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Posts Tagged ‘urban farm’

Photo: Jay Feinstein
Shawn Cooney and his wife Connie own Corner Stalk Farm, a container farm in East Boston, Massachusetts.

Do you get the radio show Living on Earth where you live? I find it fascinating no matter what topics they cover. Here is a recent episode on urban farming.

“HOST STEVE CURWOOD: Industrial agriculture today is a resource-intensive endeavor, requiring big machines, plenty of land, water, and energy to produce much of the food on a typical American dinner table. And as the public trends more toward plant-based foods, some are thinking outside the box by bringing farms inside the box. By retrofitting old shipping containers with grow lights and hydroponic gear, what would take about an acre of land to grow vegetables such as lettuce can be fit into just 8 by 40 feet. Living on Earth‘s Jay Feinstein and Aynsley O’Neill took a trip to Corner Stalk Farms in East Boston, Massachusetts to find out more. …

“O’NEILL: I see these shipping containers. I mean, right in the middle of these houses and behind the auto body shop … here we are!

“FEINSTEIN: You know, the funny thing is a farm like this would not have even been legal until 2013, when Boston revamped its zoning code. …

“COONEY: My name is Shawn Cooney. And I’m the partner and owner of Corner Stalk farm in East Boston, Massachusetts, and we started in 2014. So this is it. … Basically you’ve seen the whole of the farm by walking the 120 feet or so. …

“O’NEILL: Are those the plants in those columns all up and down?

“COONEY: Right. You really need just an industrial area [where] you can basically bring as many plants as possible into as little amount of square footage as possible. … In a real farm, you’re talking about square footage and acreage. Here, it’s really cubic feet. We’ve got so many feet on the floor, but we plant plants up to ten feet high. …

“We’ve got a climate control system, and a lot of fans keep the air moving so that everything’s happy. And the plants get a little bit of stress. If you just leave them without any movement, the plants actually get weak. …

“They do need to be moved around for them to have a good texture to them, so that the cell walls are thick enough, so that it’s not just eating a piece of water. …

“You can log into it from the outside world. If you want to fiddle around with settings, or just check on everything, you can do that from home, you can do it from from vacation. …

“FEINSTEIN: So how did you get into this?

“COONEY: I started three software companies and sold them. … My wife and I myself funded it, and we have loans [from] the US Department of Agriculture. …

“Mainly we grow lettuce. That’s our business. And we’ve grown tomatoes, we’ve grown lots of flowers, we’ve grown all kinds of herbs, and God knows what else. But [what] people buy every day is our greens, even our restaurants, that’s what they want. …

“FEINSTEIN: What type of environmental cost are you saving? …

“COONEY: One of the things we definitely don’t do is waste any water. No matter how good you are at growing outside, you could never grow with the kind of water use we have. We use, say 1000 plants we can grow in one unit, we probably use 25 gallons of water a week. So you couldn’t water your patio plants for a week with 25 gallons and keep them alive. …

“We adhere to the organic principles. Generally, the way we control any kind of a pest in here is kind of preemptive. We basically use ladybugs. We ship them in once a month or so, and sprinkle them around, and they pretty much do the policing of any kind of bugs in here. And when we have had to use something it’s called chrysanthemum oil. …

‘You guys want to try something a little, little further on the edge? This is called wasabi arugula. And I grow it for a couple of restaurants. And they use it instead of wasabi on their crudo and their raw fish and their raw meats. So here, take a leaf of that and be prepared. …

“FEINSTEIN: It does taste like wasabi. But it it’s a little milder, but I love it.”

More at Living on Earth, here.

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Photo: Nick Hagen
Shelving for lights and hydroponic growing trays at Planted’s initial locale. The company aims to grow and sell food for profit while benefiting a blighted community.

After suffering one of the worst downturns of any city in the country, Detroit has benefited from young people looking for affordable housing and from a lot of artistic and economic experimentation. (Search this blog on “Detroit” for an array of stories.)

In one example, an urban farm aims to be both profitable and a boon to residents of a food desert.

Brian Allnutt writes at Model D Media, ” ‘I never had a dream of being an urban farmer, or farming really, until I started feeding people.’

“That’s what Kimberly Buffington says about the transformation that led her to start a non-profit and in turn a for-profit urban farm. 12 years ago, while working in the pastorate of a suburban church, she began to wonder why they were doing mission-work in South America, but nothing closer to home. Through a friend who worked at Trader Joe’s, she began picking up donated food from one of its stores each week. …

“She eventually realized, however, that just providing food wasn’t solving the underlying problem of food insecurity. … Buffington imagined that by growing produce herself she could help provide jobs and establish another local food source.

” ‘It creates food security in our community,’ she says. ‘We don’t have to ship our lettuce from the Central Valley of California.’

“But instead of a traditional soil farm, Buffington started Planted, a hydroponic farm on Detroit’s east side that will focus on growing for local restaurants, institutions like universities and hospitals, and meal-kit companies like Hello Fresh and Blue Apron. …

“Perhaps her biggest selling point [was] producing a number of things locally like herbs and greens that are normally brought in from California and Mexico, especially in the winter months. This would cut down on transport costs and deliver a fresher product.

“Buffington received funding and support from Michigan Women Forward (MIWF), an organization looking to change the investment ecosystem by making loans to women and other underserved individuals. …

“Says Carolyn Cassin, president and CEO of MIWF, ‘We funded Kimberley’s pilot project, which she did in one of her partner’s basements.’ …

“This was the first time they had funded a hydroponic operation, which is a system for growing crops that uses soil-less media like gravel or rock-wool to grow plants in a solution of nutrients dissolved in water. Growers have the ability to control most of the factors that go into producing food, allowing them to grow plants more quickly and with a minimum of pressure from pests and disease. …

“Energy will remain one of the major costs for a business of this kind. Buffington believes that constructing their own building, with attendant geothermal climate-control and solar panels, will help insure long term sustainability. …

“They currently employ eight people in full- and part-time positions. ‘We’ve got the potential to hire a lot of farm hands over time,’ Buffington says. ‘And we’re really committed to a livable and better-than-livable wage. Our business model allows us to do that as we’re successful.’ …

“One of those Buffington has brought on board is local grocer Meg Burritt who previously worked with Blue Apron and other grocers. …

” ‘I can speak from experience,’ Buritt says, ‘I think the way that Planted could interact with these type of companies that are modeled after Blue Apron is to provide a more regional supply for things like tender greens that do travel far, but perform much better if they travel shorter distances.’ …

” ‘As our business becomes profitable we’ll be able to donate products weekly to Eden Gives that will go out into the community,’ she says. …

“For Buffington, it’s a labor of love. ‘It’s joy-filled work every day,’ she says. ‘It’s hard work, it’s concentrated, it’s fast-paced. But there’s a lot of joy in it because every person who connects is happy to be here.’ ”

More here.

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