Focus, Food Service & Agriculture, and Small Business & Startups

Urban farming start-up grows deeper roots

Eastown entrepreneur has turned an experiment into a growing venture.

August 16, 2013
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Urban Farming grows deeper roots
Uptown Farm in Eastown is growing more than organic greens. Courtesy Uptown Farm

A local urban farming initiative is growing.

After only a year, Uptown Farm is blossoming into City Farmers, described on its website as a “collective of urban growers, entrepreneurs and food lovers.”

Andy Dragt and his crew started Uptown Farm in July last year when they leased a 6,000-square-foot lot on Wealthy Street near Diamond Avenue SE from developer Guy Bazzani. Then they tilled the land and planted seeds and watched their crops and newly founded business grow.

“We started Uptown Farm as an experiment,” said Dragt in a statement.

“We wanted to pioneer a method of intensive agriculture that would transform vacant urban land into a source of good food and meaningful employment. Now, with City Farmers, we envision a collection of small entrepreneurs working together to meet the growing demand for fresh, healthy food right here in the city,” he added.

After Dragt and company harvested their crop last summer, they were able to sell much of their produce, which consisted of organic greens and root vegetables, to Doorganics.

Doorganics is a local company that delivers freshly grown produce items directly to its customers’ doors.

“I was inspired by the chemical-free produce growing where a vacant lot once stood,” said Mike Hughes, owner of Doorganics.

Hughes was so inspired that he decided to get more involved in the urban-farming movement. He now sponsors a 5,000-square-foot urban farm on a lot behind his business at Fuller Avenue and Michigan Street NE.

“I took a look at the land around my business and knew we could play a larger role,” said Hughes.

The connection with Doorganics helped to convince Dragt that his small urban plot could become something much larger — and it has.

The new City Farmers is now leasing unused land in the city and helping others start their own urban-farming businesses. Under the guidance of Dragt and company, these entrepreneurs till, harvest and manage their farms while City Farmers sells their produce under its brand to markets, retailers and restaurants.

“When you dig into how unsustainable our food production system is, it is quite eye opening. What hooked me is the idea of organizing, collaborating and strategically scaling this system in an urban region,” said Jonathan Williams of Thinkbox Creative.

Williams manages the umbrella branding for City Farmers.

Dragt said City Farmers has launched a crowd-funding campaign on its website and is looking for more investors, land and business partners. The goal of the effort is to have more people earn a living by growing good food in the city.

City Farmers will hold a community event Monday, Aug. 26, from 6 to 8 p.m. at Uptown Farm, 940 Wealthy St. SE at Diamond Avenue. The new organization will give tours and have free samples and recipes for those who attend.

City Farmers also is putting together educational programs and community outreach initiatives. For more information, go to cityfarmers.us.

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