Growing Cities Blog

A conversation with Sophie from the National Young Farmers Coalition!

September 2nd, 2015
Sophie Brinker

We got a chance to sit down with Sophie Ackoff of NYFC and ask a few questions about the amazing work that they do!

Sophie is the National Field Director for NYFC, and helps farmers across the country launch and grow NYFC chapters. She leads their grassroots campaign work and manages ther corporate partnership and membership program. While a Biology and Environmental Studies student at Wesleyan University, Sophie founded a campus food politics organization to source local produce and meat in cooperation with dining services and local Connecticut farmers. She has worked for Food & Water Watch in education and outreach and has farmed on several CSA farms in the beautiful Hudson Valley of New York.


1. What is NYFC ​and how do you​ ​all ​support local and sustainable agriculture?

We are farmers, ranchers and consumers fighting to create opportunity for young people in sustainable agriculture in the United States. Through grassroots advocacy, we work to reform policy to make land, capital and training accessible for beginning, diversified and organic farmers. We have a network of 28 chapters in 28 states across the country — these social and business networks are entirely young farmer-led and forge collective success for new farmers through communication and collaboration.

We’re currently working to add farmers to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program which offers loan forgiveness after 10 years of income-based payments to doctors, teachers, government employees and non-profit workers. Student loans are preventing young people from finding success in agriculture– and with only 6% of US farmers under the age of 35– its critical that our government incentivizes this important work.

2. How long has NYFC been active, and where did it get its start?

NYFC got its start back in 2010 when three young farmers in the Hudson Valley of New York were struggling to grow their farm businesses on rented land. Land in the Hudson Valley can be prohibitively expensive and when they looked around for organizations focused on land access and the success of the next generation they found no one. At that time, young farmers were beginning to organize in Washington state, Michigan and Connecticut. Together, we decided to create a national coalition to leverage our voices to make change at the national scale.

In order to make farm policy more supportive of young farmers, we knew we needed a voice in the Farm Bill process. NYFC partnered with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition to write the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act. Through calls, emails and meetings with young farmers and their members of Congress across the country, the act won bi-partisan support in Congress and many of its provisions were included in the final Farm Bill in 2014. We won full funding for beginning farmer training programs, a permanent micro-loan program, and decreased experience requirements on Farm Service Agency farm ownership loans. In between Farm Bill cycles, we have been working directly with USDA to make its programs more accessible to beginning, diversified and organic farmers.

​3.​ How can people get involved with NYFC in their community?​

If you’re a young farmer interested in starting a chapter in your region, check out our organizing handbook and videos at There you’ll learn what other chapters are up to across the country and learn the steps to getting one started in your community.
You should also consider becoming a member of NYFC! In addition to gaining representation in DC and supporting our work, NYFC members enjoy discounts at agricultural companies such as Johnny’s, High Mowing, FarmTek, Chelsea Green Publishing, Growing for Market and more.

4. ​What’s your favorite part of our film, Growing Cities, and why?

I love how optimistic Growing Cities is. It tells the stories of people who saw a need in their communities and did something bold to address it. There is no shortage of young people passionate about sustainable agriculture (both in our cities and in rural areas), our work is to make sure they have what they need to succeed. If young people are able to grow food for their communities, the future of food in America is bright.

5. What’s one issue in the food movement you wish people were more aware of?

The next generation of farmers are increasingly coming from non-farming families. In a survey of 1000 young farmers, we found 78% did not grow up on a farm. These young people face incredible hurdles in getting started including a lack of access to land and capital, and often tens of thousands of dollars of student loan debt. It’s almost impossible to learn how to farm and start a farm business while making monthly loan payments. We’re seeing an entire generation of farmers trapped by their student loan debt. Fortunately, the Higher Education Act is up for reauthorization and with it, the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF) which forgives student loan debt after 10 years of income-based payments for professionals in public service careers. Our legislation, the Young Farmer Success Act, would add farmers to the PSLF Program. It was introduced into the House on June 1st with bi-partisan support. But to get the bill included in the Higher Education Act, we need you to reach out to your member of Congress and encourage them to co-sponsor the bill. To take action, check out

Thank you Sophie!

