"Mom - There's a Farmer in Our Back Yard"

Normally the words 'business' and 'environmentally friendly' do not fit harmoniously together in one sentence (although, of course, this doesn't stop their marketing machines from trying to imply that connection). Businesses generally make money by doing damage.

Coca Cola takes perfectly good water, that we're short of, adds ingredients that are bad for us, and then sells it back to us in a disposable can. Big Agribusiness doesn't want you to know there are natural farming systems that people have utilised for millennia, for free, that would do the job far better than their toxic chemicals and genetic tinkering ever could. The more people killed by cigarettes, the more profit Big Tobacco makes. Even the health care systems in some countries make a buck from our misery -- essentially incentivising a non-interest in preventative health education. If Big Oil and Big Coal were to encourage conservation, they'd be missing an opportunity to maximise profits today.

Take a look at the products around you, in your own home -- how many have arrived to you with a net neutral impact on our world and its inhabitants? Most businesses, even those that are tagged 'environmentally friendly' (which often, at best, only means their products are 'less bad'), are about consumption, and consumption virtually always comes at a cost. Despite what they may tell you in adverts, the environment is not a priority for business.

But here's a money-making venture with real merit: Donna Smith and Robyn Streeter, of Portland, Oregon, have started a business called YourBackyardFarmer. It's about growing food in urban areas - i.e. close to where it's consumed. We've covered such themes often before, but this is urban farming with a twist! Instead of broken New Year's resolutions from your derailed intentions of developing a green thumb, Donna and Robyn will come to your house, and do the work for you.

Donna and Robyn were keen to start a community supported agriculture farm, but after coming up against all the bureaucracy and legalese over land and water rights associated with their plans, they instead conjured up the idea of farming in other people's back yards.

Smith describes Your Backyard Farmer’s humble beginnings: “We made pull-tab fliers on our computer, and spent all day hanging them on every community board in the city.”

By the time they got home there already were messages on their machine, and they soon had 25 clients and a waiting list.

... Your Backyard Farmer’s average customer is a family of four who loves the idea of eating local, organic produce but can’t make it to the farmers market every week and finds New Seasons or Whole Foods a little expensive.

For approximately $40 a week (prices vary with size of the yard and household) Your Backyard Farmer is committed to doing just that. The only requirements are ample space — 20-by-20 feet is the minimum — that receives six hours a day of direct sunlight.

Your Backyard Farmer also welcomes groups or clusters of homes on the same street. Sometimes one property has a particularly ample yard, so neighbors pool their cash and grow food for the whole block at that location, with the fringe benefit of community and relationship building.

Three-quarters of Your Backyard Farmer’s 2006 clientele have signed up again this year, along with about 20 new ones. As the business grows, Smith and Streeter plan to hire employees, but for this season they’ll handle 40 to 50 yards. -- Portland Tribune

Now, you could say that by doing this work they're removing the incentive for people to do it for themselves. But, I can't help but think that watching an organic farming expert transform my back yard into a larder of fresh, healthy, produce for my family would both educate and inspire. And, it seems that for Donna And Robyn this is all part of their grand master plan:
They hope to get the people they serve so self-sufficient at gardening that their job becomes obsolete, allowing them to move on and help others. They also are available on a consultation basis if you need a little help getting your garden started but prefer to do the bulk of the labor yourself. -- Portland Tribune
As the customer, you get to choose what is grown for you. When the crops are harvested, the food is 'transported' from the soil to your back doorstep where it's left in a basket, ready to be 'transported' into your kitchen for consumption. The benefits for the customer, and the planet, are obvious.

But how is it for Donna and Robyn? Well, if they tend 45 yards this year at an average of $40 per yard per week, you end up with a plus-$90k figure. And, remember, they don't have to purchase or lease any land.... How many people can make that kind of money whilst doing something they love, and yet retain a deep inner satisfaction from knowing they're working for the good of the planet and its occupants?

This is global warming activism, and business, at its finest.

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  • Posted on Feb. 12, 2008. Listed in:

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