Growing an urban farming community with microgreens

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By Lindsey Carver and Tonya Taylor

Purdue stands inside her CropBox, a turn-key agricultural system capable of growing the equivalent of an acre of field grown crops within a 320-square foot footprint.

Hydroponic producer Tami Purdue grows a long list of microgreen crops, but that’s not all she grows. Purdue also helped cultivate an urban farm community in Wake County, North Carolina.

Three years ago, she left a career in law office administration and purchased a CropBox, a turn-key agricultural system retrofitted from a shipping container capable of growing an acre of crops within a 320-square foot footprint. Since then, Purdue has grown microgreens – also referred to as immature vegetables and herbs – and educated the local community about their health benefits. Microgreens are harvested at the formation of their first true leaves and contain between four and 40 times the nutrient density of full grown produce.

Fifteen years ago, Purdue struggled to grow tomatoes, arugula, and peppers in her own backyard. Fortunately, after years of practice and becoming involved with local organizations promoting food security, she signed up for a workshop with Will Allen, founder and CEO of an urban farming organization in Wisconsin called Growing Power. On the final day of the workshop, Purdue found her calling during the microgreens session.

Within two months of farming for a living, the physical issues Purdue felt from years of sitting at a desk vanished and she began to feel “powerful, connected, like [she] was doing the right thing.” CropBox may be a non-traditional growing environment, but Purdue says she feels the same peace growing and harvesting crops that outdoor farmers enjoy.

At the same time as demand for CropBox and Sweet Peas Urban Garden systems has grown, so has the farm’s production capacity, thanks to help from the next generation. Purdue employs a manager, videography and photography intern, and volunteers from the World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms program (WWOOF).

After just one visit to her bustling urban farm, it’s clear that what Purdue says is true: urban farming is “not just a fad. It is real.”

Lindsey Carver and Tonya Taylor are urban agriculture specialists for the Wake Soil and Water Conservation District in North Carolina. Carver can be reached by email at​ lindsey.carver@wakegov.com and Taylor can be reached by email at ​tonya.taylor@wakegov.com.

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