Spiral- Empowerment Through Permaculture

May 9th, 2015
Sophie Brinker

What a magical thing to stumble upon a beautifully unique, yet timeless experience… that’s how one feels when reading about Spiral- a summer intensive permaculture program for young women at Dig In Farm in MA. To learn a bit more about the structure here is an excerpt from their website:

“Offered at Dig In Farm (a ten-acre perennial farmstead) in western Massachusetts, Spiral is a month-long residential Permaculture Design Course, aimed to empower young women through regenerative agriculture. Permaculture is a design process that helps people design systems (be they agricultural, social, financial, or other) that nourish the earth, care for people, and bring a more just world into being. Students will graduate from the program with internationally recognized Permaculture Design Certificates”

Too good to be true? Well it gets better! Spiral is a program where hard work, play, observation and mentorship intertwine to create community and empowerment! Just take a look at some of their photos to get a sense of the beauty of the program and land:

dig+in+farm+1 1.43.13 AMIMG_2876spanish+tortilla+1blueberries+1

Can’t wait to hear the strength, stories and joy that come out of their first summer… stay tuned and learn more here!


An Inspiring Conversation with Noreen Springstead of WhyHunger

April 30th, 2015
Sophie Brinker

A 23 year veteran of WhyHunger, Noreen brings a combination of marketing, fundraising, program management, operations and executive experience to shape the vision and leadership of the organization. With two decades of steadfast commitment to the mission of WhyHunger, Noreen has directed program services to develop, support and replicate innovative grassroots solutions and established the fundraising and marketing department, guiding its growth over the years. She has led the cultivation of high-level corporate partnerships and built long-term relationships with notable artists, management and record labels resulting in millions of dollars in support to WhyHunger and its community based partners. Noreen is a graduate of Rutgers University with a BA in Political Science and completed an Executive Education Certification Program given by the Harvard Kennedy School. She has served on the board of numerous community and civic organizations.


1. What is WhyHunger ​and how do you​​ support local and sustainable agriculture? 

WhyHunger was founded in 1975 and has always advocated looking at the root causes of hunger to create system wide change.  More recently, we’ve evolved more fully to be a grassroots support organization working with community-based organizations, and networks and alliances around the world to solve the problems of hunger and poverty through solutions that meet people’s immediate food needs today while organizing to ensure that healthy food is available to everyone through sustainable and dignified means well into the future.  We invest in grassroots solutions in the U.S. and in more than twenty countries around the world.  We seek out partners who share our core values, are community led, utilize agroecological practices, and focus on nutrition.  We also share the stories of sustainable food solutions from grassroots leaders in their own words.  Storytelling is a powerful way to help us build the movement to end hunger.

2. How long has the program been happening, and where did it get its start?

​Defining ourselves as a grassroots support organization began about five years ago.  We wanted to differentiate WhyHunger from other organizations addressing hunger and demonstrate that we go beyond the charitable feeding model and support innovations that empower local communities to envision and build towards a world free of hunger through nutrition, sustainable farming, and economic development. We see a clear distinction between “feeding” and “nourishing” as a solution to hunger.  WhyHunger’s work builds capacity, provides technical assistance, shares stories, makes grants and addresses hunger and poverty on a local level while operating from a national and international framework rooted in the belief that food is a human right.

3.​ How can people get involved with WhyHunger?​

We want to build our base of readership and support so subscribing to our newsletter and following us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram is a great way to start.  Then you can engage us further in our activities and events. We also have a newly launched digital storytelling site ( ) that features 60+ incredible stories of communities based leaders across the US and around the world who are innovating, creating and changing their local food systems. It’s a great way to educate yourself about what’s happening in your own backyard or across the country, and to learn about the folks who are leading the movement from the ground up!

