We really love our community (if you couldn’t tell)
We have some pretty stinkin’ influential people living and working in Grand Rapids, making great strides in the betterment of its people and community. From public officials to local artisans, nonprofit workers, specialty advocates and beyond, GR is home to some of West Michigan’s biggest movers and shakers. These influencers are our family, friends, neighbors, and people we pass on the streets every day. And they deserve to be recognized!
Introducing Community Influencer: New City Urban Farm
Since May, the TIS Sustainability Team has been enjoying an abundance of flavor in our CSA (community-supported agriculture) program with New City Urban Farm, one of the many urban farms in Grand Rapids. For those unfamiliar with a CSA, the program is an economic model used by small farms for a deeper community connection as well as a steady flow of capital to support farm operations. By participating in a CSA, both community members and local farmers benefit, including consuming thoughtfully grown produce, strengthening the local economy, supporting local youth as they learn job skills, and much more.
As a Certified B Corp, supporting our local community members—especially those making strides in social and environmental welfare—is of huge importance to us. Because urban farms are such a vital component to a city and its people, we wanted to chat with the leaders who make our CSA from New City Urban Farm a possibility in the first place. See what New City’s Farm Director, Lance Kraai, has to say about community and the future of New City Farm below.
Interview with Lance Kraai, Farm Director of New City Urban Farm
TIS: How did New City Farm get its start?
Lance Kraai: We got started in 2011 when New City Neighbors wanted to build on its existing middle school bakery job skills program and community garden. NCN’s offices are located at Fourth Reformed Church, which at the time had 3 acres of unused land. This asset led us to consider launching an urban farm that would employ and train neighborhood high school youth.
TIS: When did you start with New City Urban Farm? Have you worked on farms your whole life?
LK: I put together the original business plan of New City Farm in 2011. My experience was more around social enterprises than it was around urban farming. I previously ran a renovation social enterprise for a company called JustWork in Canada, which had four small businesses that employed adults with barriers to employment, and really appreciated the social enterprise model from this experience.
When I returned to GR, I wanted to continue to be a part of social enterprises while also working in the neighborhood I lived in. When my wife Daina and I moved to the Creston neighborhood in 2010, I reached out to NCN after hearing about their bakery program. I had interned at an urban farm in Vancouver already and was a big fan of urban homesteading but New City Farm was definitely a learning experience in scaling up.
TIS: How do you wish to impact the community at New City Urban Farm?
LK: When I think about the farm in the neighborhood, I typically say I want to see food be grown in the neighborhood, by the neighborhood, and for the neighborhood.
I think it’s important for urban environments to see food being grown in their neighborhood because good agriculture is beautiful and appealing when seen first-hand. It draws people in while also revealing the hard work that goes into growing high-quality sustainable food.
Grown by the neighborhood means that we want to involve and empower the youth of our neighborhood in this beautiful growing process while also equipping them for future jobs and educational opportunities.
Finally, grown for the neighborhood means we do all we can to reduce barriers of accessibility to our produce. For us, that has meant we are able to accept EBT and Double Up Food Bucks so our lower-income neighbors can be a part of what we are doing.
TIS: What’s your favorite thing about working for New City Urban Farm? What is the most rewarding aspect of the job?
LK: My favorite part is end-of-the-year evaluations with our student employees, whose first jobs are on the farm. It’s amazing to sit down with each individual and discuss their unique talents and offer them lots of encouragement in the areas they have grown during the season, while also challenging them to go even further. Our youth works really hard all summer, starting at 7 am and having to fight weeds and intense heat. They have good reason to be proud by seasons’ end.
TIS: What do you envision for the future of New City Urban Farm?
LK: The next step for the farm is to keep growing in food preparation. In 2015 we hired Joel Schramm as our Kitchen Director. Joel is a master of converting seasonal produce into beautiful things to eat. So far we have focused most of our energy on making prepared soups we sell to our CSA farm share customers, which has been a big hit.
We’ve also recently introduced wood-fired pizza and bread. We just completed an outdoor wood-fired oven and are really excited to see where it will take us. We’ll even be launching an upcoming campaign to build an outdoor restaurant with a patio and outdoor seating, with hopes of making the farm more of a communal dwelling place. It will also allow us to employ more youth in a different context more akin to a restaurant. But mainly, we just want to eat wood-fired pizza. ; )
New City Urban Farm is a huge asset to our community, as well as the other CSAs in our city. Looking for additional info about New City Urban Farm and CSA programs? Check our list of resources below!