urban agricultural system

Viability, Part Deux (video)

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Robert Litt, founder of The Urban Farm Store, in Portland, OR, comments on his customer base, and more generally implicated, the makeup of the patrons of this ‘urban agriculture’ movement going on. The Urban Farm Store is approaching it’s second birthday, and is smack in the middle of Portland’s southeastern side on Belmont St. They carry everything from remay to brewers mash to chicken feed.

An interesting perspective, indeed, because Robert is supplying the folks who are farming in the urban space of Portland. As he says, the majority of ‘urban farmers’ he serves are not so much farmers in the sense of producing goods for a profit, as they are in it, as he says, for the pleasure and educational aspects. Hobby farmers. Which brings us back to the question of viability in the realm of urban agriculture. Does a business that profitably supplies urban hobby farmers count as an urban agricultural endeavor? Wait…what is urban agriculture again?

This Is A Minneapolitan Farmer

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Stefan Meyer, farm manager of Growing Lots Urban Farm in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He’s finishing up his first year in production, having successfully served a seven-member CSA for the surrounding community. His farm is pretty rad, he’s basically farming concrete. Landscape cloth and soil on top of what was once called a parking lot. Solid.

James Olde Mercury Godsil (video)

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To call them labrynthic would imply negativity. Give you the idea that you’ll become irrevocably entangled, wandering blindly, waiting for the Minotaur to find you and put an end to them. I would not, however, describe the way Godsil releases his words with any other metaphor. Olde’s labrynth is not made of prickly death bushes, nor does it house monsters of any sort. It guides you with densely packed metaphor framed by tomato plants. There are ornate examples, years of (r)Evolutionarily informed rhetoric, and fish. Lots of fish.

Godsil is an academic turned rebel turned roofer turned urban agricultural visionary. He is the co-founder of Sweetwater Organics, an intensive urban indoor aquaponics farm (modeled after Growing Power’s) housed in a formerly abandoned industrial building in the Bayside area of Milwaukee.

To try to describe Godsil’s personality, demeanor, essence will be to greatly demean the many facets that make him whole, but to start he is a veritable well of knowledge. An uncapped artesian aquifer, given the slightest instigation, stories and facts and figures and historical references and lessons will come pouring out of his boundless reservoir, presumably housed somewhere between his head and heart.

He is a humble man, sharing his belief that transparency and acknowledgement are key to proliferation. He is a pragmatic radical community-based agricultural activist. He is readily distractable. Excitable. He loves to share and learn and think. He’s got an active curiosity rivaled by few that have crossed my path in years. He started one of the largest, most innovative urban farms in the country two years ago. He is a Doer.

The following clip is an attempt at an introduction. A dropperful of the rich, astoundingly complex flavor of which James Olde Mercury Godsil is made.

Good Advice (video)

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If I learned anything from What About Bob, it is the merit of baby steps. Take it slow, have a plan, get excited, but think about your excitement. Be smart. Be responsible. These suggestions are Peter’s response to the question of what advice he could offer to folks who were interested in starting up an endeavor similar to his.

This is a question I’ve been asking everyone with whom I speak on camera. Interestingly enough, Peter’s suggestions to plan, go slow and critically evaluate what is feasible were the first of the sort. Virtually everyone else, including but not limited to Eli Cayer/Dave Homa, Kevin Gardner, Mark Stevens and Jesse Meeder, were of the opinion that one of the most important aspects of having dreams, having visions, is to DO it. To not be afraid. Not think about what will go wrong, or skills that you don’t have. Go for it. Try. Be persistent. Just do it.

Here we’ve got a rather marked difference between Peter and some other folks in their approach. It would not be fair to assign value to either set of beliefs because both are ultimately so valuable. Clearly, each player has got his or her own personally discovered combination of ambitions and approaches, and, in the case of all of the projects we’ve visited, they are working.

As the title of this piece indicates, I think that Peter’s advice is ‘good.’ Yes. Absolutely. I think it’s great advice, in fact. Both in regards to a starting a small urban agricultural project and to a life. Does that, by virtue of being good, mean that the ‘kind’ of advice given by the others is not good? Absolutely not. Herein lies, once again, the beauty of speaking with a broad range of people in an indefinitely diverse movement – a diversity of views all united under the same progressive vision.
I love this question. I love the answers. I love the variability. It is a thinly veiled porthole into personal philosophies. Lifestyles.

I’m going to keep this one short. But first, I’ll pose the question to you. I invite you to consider it. Take a moment and really think about what you’ve learned from the past year of your life. You have acquired incalculable amounts of wisdom. I do not believe that the case could be otherwise. You know it.

With a grackleharumph, the interviewer cleared his throat. After the briefest self-conscious flick of his eyes to the floor, he directed them to those of his interviewee. Unblinkingly, so as to indicate the significance he placed on the words to follow, he posed the question:
What advice can you offer to a me, a young and energetic person, who believes in you. Wants to recreate what you’ve done?