Chicago Green Jobs

Green Job Profile #4: Urban Farmer
June 2, 2009, 7:17 pm
Filed under: Green Job Profiles

One of the questions we like to ask people in our sustainability workshops is “What makes you happy?”  I have a new answer to that question: awarding $10,000 to a local, sustainable business. This is not something I get to do every day, so I am eternally grateful to Peter Nicholson of the CSBA and Bryan Stubbs of Chicago Community Ventures for letting me feel like Bill Gates for a day as one of the judges of the SustainIllinois competition.

Both the big prizes went to businesses that work in the sustainable food space: City Provisions, a local catering company, and Irv and Shelly’s Fresh Picks, a local organic food delivery service.  One of the things I really love about Chicago is the vibrant local food scene, and I’m always interested to learn more about where this local food comes from. So a little while ago I tracked down an urban farmer to profile. Marlin McMonigal, Urban Farms Manager with Growing Home, picked up the phone while on a run to deliver fresh local spinach to Irv and Shelly’s Fresh Picks. Perfect!

Marlin is one of the very few people I’ve met who started a new job in the height of the layoff frenzy this winter. I’m sure this is largely due to his years of experience as a farmer, but as a fellow world traveler I can’t help but think that the same drive that sent him and wife farming on four continents in one year had something to do with it. He’s in his first growing season here in Chicago, so I’ll have to loop back at the end of the season and find out if his answers have changed!

Organization: Growing Home, which provides job training through a non-profit organic agriculture business. Check their website to learn where to buy their delicious produce!

Title: Urban Farms Manager

Relevant Training: Degree in Horticulture from Pennsylvania State University, plus lots of farming

What do you do all day?

I manage two urban farm sites with the help of one full time employee, 1 part time and 20 or so interns that go through our employment training program.  I am responsible for producing high quality vegetables to be sold at three farmers markets, a CSA and other various outlets.

What did you do before you got this job?
I worked on organic vegetable farms in Pennsylvania and New York. (Note from Kate: my favorite part of our conversation was Marlin’s vivid explanation of how different it is to grow food in hoop-houses on busted up concrete in abandonded lots. I can only imagine!)

What impact do you have on the planet and/or community through your work?

Growing Home is providing employment training to those in need and also fresh, locally grown produce in an area of Chicago (West Englewood) known as a “food desert”. (More after the jump)

What 3 essential skills are needed to do your job?

1. Working closely with the plants

2. Working closely with Mother Nature

3. Patience

What 3 essential personality traits that help you succeed in your job?

1. Open mindedness

2. Open mindedness

3. Open mindedness (see above on the difference between farming on rolling Pennsylvania hills vs. hoophouses on crashed up concrete!)

What is the least glamorous aspect of your job?
I enjoy everything about my job.

What is the most influential book you’ve read on sustainability?

The Ruth Stout No Work Garden Book by Ruth Stout and Richard Clemence.

What do you do to keep current on your field and/or expand your knowledge and skills?

Talk with and visit other farmers, attend farming conferences, surf the internet and read periodicals on vegetable production (e.g. Growing for Market).

What do you think is a growth area in the green jobs sector right now?

Well, usually you start with the seed and see where it goes from there.

What else should we know about your job?

I would not be able to do anything concerning my job without the help and support of every person involved with Growing Home.


2 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Open mindedness… roger that!

Calgary Food Policy Blog…

Comment by paul hughes

Interesting note: Marlin’s wife Barbara works with me, a former profilee, at Green Zebra! Small green world 🙂

Comment by Ariel Diamond

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