Monday, November 25, 2013

Get to Know Your Urban Farmer

I got to thinking one evening after an old school mate of mine asked how I got into urban agriculture and worm composting that I should post a little more back story than is already on our blog.  Not only did I decide to write up an interview with myself (which is weird enough on it's own), but I thought it might be a good way for our readers to get to know some of our favorite local Urban Farmers and Food Slingers.  So over the next few months we will be sharing what we learn with all of you. Enjoy!

1) Where are you from and what brought you to Columbus?
I was born and raised in Columbus, Ohio.

2)  What did you do before you got into urban farming?
I have worked as a professional chef for the past 15 years which I still do full time for 10months of the year.  Spring and Autumn are busier times for worm composting business and for planting and harvesting, seems like summer is big for pulling weeds.

3)  How did you get into urban farming to begin with,
was there any family history of farming?
I had absolutely no family history of farming or food growing (that I know of).  I don’t even remember ever having any live plants around the house other than shrubs & ivy outside. MY quest began around the time my son was about a year old, I wanted to be able to feed my kids food that was both nutritious and safe so we started growing some of our own vegetables and each year we planted more and more space until we reached the 1,000 square feet that we have now.  From there the next logical step was composting and when some friends turned us on to worm composting it took off from there.

4)  What has been your biggest challenge in urban food growing? 
Figuring out what to do and how to do it since I was teaching myself as I went along.  Every year I try a new growing method or new variety of fruit or vegetable or a new technique for worm composting.  Sometimes there’s success but sometimes there are epic failures and so you have to learn to either accept the loss or figure out how to turn it around.

5)Have you utilized any government funding (i.e. grants), bank loans or other funding outside of your own earnings to grow your business? 
Once, a small S.A.R.E. (Sustainable Agriculture Research Education) grant to experiment with handling restaurant food waste.  We were trying to determine if worm composting was a viable means of dealing with pre-consumer restaurant food waste. This enabled us to expand to almost 75% what we were already doing at the time.

6)  What has been the most surprising thing you have experienced in your work as an urban farmer? 
The two things that surprised me most were 1) How sort of Punk Rock urban food growing is.  There is definitely an air of “Fuck the System” that I carry along with me whenever I step into the dirt. 2) How interesting I continue to find it.  I tend to grow bored with things and yet there is always something new to try or learn with food production and composting.

7)  What kinds of work do you do to engage your local community
(if any)? 
We (my wife & I both) enjoy taking part in our local farmers market’s “Dirt Day” talking with people about composting and letting kids (of all ages) dig in our vermicompost to find red wiggler worms and other critters living in there.  We also do work with local schools teaching kids about the importance of food waste recycling.  We believe that working with kids is a great way to teach their parents and get both generations interested in real food and composting to feed the soil.  In addition to this we participate in numerous “green” fairs and local events as well as work with Columbus Parks & Recreation doing educational programs with kids and adults.

8)  Have you encountered much, if any, resistance from the community or local authorities in regards to the work you are doing? 
Not really, we have adopted the “easier to ask for forgiveness than permission” approach.  We keep our work fairly clean and our worm composting stays less than stinky, I think that’s the key to keeping friendly neighbors, provided they were that way to begin with.  I think we’ve been lucky in that regard.  Not to mention sharing fresh vegetables and eggs with your neighbors is a good way to keep them as allies.

9)  What are some of the most important things you think that the general public should understand about food and urban farming? 
The only truly sustainable means of food production is in tandem with some sort of composting and soil rebuilding without the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides.  Every year we discard tons of plant material such as food scraps, that could be recycled into fertilizer for more crops with a much broader range of nutrients than what so-called farmers are adding via the standard NPK chemical fertilizers.  On top of that we should be dedicating far more land and labor towards growing real food, not just commodity crops like corn, soybeans, wheat & rice.  This could have great implications on the health and well being of the public.   

10)  Where would you like to see your business in the next 5-10 years? 
We would like to grow our worm composting business to accommodate even more of the central Ohio needs as well as incorporate more food growing into the equation.  Of course, being a chef it would be great if we could begin selling more value added items that are made with the food we are growing.  Ideally this would become an almost closed loop formula, grow the ingredients, make food products to sell and feed the scraps from production to the worms which in turn create fertilizer for the next round of growing.

11)  What is your biggest soap box subject? 
Advertising Marketing.  I can’t stand marketing people, they are the snake oil salesmen of our time, constantly peddling some junk claiming that it’s something it is not.  From McDonalds trying to make you believe their kids meals have healthy options in their highly processed milk and chemical washed apple slices to all the organic green-washing B.S. being done to make you believe that a company is a hero for the people.  Yes, buying local is great but when you are purchasing from a mega farm that has the same practices as every other corporate factory “farm” it makes little difference other than how much they are paying for gas.  We have tried to steal some
of the same diabolical practices as large corporations and use them for good.  Rather than focusing on kids to try and get their parents to waste hard
earned money on more junk to feed the landfill, we focus on getting kids involved in hopes that their parents will also get involved and begin recycling their waste into more useable products.  Garbage is only waste if we simply throw it away.


1 comment:

Sheryl said...

My son got an "I heart dirt" pin at an event at Clinton a few years back- glad to know a little more. Since then we've started gardening, working towards a beer garden that we can brew from and have dinner from too. Might have to start some worm composting this season!