20 Aug 2014
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Dispatches: Launching A New (Urban) Farm In A Down Economy

Local growers Karla Pankow and Elizabeth Millard are going after their dream with gusto.

Dispatches: Launching A New (Urban) Farm In A Down Economy Dispatches: Launching A New (Urban) Farm In A Down Economy

Conventional wisdom holds that  flashmobs have few agricultural applications. Useful  for protesters, for rioters, or practical jokers, sure, but who'd think that social media-powered organic farming would work?

Local urban farmers Karla Pankow and Elizabeth Millard, that's who. They've decided they could use a few flashmobs to help their fledgling organic farm business, called Bossy Acres, get off the ground.

So, on Saturday, a few dozen of their farm's friends and supporters will descend on their acreage in Dayton to help weed and generally prep the land for its first planting. Organized through Facebook (and an old-fashioned email listserv), this "crop mobbing" means they will eventually be able to get a much bigger crop in the ground despite using labor-intensive permaculture farming and "intercropping" (think corn, beans, and squash).

21st-Century Growers

It's all part of a strategy designed to overcome the challenges of an industry that relies on the "ethical grocery shopper" movement and disposable income during a tough economy.

"It's one of those things where the shopper knows their farmer and you (the farmer) build your own cheerleader section," explained Pankow. 

"There's still a need for CSA farms," she added, refering to farms that sell shares of their produce to families before the growing season begins. "The response we've gotten has been fantastic."

To get visitors to area markets like Southwest's  and to know them in the first place, though, Pankow and Millard have poured a lot of time into marketing. From creating their "sassy" logo, as Pankow calls it, to building a strong social media presence, to plain old face-to-face chats at area farmers markets and the State Fair, they say they've done well. They have sold almost all the shares of next year's crop already, and are using their experimental urban site in South Minneapolis to grow salad greens and herbs for a few cafes.

Part of the secret, said Millard, is that they both come from media and marketing backgrounds. Pankow used to work for the marketing arm of a pharmacutical company, and Millard still keeps a hectic schedule as a freelance journalist.

"I literally have 18 phone interviews to do next week," Millard told Patch while she manned the farm's booth at the State Fair. "I know it sounds cheesy (...) but weeding can make time slow down. It's like a detox in a way."

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