When Gavin Newsom announced last week that the city’s new sustainable food policy calls for more urban land to be used to grow food, many residents wondered where the additional land would come from. According to Garden Fare, a new and growing business in the Bay Area, most residents don’t need to look any farther than their own front and backyards.
As more and more companies emerge with offerings of urban agriculture services, their emphasis is often largely placed on the conversion of abandoned lots and unused parking areas. What makes a company like Garden Fare unique is that they focus on converting existing ornamental lawns into edible gardens that provide ample amounts of healthy, local produce. In addition to providing easy access to healthy food, Garden Fare founder Patrick Rodysill also highlights the fact that residents see a greater return on their investments in lawn care when those lawns are being used to grow edible foods versus the more typical, non-edible plants.
Currently, the majority of Garden Fare’s customers are middle class homeowners in the Oakland area. The business model that Garden Fare is built upon incorporates a process that begins with an initial consultation, followed up by a garden design, implementation of the design and in most cases, long-term maintenance and care of the garden. In fact, Garden Fare indicates that roughly 90% of their customer base is looking for more than just a pretty garden they can eat; they’re also looking for someone to care for that garden. Although the company philosophy is based on the belief that people should be empowered and educated enough to grow their own food, the company also believes in empowering communities through providing needed gardening services that most residents simply don’t have the time for.
Drawn in by cost savings in lawn maintenance fees and increases in property values, most customers are staying on board because they’re drawn to the easy access that an edible garden provides to healthy produce that is either not available from a local grocer or, is not available at cost-effective prices. Although most customers are homeowners, renters are also coming on board by signing up to have large container boxes of produce installed in their yards. That way, when the renter leaves, they take their investment in garden infrastructure with them.
The details of Newsom’s new food policy are still unclear but the company leaders remain hopeful that Newsom’s announcement may signal a shift towards city-based tax incentives for converting decorative lawns into edible lawns. In nearby regions such as Marin County, residents are taking advantage of subsidies on materials such as drip irrigation supplies, which greatly reduces the upfront capital costs of investing in an urban garden. Hopefully, the same will be true for San Francisco and so far, Newsom’s commitment to providing city residents with secure access to high nutrition produce has received citywide support thus far.
Garden Fare intends to grow the business slowly with an incremental approach to acquiring new customers and servicing new regions. Like any good company, they’re looking for ways to optimize their operations with strategies such as stadard garden layouts and contents so that the same garden may be replicable across a number of yards.
However, with Rodysill and his staff, it’s not just about growing the business for the sake of revenue. According to Rodysill, growing Garden Fare means that more urban residents are being better fed, at lower prices and that more green jobs are becoming available to urban youth.
Whether or not sustained growth is possible given the current economy, one thing is clear: Garden Fare plans to weather the storm, one yard at a time.