Farmers SpeakJanuary 13, 2016

Take Five: Ingrid Hannan, Urban Eden Farm

Ingrid Hannan, Urban Eden Farm
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Take Five with Ingrid Hannan, Urban Eden Farm, Spokane, Wa

This interview is the first in our series “Take Five: The Face of our Food.”. These 5 questions are a quick snapshot of the motivation, challenges, aspirations, and diversity of farmers around the country. Interested in being featured in our series? Email laura@farmcommons.org.

Ingrid Hannan manages Urban Eden Farm  alongside Patrick Mannhard and a crew of farmhands and volunteers. Urban Eden Farm is a small-scale, organic-method vegetable farm in the city limits of Spokane, Washington. 

1. What do you like best about being a farmer? What drew you to this career/lifestyle?

I started farming because it was a practical, tangible, grounded way of addressing environmental and social problems in the world. I had learned about a lot of the faults with our current food systems, and local organic vegetable growing answered a lot of those problems. But it was the lifestyle that really held me. Being outside on cool summer mornings, eating fresh beans out of the field, wearing dirt-covered pants instead of a uniform, having passionate and enthusiastic co-workers, learning to work with tools and machines...there's a huge list of benefits that I have come to deeply appreciate

2. What is one challenge you and others farmers that you know are facing?

There are lots of challenges faced by small-scale food producers. I would say one of the biggest challenges is overcoming the bad shopping habits of the public. Because of subsidies and changing generational values, the majority of people place low cost and convenience above all else when making food purchases. This means that even though there are about 300,000 people living in our general area, we struggle to see even 1 percent of them coming to the farmer's markets.  This means that our gorgeous, seasonal, hand-picked produce is competing with big-box store prices, which just doesn't work.

3. How do you feel owning a farm business is different from owning another small businesses or being an entrepreneur in another field? 

I would guess that very few businesses are handling the entire chain of production within their model. Not only are we manufacturing multiple products, but we also do sales, marketing, shipping and handling, advertising, and customer service. And we don't have a separate employee for each role. We also have a few extra hurdles compared to other businesses; there are many variables outside our control that affect our ability to be productive like weather and pests, and our final product is perishable.  So after all that work from raw material to sales display, the value of our merchandise drops to zero pretty quickly.  When put in these terms, farming seems like an impossible, risky business!

4. What is the hardest part of farming for you? The most satisfying? 

The hardest part is the repeated long hours of physical labor. By the end of the season, I am physically pretty drained. We really put our whole bodies into the effort, literally blood, sweat, and tears. The most satisfying part is seeing the whole picture of our efforts. The fields are lush and full of food, the farmer's market display is shiny and colorful and bountiful, our CSA members have become a community and they ate local veggies all summer.  Small scale farming is ultimately an idealistic venture, but it has such visible, tangible outcomes.

5. What changes do you predict farming in the US will see over the next 25 years?

I really hope that we'll be seeing a continued increase in farmer's markets, local food co-ops, restaurants based on seasonal and regional menus, community gardens, weekly box shares, small farm incubators, non-profit models for education, etc.  There are so many ways to make our food systems more secure and sustainable, I hope all of them work together for that greater good.  The current generation of large scale, mono-culture, industrialized style farmers is going to age out. And as we learn more and more about the pitfalls and negative effects of their systems, their children and grandchildren are going to engage in a rush of innovation, creativity, and problem-solving to make our food systems more equitable, sustainable, and healthy for everyone. 

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