In 2013, Jody and Max Wall began growing a handful of vegetables and herbs using an aeroponic garden system called the Tower Garden. They watched as the vertical, futuristic-looking contraption grew flush with leafy foliage using only the small space of their balcony. The Walls were amazed at how the Tower Garden, equipped with a pump that supplies growing plants with water and nutrients, allowed them to enjoy a variety of nutritious, clean vegetables all year long.
This effective, simple approach to gardening got them thinking: What if this kind of farming was done in Dallas — on a large scale? Effective use of the Tower Garden could grant even the most space-starved urbanites easy access to organic produce. Plus, the Tower Garden claims to grow plants up to 50 percent faster, yield more fruit, and, since it functions without soil, is immune to certain fungi and pests.
“Using this technology, you could set up actual workable farms with one employee and have them be more effective than large-scale farms,” Jody says. “Labor and use of resources would be drastically reduced.”
Hooked on the idea of supplying produce to Dallas via urban garden solutions, Jody began relentlessly researching the organic movement. Finally, in 2015 — after some setbacks, countless hours spent working and reworking their business plan, and plenty of constructive criticism—Max and Jody obtained their LLC for Dallas Urban Farms (recently renamed to the more-inclusive Urban Farm Co.). They purchased a commercial version of the Tower Garden, obtained a few small-scale initial investors, and began farming on their first rooftop location in Deep Ellum.
Their urban farm attracted the attention of local chefs in search of convenient farm-to-table options at their restaurants, and before long, the Walls had set up a micro-farm for executive chef David Scalise of the Hilton Anatole. As they gained notoriety, people impressed with their concept urged them to go on Mark Cuban’s Shark Tank. But Jody had a more direct approach: on a whim, she contacted Cuban herself.
“I sent him a 10-paragraph email telling him what we were doing,” she says. “Four hours later, he wrote back to say he was interested, and that we should ask him for some money. By September, Mark owned 20 percent of our company.”
With this new partnership, Max and Jody decided that their current gardening technology—the Tower Gardens that had served their balcony so well — might not allow them to expand as quickly as they hoped. Next they reached out to Bright Agrotech, a top-tier hydroponics technology company based in Wyoming. After a family field trip to the company HQ and some negotiation, the Walls secured a partnership with Bright Agrotech and upgraded their urban farm technology to the ZipFarm, a hydroponic system that utilizes scalable, wheeled racks containing vertical rows of crops and LED lights. This upgrade enabled them to grow more food with less electricity, water, and space.
Looking for a place where they could do the most good, the Walls changed their company name to Urban Farm Co. and began shopping for space in South Dallas, a place with a reputation as a harsh food desert. They secured 1,000 square feet of unused real-estate space with the intention to launch an indoor farm and produce shop. Their landlord is real-estate developer Monte Anderson, known for his restoration of the Belmont hotel back in 2005.
“Monte works in South Dallas and looks to bring people in to revitalize different portions of the community,” Jody says. “We’re starting with South Dallas, but plan to have satellites so that people will be able to access food throughout the community.”
On March 1, Urban Farm Co. will open its store doors in South Dallas at 3939 South Polk St., allowing residents to come in and purchase their locally grown produce.
“Everyone wants to eat good, tasty, clean food,” Jody says. “Access to clean local organic delicious food shouldn’t depend on your location or pocketbook.”
Other Dallas farms:
Bonton Farms was an agricultural response to the poor health caused by little access to healthy food in South Dallas. Bonton is home to an organic garden, free-range chickens, goats, turkeys, rabbits, and honey bees.
Paul Quinn College turned their football field into a two-acre farm that has grown more than 30,000 pounds of organic produce.
Deep Ellum Urban Gardens, a project of the Deep Ellum Community Association, is a community garden on the corner of Good Latimer and Canton Street.
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