4. ​What’s your favorite part of our film, Growing Cities, and why?

My favorite part of the film is that it highlights the community leaders, organizations and folks directly involved in these local projects, providing a platform for them to share their own stories and examples of the impact of urban farming in communities. From conversations with folks like Malik Yakini, Karen Washington and many others, the film offers viewers a chance to hear the voices of leaders in the growing food justice movement. At WhyHunger, we believe deeply in the power of storytelling ­- and specifically the power that comes when communities tell their own stories – to catalyze change in our broken food system. Taking the time to shine a light on these important local stories gives the film an authentic voice and heartbeat.

5. What’s one issue in the food movement you wish people were more aware of?

I think the idea of intersectional organizing is really key to ending hunger. The charitable model of distributing food coupled with shrinking government nutrition programs, though critical to meeting immediate needs, are not ending hunger.   We are hopeful that we can build a social movement that prioritizes food as a human right and illuminates the intersection of food with health, economic justice, racial justice and environmental justice. They all go hand in hand. And we need to work together with folks across these borders to make lasing change. Until we start really talking about and dismantling the systems that perpetuate the injustices that lead to hunger, we are missing the opportunity to not just reform, but transform our broken food system.                                  

6. Anything else you’d like to add? 

After decades of doing this work, I am more hopefully than ever. There is a renewed consciousness and awareness that we can’t keep operating in this broken system and that our people and planet are depending on change. You look at the organizing in last year’s People’s Climate March, the International Forum on Agroecology in Mali, the CIW’s Fair Food Program,  the organized demands for a living minimum wage, #BlackLivesMatter and on and on. The momentum is building for real lasting change and WhyHunger is actively supporting those communities and leaders who are at the forefront of this growing social movement for a just, nourished society for us all.

Thank you Noreen!



Humans of New York Captures Dreams of Farming

March 23rd, 2015
Sophie Brinker

It’s inspiring to think about how many kids are learning about urban farming!

Thanks Humans of New York!

“I’m going to be a farmer. I know how to grow two types of crops. One crop is the normal kind. The other kind uses aquaponic systems. We have an aquaponic system in our classroom. It has a one ton tank with nine tilapia fish in it. It used to have ten fish but the biggest one died over Christmas break. His name was Frank. Anyway, the water in the tilapia tank gets filtered into another tank, where we are growing kale, hybrid spinach, and lettuce. Afterward, it gets funneled back into the tilapia tank and starts all over again. Everyday we have to measure nitrate, nitrite, ammonia, and one other thing that I forget the name so let’s not mention that one. Anyway, at the end of the year we are going to harvest everything that we grew. Then we’re going to make fish tacos.”


Food Not Lawns!

March 3rd, 2015
Sophie Brinker

We here at growing cities are big supporters of the Food Not Lawns movement. Support author & founder of Food Not Lawns’ National Tour to teach workshops, plant gardens & build community here:


A talk with Maggie McProud- Farmer & Educator!

January 22nd, 2015
Sophie Brinker

Maggie McProud works as the Farm to Table Manager at The Woolman Semester School in Nevada City, CA. She has worked as a farmer in a number of amazing settings and has inspired those around her to enjoy growing and cooking healthy food. As an educator, Maggie works to give her students essential skills in farming, nutrition and healthful eating. To learn more about Maggie and the Woolman Semester, check out their Facebook, or visit their website!


Sophie: What is the Woolman Semester and how does the school support local and sustainable agriculture?

Maggie: The Woolman Semester School is a progressive academic school for high school students who want to make a difference in the world, who want to take charge of their education and study the issues that matter most to them.  Students take an active role in their learning experience through community work, organic gardening and cooking, permaculture, art, wilderness exploration, service work, and by doing advocacy and activism work with real issues of peace, justice and sustainability in the world.

