Urban Farming Reimagined: Creating Large-Scale Distribution Opportunities for Micro-Sized Farms

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Urban Farming Reimagined: Creating Large-Scale Distribution Opportunities for Micro-Sized Farms

Nashville, United StatesNashville, United States
Year Founded:
Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
Project Stage:
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

An entire city can efficiently feed itself on local produce alone, and we're out to prove it. First stop? Nashville. By aggregating produce from everything from tiny backyard gardens to multi-acre farms, we're building a wholesale distribution system for urban-farmed food that rivals Sysco.

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Most gardens and small farms lack the time, scale, and funds needed for refrigerated trucks, efficient cold storage, and other services like washing and packaging that most larger buyers require. As a result, local farms and gardens are stuck inefficiently selling via farmers markets and CSAs, the mainstream food system is largely unable to access local produce sources, and our average meal travels 2,000 miles before reaching our plate.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

Nashville Grown is establishing Nashville's first urban food hub: a facility where urban farms and backyard gardens can wash, package, can, freeze, and store their produce to ensure that local food is available year-round. Most importantly, the food hub serves as an aggregator of produce, coordinating the supply chain and offering refrigerated delivery services, so ordering a hundred pounds of lettuce from a dozen backyard farms is just as easy as ordering from Sysco--but unlike Sysco, the product is more nutrient-dense, has a far smaller carbon footprint, and was literally grown next door. And since all produce items sold for retail are co-branded with farm bios, consumers can actually know where their food comes from.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

The main disadvantage of urban agriculture is the ultra-small scale of urban farms. For example, Greenwood Gardens in East Nashville is a hydroponic lettuce, tomato, and herb grower operating out of a residential backyard. Even if they were able to produce enough to make it onto a wholesale buyer's Rolodex, they would never be able to afford a refrigerated truck, GAP-approved washing facilities, produce labels, or other equipment necessary to gain entry into the mainstream food system. By aggregating their produce with that of dozens of other growers like them and doing all the post-harvest handling and marketing for them, Nashville Grown eliminates this disadvantage, giving farms like Greenwood entry into the food system.

Impact: What is the impact of the work to date? Also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

Since launching in mid-September 2012, Nashville Grown has sold over 11,000 lbs of produce from 17 different small farms to 26 wholesale customers. With only a minimal 15% markup to cover our operating costs, we were able to return $25,856.24 to our farmers by the end of April. Note that these sales occurred almost entirely during the off-season for middle Tennessee farmers, a time when many farmers markets and food hubs would not even be in operation, and we expect monthly sales to triple over the summer. Now that we have a strong base of local farms, we can focus our energies more on cultivating more inner-city farms in order to realize our vision of being the first large-scale food hub working with primarily urban growers. Once the model is proven, we hope to build a movement to replicate this model across the US.

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is this solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

Most of our funding comes from earned income; we keep 13% of the revenue from each item of produce sold. At our current size, however, this only covers our operating costs, and we are seeking grants, competition awards, and private donations to raise the capital (approximately $750,000) needed to outfit a facility and purchase refrigerated vehicles large enough to serve all of Nashville's farmers.

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

Aggregating locally grown produce is not unique; there are approximately 170 examples in the United States, according to 2012 USDA AMS research. What's unique is the size and location of farms we work with. While other food hubs source from traditional farms, Nashville Grown has worked with the city zoning and health offices to ensure that even the tiniest of backyard gardens can legally participate in the food hub. In the process, we are redefining what it is to be a farm, and who has a right to participate in the wholesale food marketplace.

Founding Story

A few years ago, I learned that 80% of the produce consumed in Havana, Cuba is grown in the city, by a network of small urban gardens (organóponicos). This system was established by the government practically overnight when the fall of the USSR left Cuba without the resources needed for conventional agriculture. First thought: Amazing! Second thought: Can it be done in the US? I decided it could, but we needed to, like Cuba, start thinking of the city as one giant urban farm, rather than a collection of little farms--with an efficient mechanism for aggregating and distributing food, even the tiniest of green patches could be used to grow food, and urban farming could reach the scale needed to compete with conventional produce distributors.
About You
Nashvile Grown
About You
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About Your Organization
Organization Name

Nashvile Grown

Organization Country

, TN, Nashville, Davidson County

Country where this project is creating social impact

, TN, Nashville, Davidson County

Has the organization received awards or honors? Please tell us about them

We received 2nd place and the audience favorite award in the Social Enterprise Alliance's Business for Good pitch competition in March 2013. The award included $2,500, office space for a year, and a 9-month seat in the Entrepreneur Center's incubator and mentorship program.

Nutrients For All
Where do you ensure the availability of nutrients?

Healthy environments., Nutrient-rich farming.

If you had greater capacity, which additional sectors would you like your solution to target - either through expansion, partnership, or thought exchange?

Full nourishment foods, Human wellness and vitality.

How specifically would this added capacity help you improve the quality, efficiency, or sustainability of your existing product or service?

Currently, we are indirectly promoting the growth of new farms by providing them with a ready-made market, but I would love to establish a farmer incubator program that could more actively work to ensure that our area has a diverse, healthy, and happy base of farmers who are trained to maximize the environmental well-being of their land and the nutrition and taste of their crops. We would also like to work more closely with buyers to help make purchasing decisions that maximize the benefit, in both health and flavor, of using locally grown produce.