Buffalo, New York has two distinctly different urban farming cooperatives. One is a worker-owned sustainable vertical farm, aptly named the GroOperative. The team have quickly grown an aquaponic microgreens business that may soon get in the way of their full time off-farm jobs by pooling their skills, knowledge, resources, and spare time. At present the startup occupies the basement of a hydroponics shop, where one of the team still works. But the goal is transforming an old factory into a source for locally grown organic produce, mushrooms, fish, craft beer, kombucha, and more. They want it to be totally self-sufficient and sustainable, like Chicago’s off-grid project, The Plant. One day their farmer co-op will provide living wage jobs, and boost Buffalo’s economy.
And then we have the Farmer Pirates, who sailed into the tax foreclosure auction with pooled funds, and scarfed up 12 consecutive city lots for a song. That was only one farm of four. This urban farming cooperative cultivates over 10 acres of land in the heart of the city, which is a lot compared to most city farms, but this co-op is different in a number of ways.
Firstly, it’s open membership. Anyone in Buffalo who wants to farm can join, but no internships or training is available. There are no paychecks. It’s actually a community land trust where members share ownership of East Side urban farmland. The purpose of this is that if neighborhood market values greatly improve, the farmers are far less vulnerable to developers. The farmers who work on these 2 farms are paid in portions of the day’s harvest that equate to the number of hours they work. This group is focused on feeding themselves and their familes good food in a food desert. Only the surplus is sold. Though one of the members has an added-value processing operation, Pickles and Peppers, which turns appropriate crop harvests into fermented and smoked products.
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