At Woolman we hope to embody a vibrant food system on campus and welcome participants of all backgrounds.  Integrating our students into our food systems and educating them about current food industries helps to foster reverence for natural systems in and out of our garden.  Students and Interns help grow produce in The Woolman Garden that they prepare in our kitchen.  We source additional organic, local and regional foods when needed, and visit many of these businesses on field trips.  The Garden Program also donates time, resources and produce to local schools hoping to share the bounty.

Sophie: What is your role at Woolman, and how does it influence your work as a farmer?

Maggie: I am the Farm to Table Manager at the Woolman Semester.  I manage our once acre site, our orchard and oversee many of the food systems on campus.  It’s a pleasure to provide our kitchen with as much fresh produce as we can use thought the year, put up surplus for the offseason and diversify our meal plans to utilize choice, seasonal produce.

Additionally, I coordinate garden and nutrition education for our students, interns and visiting schools. I teach a weekly Farm to Table elective, an advanced Farm and Garden Course to our interns and I lead educational field trips for local schools.  I also generate funds for the garden program by selling produce and transplants in addition to offering an 18 week CSA.

My roll at Woolman greatly influences my work as a farmer.  From the crop plan, system design to lesson plans, I am constantly evolving my growing practices to support the kitchen and inspire those who eat and cook on campus.  Primarily, I’m focused on creating a space and an experience that is not only beautiful and inviting but also encourages learning and connects our community to the land and the food that nourishes us.  My experience as a commercial farmer informs my understanding of how we have become separated from our food.  At Woolman I have the opportunity to design and share a food producing system in a new way, focusing on facilitating connection and resiliency instead of profit margins.

Sophie: Describe a day on the Woolman Farm, if possible!

No day on the Woolman Farm is ever the same, nor is it entirely predictable.  This makes it very exciting but makes planning difficult.  Our garden is a flurry of students of all ages, hummingbirds, pollinators, cats even occasional skunks!  Our learnscape is home over sixty annual crops, dozens of perennials and is dripping with flowers and herbs; all needing their own form of care.  There is always something to do and always that sweet quite spot that beckons the daydreamer.  We might start the day with recording and discussing observations, harvest or planting, bed prep and them move on to a class on permaculture, a 3rd grade field trip or knock out some weeding.  Because of the variety in our schedule, participants of our program learn a divers set of skills and practices in any given day, including me!

Sophie: What’s one issue in agriculture you wish people were more aware of?

Maggie: This is a very difficult question.  I could basically start anywhere because many of us are disconnected from where our food comes from, how its grown and who grows it.  We have so far to go in educating the public about the environmental and social ramifications of the current industrial food system, its affect on our health and that of the natural systems that we rely on.  One obvious improvement would be awareness around externalized coats in food production.

Generally speaking, ‘cheaply’ produced food doesn’t actually help anyone accept big business owners.  We rarely stop to ask, What are the actual coasts of manufacturing and consuming affordable and highly processed convenience foods?  Our bodies, our landfills, our soils, our atmosphere, our medical industries… are all paying for it. Many of the cheapest foods require the most energy, medical and environmental problems.  In particular, generating awareness of how subsidies and other externalized coasts end up affecting food scarcity, food access in low-income communities and the resulting effects on their health and well-being is very important.

Producing healthy food has many coasts but if we were to allocate resources to producing nutrient dense fruits and veggies instead of feed, refined foods and sweeteners we could improve food equity and affordability.  Most organic, fresh produce has fewer externalized coasts making it closer to its true cost and sadly, unaffordable to many who need it most.

Also, the production of conventional flowers and nursery plants is one of the most toxic, inhumane and environmentally impactful agribusinesses in the world today.  There is no regulatory body that governs this industry to safe practices because it’s not a food product.  Thus, it is no surprise that very few people hear how destructive this agribusiness has become. Addressing this exploitative industry could go a long way for fare trade, social justice and global sustainability.

Sophie: Anything else you’d like to add?

