we think it is a very important project. The number of other sites we take on will depend on how much of our time this project takes. We anticipate having at least 25 CSA members this year.

OGP: How do you get the produce to local residents? Are you selling at the farmer’s market or distributing through some other method?
In 2009, we worked solely through a CSA: members purchased a weekly share of the produce for the season. We contemplated selling produce from a wheelbarrow at the subway stop after work, but logistically, we wanted to ensure that we sold all the produce. CSAs have their challenges too: ensuring that members get a consistent amount of produce each week and that there is enough diversity of crops. We harvested on Tuesdays and Saturdays to ensure we were picking produce when it was ripe, and three members showed up on each of those days to pick up their produce. With a CSA there are no rained-out days at the farmers market, and the consumers help weather any failed crops. CSAs build an important connection between the farmer and the consumer in which they are both linked in the sustainability of the business.

OGP: Can you tell us about the Gowanus Project?
Our longer term plans are to work with developers to include farmyards into new construction. We are partnering with Peter Moore Associates to renovate an old printing warehouse in Gowanus for 2011. There will be lofts, a chef community, hostel, and café all surrounding a farmed courtyard. There will be a resident farmer who organizes the farm-to-table program for the café and manages a community compost center in the cellar. We are ecstatic to move forward on this project, and we hope that more developers will want to include farming into new residential construction.

OGP: What other plans do you have for BK Farmyards?
I see BK Farmyards as a think tank somewhere near the intersection of food and architecture, so anything goes within that framework. New citywide systems are necessary as well as creative solutions to the age old question: how do we feed everyone? I entered the Buckminster Fuller Challenge again this year with a social network platform that would give new meaning to the term Community Supported Agriculture. So far, the field has been narrowed down to 35 projects, and we are among them. I did not foresee being involved so heavily in web development, but BK Farmyards work to date has raised certain questions for me regarding the viability of urban agriculture as a profession above the poverty line. Some minor tweaks to people’s lifestyles could significantly impact the farmer’s income. The mission of BK Farmyards will focus on creating a financially sustainable model for urban agriculture, and I suspect that nut will take a while to crack.

OGP: Well that’s a key issue and we’re really glad that you’re addressing it for the benefit of everyone interested in urban farming. There are a lot of projects that won’t get off the ground until people are assured that they can be financially viable.

You’re working on some amazing projects Stacey and making a huge contribution to the local food movement. Thanks so much for taking the time to update us on BK Farmyards. We’ll check back in with you down the road!

Check out this video on BK Farmyards