John C. Jones, MPA, PhD

Category: Enterprise Profile

New article on adaptive reuse

I received final word about the publication of my article appearing in Urban Design International that examines the adaptive reuse of industrial and commercial spaces by urban food entrepreneurs. Cases of note include the titular brewery in a former foundry and winery in a strip mall, along with two urban farms, one on a rooftop and the other inside a former industrial building. In this work I use urban design and architectural lenses. The read-only final version is available here at Springer’s website. I’m happy to provide an author manuscript copy for interested inquirers.

Enterprise Profile: Farming a Former Football Field

The We Over Me Farm in Dallas, Texas may be the most innovate use of space in urban farming I’ve yet seen. The 2-acre organic farm is located on the former football field of Paul Quinn College, a historically black college (HBCU). In addition to in-ground and hoophouse vegetable production, the farm also raises chickens, bees, and tilapia. According to their website, farmers have grown over 55,000 pounds of vegetables since their inception in March of 2010. The school closed its football program and launched the farm in 2010 as one way to respond to the food swamp plaguing the community surrounding the Paul Quinn campus. (Click here to listen to Paul Quinn’s president speak about the history of the farm’s development.) The non-profit farm both sells produce to local restaurants but also donates food to local charitable organizations. Student-employees form the farm’s workforce and professors have incorporate learning at the farm in several courses.

I have not visited this farm nor contacted its staff, however I can speculate about several unusual characteristics to farming on such a site. First, the site presumably already possessed both the water and electrical infrastructure, both of which are key characteristics in determining potential success in urban farming. Additionally, it is likely that site contains one or more unused buildings that could be used for storage of materials and harvested produce, as well as washing and packing. I could not find any written or pictorial documentation of this on the web. Finally, an important characteristic of any football field is parking and access to major roads. These characteristics are also important characteristics for successful urban farms. Satellite imaging from Google Maps indicates the farm has ample parking and road access (pan slightly right/East).

Follow this link to a USDA produced video that shows some elements of the farm’s built environment, including extant goal posts, scoreboard, and lighting rigs. (More pictures are available through this USDA profile.)

Enterprise Profile: Guided by Mushrooms

Guided by Mushroom is an informal-scale urban food enterprise that specializes in mushroom farming that, as of late November 2018, has operated for less than one year. The farm is located a family-owned, six acre campus bordered on three sides by an elbow turn in the Stillwater River in the City of Clayton, Ohio. Elsewhere on the campus are several other single-family homes and associated outbuildings. The entire property is wooded and is not visible from any nearby public roads.

The owner-operators, a couple, have adapted parts of a multi-car garage, that their extended family renovated to create a space for their operation. Their growing operation uses three spaces: a) a small seeding room containing their seeding operation and a Laminar Flow Hood, an industrial-strength homemade air filter chamber; b) a growing space in a temperature and moisture controlled tent in another wise unheated large single-car garage; and c) an outdoor space with a 41-quart All-American Pressure Cooker, a 55-gallon drum substrate steam sterilizer used to prepare their saw dust and soybean husk growing medium.

 The owners report selling roughly 20-30 pounds of mushrooms per week to two farm-to-table restaurants in the greater Dayton, Ohio region. The owners said that demand is high for their mushrooms, and believe that they could easily sell more mushrooms, to either new or existing customers, if they could maintain a greater level of production. They believe that part of this high demand is due to their product’s quality and uniqueness, as well as the niche they fill in a marketplace that otherwise relies upon farmers from out of state.

The owners indicate that scaling up their production volume is their greatest challenge. Part of this challenge was due to need to test various production techniques, growing mediums, and growing environment conditions. Several online communities of hobbyist, informal, and micro-scale mushrooms producers provided much of this information to the owners. Despite these early hurdles, the owners have only spent several thousand dollars in start-up costs. As of our conservation, they now believe they have determined best practices for their operation and expect to improve their production capacity in the coming months.

They report no contact with local regulatory officials, but do not expect any conflict with local or state regulations. Despite this lack of contact, the owners still wish local officials were more aware of various examples of urban food entrepreneurship in their region and wish that that local governments would make micro-grants available to urban food entrepreneurs. In the near future, they hope to incorporate either as an LLC or a worker-owned cooperative. As of late November 2018, they had no specific plans to become a formal enterprise.

Follow these links for more information on Guided by Mushrooms:

Guided by Mushrooms uses part of multi-car garage renovated to create extra living space.
A look inside the temperature controlled growing tent that is located inside a unheated garage.
The seeding room. The device on the right is a DIY air filtration chamber used in the seeding process to ensure only mycelium is introduced to the growing medium.
Shelf space in the growing room. Once harvested fully, bags are turned over for a second harvest and then discarded.  

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