Food to grow, not mowTuesday September 19, 2017 11:29 pm EDT
I first learned about the program from chef Billy Allin of Cakes and Ale in Decatur. Allin, a home grower himself, waxed lovingly about the green beans he was cooking with, delving deep into every perfect little detail, characteristic and flavor. His source? The Ramos brothers.
Grow with the Flow was born in Tucker last year as a platform with a simple plan: to replace the most irrigated, wasteful crop in America the quintessential bare green lawn with food. Small in scale though it is, the concept is exciting in its potential to greatly impact local foodways. And for Roger and Reggie Ramos, it comes straight from the heart. After their mother passed away from cancer in 2010, the brothers wanted be more aware of what they were putting into their bodies. "It gave us a realization on what we're eating and the best way to do that is to grow what we eat," says Roger.
Originally, Roger hoped to become a small homesteader: "I knew I just wanted to grow." Then, he and Reggie came across an urban farmer on YouTube who ran a business off other people's lawns and open-sourced his information. Most notably, the farmer didn't need to overextend himself by purchasing land. Reggie, who is a master gardener, and Roger began "just slowly learning" about yard farming by attending conferences like the Growing Power initiative in Milwaukee. Eventually, Emory University's Micro Entrepreneur Acceleration program helped them form a business plan. When hunting for a place to grow, the brothers visited the Tucker Farmer's Market (in which they now have a vegetable booth) and "knew that people would be open to something like this," Roger says. "We knew we wanted to establish roots here.?
And establish roots they have, not only in their own yards, but in those all across Tucker. A grant from Food Well Alliance took care of infrastructure and tools, and Roger found available yards by using the app Nextdoor. "We want to target just our neighbors to keep plots nearby ??_ kind of opportunistic. We posted an ad asking for garden space and got 10-20 responses.?
No value assignedAfter evaluating for things like light and size, they started the project with four lawns. To keep the program funded, they sell each plot's produce at farmers markets and to certain restaurants. In return, the homeowners get an educational experience and also a customized weekly share of produce from the network of gardens.
To make the venture successful, Roger is concentrating on relationships with restaurants and catering to specific chefs by learning their ordering patterns, or perhaps even dedicating a plot to them, "so we can actually be like a personal farmer." When it comes to chef Allin, Roger knows he likes a certain type of bean and plants those from heirloom seed companies. "I try to give advance notice when we plant so he can get the first harvest of the crops ??_ the tastiest ones," says Roger. Grow with the Flow also provides ingredients to local meal kit program PeachDish.
The Ramos brothers also maintain many partnerships within the community. They help with Tucker Orchard Guild by planting trees and helping to facilitate tree adoptions. (Look for the buckets of blueberries the Ramos brothers planted outside of restaurants on Tucker's Main Street.) They also help maintain the Tucker Kids Garden, passing the torch on to wee ones, and have partnered with nonprofit Global Growers to provide food around Clarkston to refugee families via the Clarkston Food Initiative.
With the future in mind, Roger would like to someday create a co-op style support system for small farmers. Instead of expanding outside of Tucker, he would instead partner with farmers in surrounding areas to bring this concept of miniature farmlets to them. Less wasted lawn space is a large part of why they do what they do, and they hope to spread the gospel regionally. "It just makes sense," Roger says. "Our future is ??_ we just really want to grow in Tucker. Really it's the idea that is the future. We want to see local food systems in each community and really propel urban farming as a career for young people. Farming is a dying occupation. The average age for a farmer is 65 years old.?
With Grow with the Flow, Roger and Reggie are saying more than just "you can eat your lawn." They are proving that great things are accomplished in small ways, and that growing our own food is not merely good for our bodies, but for cultivating community as well.
To learn more about Grow with the Flow, visit www.growwiththeflowllc.com.