The Flannel Farms Experiment

Flannel Farms is the name I gave my farm venture from the very beginning, the name is an extension of a silly joke from high school where my friends and I wore flannel every Friday  Flannel Friday. It had a nice ring, so I thought Flannel Farms sounded good as well.

I became interested in urban issues when I wrote a paper on the Youngstown 2010 plan during my freshman year of college. I interned with a Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corporation who was working on neighborhood beautification and community development through a series of neighborhood gardens. While I was working there, we started their flagship urban farm which is an impressive example of a productive urban farm. Being involved with their urban agriculture efforts, I became interested in the field that was taking over vacant lots in cities across the country.

When I was first learning about urban agriculture, I read two pieces that set the framework in which I still think about food. The first is The 25% Shift, a study done by Northeast Ohio Food Web that stated the economic potential of eating local food. If NE Ohio ate a quarter of its foods from local farms, it would put 1 in 7 unemployed persons back to work. The other book I read was The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan, who introduced the  Christian-Libertarian-Environmentalist-Capitalist-Lunatic Farmer, Joel Salatin, a grass farmer in Swoope, VA. His ideas about healing the earth, producing good food, and making a profit while doing it resonated with me.

Those ideas of employment and profitability stuck with me as I continued to read about the urban agriculture projects happening all over the country, especially the Rust Belt.

Luckily, loads of research of research and development have been done on urban agriculture. Growing Power a non-profit farm in Milwaukee has incredible aquaponic systems raising tilapia with salad greens without any need for the ground soil to be clean because of the raised bed system. They emphasis growing compost from food waste which gives them incredibly rich soil that they use to grow everything. This system is high yield per square foot, and can be located just about anywhere on any scale. Earthworks Farm in Detroit is one I’ve been told is especially impressive and they span almost 2 blocks to cook at their soup kitchen run by a Catholic organization. The methods of these farms have been developed and are replicable for other farmers, so the goal of Flannel Farms is to take these ideas to another sphere. The private sector.

The Flannel Farms Experiment is to create an easily replicated model for a profitable urban farm on the smallest possible area. So those vacant lots at the end of your block can create a well paying job for you. I believe this will require a mix of aquaponics, unheated hoop house, small livestock, worms, compost, fruit trees, vegetable beds, and easy outlets for small scale growers to sell their produce.

Flannel Farms will upscale significantly at the Canfield, OH site we grew on last summer to grow using biointensive methods. During the summer, developments will begin on our urban farm which will be located on the lot of the recently torn down school on Garfield and Hillman Streets.

After I graduated from Brown University May 26th, I plan on moving back to Youngstown to develop this project and grow delicious local food for the Youngstown area.






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8 responses to “The Flannel Farms Experiment

  1. KhepriC Polite

    Very cool, Alex. I know I’m particularly interested in the Aquaponics angle of it. I always thought Brook and Rainbow trout would be nice.

    • Kepri,
      Thanks for the comment. The farm in Milwaukee that I visited is experimenting with different fish. They had a system with 25 pound fish in it. Its definitely a good idea and I would imagine any fish could be used, the stocking rates would just have to be changed. I’ve heard that tilapia are the easiest fish to raise, so that’s what I’m going to start with and go from there.


  2. emily slaven

    Very impressive, Alex. And I was there….on flannel Fridays! emily slaven

  3. Katie Smith

    Hey Alex,

    Very cool project! I’ll be interested to see how it all works out! I’m a big advocate for locally grown produce and organic/vegan options. Youngstown needs this business! How are the rest of your classes going? It sounds like you have a definite career plan and concrete goals! Good for you! Too bad that as soon as you move back home I’ll be moving to Cleveland. I’ll be sure to support your efforts when I am home visiting though! Keep in touch 🙂

    Katie Smith

    • Thanks for the comment Katie! Its tough to find locally raised products around the Youngstown area and there certainly is not enough produced. Cleveland has some great markets, so you’re all set up there. When you come back to Youngstown, you need to come check out the farm!

  4. Katie Smith

    Hey Alex!

    I think that this idea is really cool! Youngstown needs this business! I am a huge advocate of purchasing locally grown produce, organic, and vegan products! I wish you the best of luck with your project and career goals, and I will definitely support your business when I am visiting home from Cleveland this summer! How are the rest of your classes going? It sounds like you have a solid after-graduation plan! Good for you! I will be curious to see how your endeavors work out! Keep me in the loop with your progress 🙂

    Katie Smith

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