Sean Peterson believes that today’s agriculture is not your grandfather’s farm.
In fact, it may even be a big yellow school bus.
As the founder and executive director of the Salt Lake City Green City lunchbox, Peterson is studying how to ensure that current and future generations continue farming. It’s a question of thinking outside the box – or 40 acres of land.
“Agriculture has really changed a lot,” says Peterson, who planted and harvested his garden at the age of 12. “It’s becoming competitive and a very difficult business. I want to look at agriculture from a different perspective, see the possibilities of urban agriculture, and see how people can creatively make a living from agriculture.
“Our organization started with a 35-foot school bus (2011), and we turned it into a mobile greenhouse. We use this method to get people to think about creative ways to grow their own food, to think about eating more local food, and to start talking about food and local agriculture.
“So we grew up there as a way to meet our needs.”
A place for young farmers
One way green city lunchboxes meet demand is through their incubator farm project, a community garden built on land leased by Utah’s Department of Transport. It covers 37 acres and used to be an orchard of fruit trees, which has been idle for many years. Peterson’s team has turned it into a farm for young migrant workers trying to establish themselves.
In addition to providing 13 farmers with land to grow agricultural products, the project also provides them with training, business planning support and tools and equipment. Peterson said the number of farmers could increase to 25 by 2015.
Through cooperation with the International Rescue Committee and Salt Lake County, a project called “New Roots” has created similar agricultural efforts for migrants to Salt Lake City. The project provides a community garden, access to food through farm stands and farmers’markets, and training.
“The farm training program focuses on refugees with a commercial agricultural background who have previously grown and sold agricultural products and are interested in starting farm operations in Salt Lake County,” said Grace Henry, manager of the Singgen Project. “This is a city farm incubator project.”
In addition to growing domestic fruits and vegetables, farmers also grow and harvest their own agricultural products.
“Some of these crops have become very interesting for restaurants,” Henry said. “We have been able to sell unusual vegetables to restaurants in the county.”
Salt Lake County is also looking for ways to bring agriculture to other unused land. Through the county’s urban agriculture program, officials found that the county’s open space could be used to grow agricultural products. Then the county government rented the land to the local farmers.
“We’ve been sharing information about successful collaboration with planners in other cities, communities and cities,” says Julie Peck Dabling, the county’s open space and urban agriculture project manager. “We want to see other cities and counties use this model, because it is a very effective and effective way to use idle land.”