Maggie: Surprisingly for me, spending my time growing food is one of the most radical social, environmental and political occupations I can design.  Fortunately, this form of subtle activism affords a rewarding daily experience that greatly enhances my life. I am so grateful to have to opportunity to continue farming without the privilege of owning property and without the pressures of a commercial business.  At Woolman I have the pleasure of continuing my own education and practice in a community that celebrates learning and inspiration. I would encourage anyone who is interested in growing food to look for alternative settings where compromising visions because of economic pressures are minimized.  It is in these settings that for me, the joy and experience of farming has really come alive.

Sophie: Thank you so much Maggie!


 Illustrations by Sophie Brinker of Growing Cities

Women in Agriculture

December 20th, 2014
Sophie Brinker

There have been many projects popping up recently celebrating the growing number of female farmers around the world. Here are a few links to learn more!

1. The Female Farmer Project by Audra Mulkern:


(photo from website)

This wonderful photojournalism project helps illustrate the rise in women in agriculture. Audra shows the strength and diversity of farmers around the world!

2. The Women Farmers, Land, and Agricultural Trust (WFLAT) in Zimbabwe


(photo from website)

This organization is training women in Zimbabwe to grow their own food & through community gardens come together in solidarity. The hope from Phides Mazhawidza, the Director of WFLAT, is that women have equal access to land and resources.

3. And here is a great article on US agriculture and the role of women in farming throughout history…


(photo from website)

It’s wonderful to see the ways women are working to change the system through farming! Let’s continue to support female farmers around the globe!

Looking for a Holiday Gift?

November 29th, 2014
Sophie Brinker

Imagine curling up by the fire with friends and family, sipping some hot cocoa, and learning more about urban farming this holiday season! We are so excited here at Growing Cities to offer our documentary for sale on DVD! Click here for more information, and we hope you stay cozy as winter arrives!


Save Springdale Farm!

November 21st, 2014
Sophie Brinker

Springdale Farm, located in Austin, Texas, and featured in our film, has been under fire recently over land use regulations and events that are critical to the financial stability of the farm. Zoning and land use have long influenced the ability of communities to grow their own food. Paula and Glenn Foore, Springdale Farm’s founders, have recently been at the center of that debate within the neighborhood that the farm is located. Yesterday the city held a meeting regarding urban farm code, and listened to both sides of the story. Here is the summary of the meeting via Springdale Farm!

“City Council doesn’t think the Future Land Use Map needs to be changed for us to apply for a Conditional Use Permit. That’s good.
They voted 5-1 to allow Outdoor Entertainment as a conditional use. That’s what we wanted.
We need to go back to council on December 11 with a negotiated agreement with the neighbors on what would be a mutually beneficial plan for future events on the farm. Fair enough. That’s what we want, too”.

After traveling the country speaking to urban farmers in all stages of growth and struggle, we saw first hand how these laws can have a lasting effect on the presence of urban farms in communities. It is exciting to hear that cities are taking steps to listen to neighborhoods and farms and support folks to grow where they are. Congratulations, Springdale Farm!

Learn how you can support them by clicking the picture below.

Springdale Farm and their supporters show up for the meeting:

(photo from Springdale Farm’s Facebook page)



Cute Goat Break

October 29th, 2014
Sophie Brinker

Sometimes, it’s important to take a break and check out some amazing goat farms around the US!

1. Harley Farms Goat Dairy in Pescadero, CA:

This goat farm is full of amazing dairy practices and adorable goats. Learn more about them here!


(Photos from the Harley Farms website)


 2. Lively Run Goat Farm in Interlaken, NY

One of the longest operating commercial goat dairies in the country, Lively Run is home to a healthy herd of Alpine and Sanaan Goats. Learn more about their farm practices and delicious cheeses here.


(Photos from Lively Run Website)


3. Green Faerie Farm in Berkeley, CA

Thought goats only lived in the country? So did we, until we met Jim Montgomery at Green Faerie Farm located in the heart of Berkeley. Jim not only makes delicious cheeses, he also walks his goats around the neighborhood! Learn more on his Facebook, or watch Growing Cities and see Green Faerie Farms on the silver screen!


(Photo from