When I first learned about The Greening of Detroit, an initiative that demonstrates the value of urban farming in underserved neighborhoods – food desserts – along with of initiatives such as planting thousands of trees in areas considered heat islands, I knew that similar efforts were needed on Buffalo’s East Side.
It was only recently that I realized the true scale of an urban farming effort underway on the East Side, that has the potential of altering a significant landscape, reflective of The Greening of Detroit concept. Firmly rooted at 1698 Genesee Street is Groundwork Market Garden, a farming operation that is owned and operated by Anders Gunnersen and Mayda Pozantides. The two first began farming their raised beds in 2016, and in 2018 they purchased a 60,000 square foot building (former seed distributor) located next door. Today they operate two and half acres of farmland where they grow upwards of 60 varieties of USDA certified organic vegetables. They have also built a greenhouse (hoop house, high tunnel), which allows them to extend their growing season. Gunnersen told me that they hope to build a second high tunnel in the near future.
In order to move their produce, Gunnersen and Pozantides established shares of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) – a directive that now boasts 40 members. At the same time, they set up a farm stand on Tuesdays, so that the neighboring community can access healthy food options. Produce is also sold to local restaurants, and at farmers markets.
While the farming, the CSA, and the farm stand are all admirable and crucial parts of the plan, it is the 60,000 square foot building that presents the greatest opportunity for Gunnersen and Pozantides. Gunnersen admits that the prospect of filling the massive structure is daunting, but at the same time, he feels that structure will one day be occupied with a wide array of food-related entrepreneurs that will help to establish Groundwork Market Garden as an integral component in the world of best practice culinary undertakings. The building will act as a Teachout Building, with a concentration on healthy food production, processing and distribution, including indoor agriculture, educational space, event space, and retail – among residential and other commercial uses.
In order to accomplish this goal, Gunnersen and Pozantides have established Norge Development. The first measure of order was clearing out the structure, which was filled to the brim with junk. They more recently signed up their first tenant – a mushroom grower, who will anchor the space.
“A strong local food system is important to the vitality of any community,” said Pozantides, CEO of Groundwork Market Garden. “It strengthens the economy by keeping food dollars local, creates jobs, improves community health and decreases food insecurity. We now have a real opportunity to take a piece of Buffalo’s industrial history and transform it for the 21st century. Our focus is on bettering the health of people and the planet while providing employment opportunities and growing the local economy.”
Altogether, we are looking at a $6 million project. Gunnersen told me that work towards the goal is well underway, thanks to a $619,000 award in funding from an Empire State Development Grant via Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s Regional Economic Development Council Initiative, Federal and State Historic Tax Credits, and potentially New Market Tax Credits.
The news of Groundwork Market Garden’s award comes in the wake of many recent accomplishments for the company, including:
- An award as Top 7 finalist in 43 North & Facebook’s Ignite Buffalo competition
- An award through ESD’s New Farmer Fund Grant to build a mushroom grow space
Gunnersen and Pozantides are currently working with Urban Vantage and Preservation Studios to harness the full potential of the building.
Moving forward, when we measure successes in Buffalo, we must take into account our urban farming enterprises. Like Detroit, this city is uniquely positioned to become a hotspot for food production in ways that larger cities could never comprehend. That’s because we have the land to do it. Cities like Buffalo and Detroit are also more affordable for start-ups that are looking to launch such once-futuristic concepts as mushroom laboratories and aquaponic grow rooms, as well as food education spaces and commercial kitchens for processing. These are the types of businesses and enterprises that Gunnersen and Pozantides are planning on attracting to Groundwork Market Garden.
At this point in time, the opportunities are boundless. During a recent visit to the farm, as Gunnersen and I stood on top of the massive roof surveying our surroundings, he said [pointing] “You see all along those abandoned railroad tracks? Our longterm vision is to purchase that land to plant orchards. This is the future of the East Side – we are inviting people to participate in the dream. We want to work with local trades people, schools, businesses, start-ups… there is so much potential here. We have just begun to tap into that potential. We have the land, the building, the resources… and now we are reaching out to people, to see who’s out there, what they’re working on, and what they want to grow, produce, and teach.”
Groundwork Market Garden is currently seeking applications for rental space within the building for office or light industrial use. Qualified members of diverse communities are encouraged to apply. Interested parties can email email@example.com. For more information about The Teachout Building, click here.