I grew up in a family who worked hard to grow their own produce. My grandparents, uncles and aunts farmed. They had a keen ability to grow almost anything. It was an inspiration to a little guy like me, so I was young when I began growing a vegetable garden in the backyard. My mother used a lot of the vegetables I grew to prepare our meals, and we played a little game at dinner to see who could guess what ingredients came from the garden.
Not many people know this about me, but I am a born entrepreneur. It wasn’t long after I started my first vegetable garden that I began going door-to-door selling some of my harvest and eggs from my chickens. I guess you could have called me a traveling tomato salesman about 40 years ahead of my time – or maybe behind the times?
It seems that the past few years have seen a sort of resurgence in popularity of enjoying fresh, seasonal produce. Whether it’s growing your own vegetables and herbs in a few pots on the patio or shopping the local farmers market on the weekend, we want fresh food – we want to know where it comes from, and we want to get to know the people who grow it. My urban childhood farm is quickly becoming a movement.
Growing Cityscapes & Feeding Communities
Urban farming refers to growing or producing food in the city or community. Imagine a concrete jungle turned green with lush, fresh produce. This may sound like community gardening, but urban farming is different in that it assumes a form of commerce rather than growing produce for personal consumption. Produce is either sold to local restaurants or directly to consumers through farmers markets, retail stores or community supported agriculture (CSA) programs.
Those involved in this movement are at the front line. They’re increasing access to locally grown food while educating people about what grows seasonally in their area.
It takes a collaborative effort between all our food producers to feed our communities. It’s not an all or nothing situation. Urban farming can go a long way in addressing the food insecurity issues facing our country by supplementing what larger farms produce. Many operations are not just focused on the commerce – they also promote awareness, education and empowerment. These groups want to show others what they can do for themselves and their community with some seeds and patience.
From Plot to Profit
If you are interested in turning your garden plot into profits, there are many ways to get your harvests to consumers. Initially, I suggest keeping things simple. Contact your friends and neighbors about purchasing baskets of edibles from you. Consider pickup convenience or neighborhood deliveries. Your customers can pay monthly or by the basket.
Do you have a favorite restaurant? Approach the chef about supplementing his ingredients with your locally grown herbs and vegetables. Bring samples to show the quality of your crops and ask what types of edibles you can plant for the restaurant. Small establishments with frequently updated menus are more flexible to work with, so start there. Be prepared to deliver to the restaurant and get paid upon receipt until you feel comfortable to bill them.
Finally, consider renting a spot at a local farmers market. The overhead is usually nominal and the commitment for just a season. If you feel like your operation is too small for this, look for a partner who can beef up the inventory and share the costs and labor. Many communities will have multiple farmers markets on various days of the week. If your inventory and available time can support it, set up shop in more than one market.
You’re reading this article, which means you are already on the road to getting your urban farm up and running. Two additional organizations to check out are Pick Tennessee Products and your local Cooperative Extension Service.
The Department of Agriculture’s Pick Tennessee Products (picktnproducts.org) is a nonprofit service that connects consumers and businesses with local growers through marketing initiatives, social media and a fun mobile app.
Your local Cooperative Extension Service can tell you about resources at your disposal. Visit the Value Added Agriculture section of the UT Institute of Agriculture website (extension.tennessee.edu) and check out the information they have on farmers markets. They have a great set of Farmers Market Boot Camp articles that will help you create your game plan.
As you make plans for the growing season, consider the possibility of turning your backyard garden into an urban farm. Your efforts will pay you in more than just dollars; you’ll get to experience the joy of connecting your community with the food they eat.