On Monday, February 26th our Kickstarter (crowdfunding) campaign will launch! I’m going through a range of emotions with this campaign; I’m excited, stressed, nervous, optimistic, and so much more. For those of you not familiar with Kickstarter, it is a funding platform for people/businesses to raise money. Individuals pledge money and get exclusive rewards created by Dogpatch Urban Gardens! The campaign is active for 30 days, and if the funding goal is not reached we don’t get any money.
This campaign has been in the works for more than six months. I recognize that creating a Kickstarter to raise funds for a business can be frowned upon, but we are using this crowdfunding for more than just raising money. While having a successful campaign and raising money to lessen our debt due to imposed improvements from our county is important, I also want to use this platform as a tool to increase awareness of the difficulties that can result from starting a small business. I especially want to let people know about the challenges that our urban farm is facing. Sadly, these challenges are not unique to our farm. When I talk with other farmers, many of them also have faced, or currently are experiencing, hardships resulting from unclear obligations to their local governments. Urban farming is especially challenging because we are doing something outside of the norm; this makes zoning, policies, and regulations challenging.
Here is a quick summary of the issues we are dealing with: Dogpatch Urban Gardens is an urban farm in Des Moines, Iowa. We just finished our second growing season, and in 2018 we are facing more than $75,000 of imposed infrastructural changes resulting from misinformation from our local county.
To make a long story short, our county originally treated our business using residential building code. A year after our operation was up-and-running the county changed their stance and has decided to require that the business now adhere to commercial codes yet not rezoning us from residential. This is in opposition to the farmstand classification, which was how we were categorized by our county, and were the guidelines we were told followed. With the change in classification to a commercial business, we are being required to add public restrooms (new septic), fencing, water retention berms, and landscaping. We also must demo and repave surfaces, create a site plan, and more. While we still meet the county’s definition of a farmstand, they told us we are no longer classified as such, and we must comply with their commercial building requirements. The video in our Kickstarter campaign as well as “about” section from our page will fill you in on more details of what has occurred.
I really do feel like we have been wronged by our local county. We (I say we because my husband, Eric, has played a major role) have always been very diligent throughout the inception of this business. What I mean by this is, before even purchasing our land, we communicated our intentions and verified that we could grow on the land, sell through an on-site farmstand, as well as use the home as a rental property. As the business has evolved we communicated with our county point person. He gave us responses to our questions that we have now learned that were incorrect (or have since changed), and we relied on his expertise to our detriment. We are now faced with altering/adding a significant amount of infrastructure to the farm to maintain our business.
We have had many people offer suggestions and ways to help us through this time. Lawyer friends have offered insight and support, yet we don’t want to pursue any legal action. We do feel like the improvements that are being made to our farm will make us a better and more desirable place, but the local government hoisting all these requirements at one time is hindering the success of our business rather than promoting its success. Our business is a female-ran organization that is improving our community and the local support is strong. We are the type of business that our local government should be promoting and uplifting, yet sadly that is not the case.
These struggles with our government seem contradictory. The state of Iowa is a part of the “Healthiest State Initiative” and the main page on the website says, “Iowa is #19 in the nation when it comes to being physically, emotionally, and mentally healthy. Our ranking has moved since the Initiative was announced, but our overall well-being score has been fairly constant the past five years. To claim the #1 spot, we have work to do. It’s an ambitious goal, but with your help, we can change Iowa and show the rest of the nation the road to wellness.” If the state of Iowa is placing such an emphasis on health, it seems natural for the state to want to facilitate an urban farm. Our farm provides access to healthy, organically grown food, beautifies the land, provides employment and volunteer opportunities for people to be physically active, provides educational opportunities about growing food, and more. Having an urban farm in a neighborhood exemplifies what the Healthiest State Initiative is trying to promote.
Many cities in the state of Iowa also used to participate in a program called the Blue Zones Project. The goal of this organization is to, “help transform communities across the U.S. into areas where the healthy choice is easy and people live longer with a higher quality of life.” Our urban farm is a great example of the foundation of The Blue Zones project. Happy, and healthy, communities tend to be more active, have an environment where healthy food is available, have decreased stress levels, limits urban sprawl and invests in beauty. If our farm isn’t a good example of a way to make a community happier (thus increasing health and quality of life), then I don’t know what is!
I was looking for some guidance/input on how to work through our county issues, so I reached out to the Blue Zones organization. Their response to my inquiry was, “Thank you so much for your note and the great work you are doing. Our time in Iowa delivered measurable impact at both the state level and community level that to date has delivered over 650 million dollars in grants, gifts, and direct economic impact for a investment of 25 million. As reward for this work and outcomes, Blue Cross Blue Shield and state, decided not to continue our partnership which tells us that leadership doesn't understand the value of what we and your work delivers. I'm so sorry for what is happening. I would continue to share value of what your work delivers and stick to your guns!”
I realize our Kickstarter campaign may be controversial and “stir the pot” as we are putting our local government in the spotlight. I am not a politically motivated person and do not enjoy confrontation. That said, I do feel like I’m at a tipping point and I can no longer hold in my frustrations. Many of you are not aware of the hardships we are dealing with, and that is one reason I created this Kickstarter campaign. I want you all to know/realize the issues we have had to deal with, but also know we are here to stay! Dogpatch Urban Gardens will continue to preserve and continue to “Cultivate Community.”
Be on the lookout for the launch of our campaign on Monday, February 26th!
Your Urban FarmHer, Jenny