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Growing Green: The Story of an Urban Ag Business

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This article comes from the NOFA/Massachusetts 2013 July-August Issue Newsletter

By Drew Love, Low-Income CSA Program Coordinator & Metro Boston Organizer

Growing Green:

Jessie Banhazl always wanted to work with food. She grew up in a "foodie" household with a focus on international and authentic ethnic cuisine. Her dad had traveled for work and brought back his passion with every trip, specifically a wide variety of Asian cuisines, so while other kids were having mac n' cheese and spaghetti, Jessie was going home to beef rang dang and bi bim bap.

After college her interest in the food network was sidetracked by reality TV, with jobs at "Wife Swap" and "The Hills", among other atrocities. At the time, she didn't realize how unstable the American food system was, but after reading "The Omnivore's Dilemma" by Michael Pollan she became passionate about sustainable agriculture.

Urban Farming seemed like the perfect combination of her interests, and presented a real possibility for making a change in the country's health by providing the tools for people to better understand their food and their health through the process of growing it. 

Thus, began Green City Growers (GCG). In 2008 it started as an idea to offer homeowners access to hyper-local produce from their yards via small-scale farm installations and maintenance. There were similar businesses on the West Coast, but none in the Boston area. In 2009 the team started partnering with businesses and restaurants to help them grow-their-own produce. The inspiration was to offer access to fresh, hyper-local produce from spaces that hadn't been previously used for growing food through intensive growing and raised-bed techniques. 

Since then the business has grown dramatically and added new staff members like Tany Horgan, Director of Client Services and Lead Farmer. Tany first became interested in discussing food while studying community food systems at college. Learning about the U.S.'s unsustainable dependence on the industrial food system motivated her to learn alternative ways to feed the masses. With a huge portion of the world’s population living in the city, companies like GCG will help to develop infrastructure and education around urban self-sufficiency.

Those dreams of self-sufficiency are starting to come true, especially with large-scale projects like the upcoming Whole Foods rooftop garden. The project has been a long time in the making.

A few years ago Whole Foods starting calling around to get a sense of what their options were for a rooftop farm project, and GCG was one of the people they called. Green City Growers worked with the Recover Green Roofs and the Whole Foods teams to design the farm for a new building. A similar project was installed by Recover on the roof of Ledge Kitchen and Drinks in Dorchester in 2010. That 5,000 sq. ft. farm produces food for the restaurant and is maintained regularly by Green City Growers. The Whole Foods project is the same model, just at a much much larger scale, 17,000 sq. ft!

All the produce grown on the roof top garden will be sold by Whole Foods to the public, a mere matter of feet from where the produce is grown.

Join Jessie, Tany, and Green City Growers this Summer and Fall as they lead a number of NOFA/Mass workshops on organic pest management, succession planting, using your harvest, and season extension! Read more about these and other workshops at www.nofamass.org/events.

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