Agrowtopia Is On The Rise
The motto of Agrowtopia is a quote by the playwright William Shakespeare that says, Our bodies are our gardens, to the which our wills are gardeners. This quote embodies the dream and mission of what this non-profit urban farm is trying to do.
The story of Agrowtopia began as an idea from a student taking a course entitled ‘Sales for Social Impact’, taught by entrepreneur instructor Professor Mark Quinn. The student who came up with the idea for the urban garden initiative was Jonathan Menyon, who is now the face of this student-centric enterprise. Mr. Quinn saw the vision that Mr. Menyon had about providing healthy alternatives for people living in and around Xavier University. With the assistance of the university, the two started out on a mission to create an urban garden in an urban sprawl.
Mr. Menyon recalled those early days of starting the farm, “Since Gert Town is centered in a food desert we decided that creating an urban farm that grows and educates on healthy eating and living will be the most beneficial and impactful venture for our community. Now two years after the class project we are a fully operational urban farm on .2 acres of land with 28 raised beds.”
The Farm Crew
As the head of Agrowtopia, Mr. Menyon wears many hats. His day-to-day duties involve administrative issues, strategic planning, and building relationships with businesses and other community partners and residents. All these tasks would be daunting for just one person, however, he has a team behind him who’s more than capable of aiding Mr. Menyon’s vision of empowering people to live the best lives physically, mentally and spiritually.
One can say that Hakeem Franks is Mr. Menyon’s 2nd Lieutenant. Mr. Franks helped create the Agrowtopia business plan in the spring of 2014. Currently, his main job is recruiting/coordinating volunteers for the farm and he is also public relations liaison for the farm at Xavier University campus. Mr. Menyon and Mr. Franks are also representing Agrowtopia for Propellers Fall 2016 Startup Accelerator Program.
The man that makes the farm blossom is Agrowtopia’s head farmer- Kalab Hill who is a Xavier University alum and a full-time farmer. He loves to make farming familiar and accessible to those around him. Mr. Hill said it best about why farming is so important to him, ‘I am honoring my family legacy. I am doing the work my family—my ancestors did to provide for their families, helping to ensure a future for me, and I intend to do the same.’
Other team members like Taj Dright help out with volunteering, planning school related events, and overall upkeep of activities and provides content for the group's weekly newsletter.
Sydney Kirven and Ralitsa Slanchev round out the farm crew. They volunteer, recruit, attend Agrowtopia business meetings and help with the day-to-day operations.
Sustainability and Accessibility
Agrowtopia’s main source of revenue is donations and selling their produce to local businesses in the New Orleans metro area. However, Mr. Menyon is worried about accessibility when he says, ‘We strive to provide fresh and affordable organic produce for all. We are striving to become more accessible but staffing is still a problem, we have to work around to better serve the community.’ He goes on to say, ‘Agrowtopia fills a huge need in our community and we believe with the support from our direct community we can be a real backbone to better health and eating habits.’
The mission of Agrowtopia is “to cultivate an edible utopia that provides affordable organic produce to Gert Town residents, students, staff, and surrounding farm-to-table businesses. While hosting seminars with partner organizations covering the topics of: local food education, personal growing practices, and eating healthy on a budget.”
In a sense, Agrowtopia is trying to provide those things in the community they live. The issue that is pressing for this urban farm is more exposure. They want the community at-large to know that they are welcome to interact, engage, and become educated and volunteer to make this farm thrive. When asked if Agrowtopia is staying true to their original mission? Mr. Menyon replied, “We have been staying true to our original mission, but we believe that we can make a much bigger impact in the community. We are constantly growing and are given more and more opportunities to partner with and serve the residents of the community and students and staff of the University.”