The Roots Micro Farm on Birch Avenue is overflowing. Summer rain, along with warm, humid temperatures have coaxed seedlings from the earth: squash and pumpkin, deep red lettuce, chard with rainbow stalks, spicy arugula, sorrel. The quarter-acre urban farm, on a sleepy segment of downtown, is the latest addition to a collection of local farms in Flagstaff.
At the helm of Roots Micro Farm are two unconventional 25-year-olds: Joshua and Madelyn Chance. The young agriculturalists have started the farm from, literally, the ground up. With the help of savings, a few side jobs and a Kickstarter campaign, the two have created an enviable garden, complete with nearly 30 species of edible plants. The Chances’ small plot of land is pretty much the opposite of sprawling fields of wheat or soy or corn. It fits snugly between residential homes and a church.
The couple aren’t necessarily what you would expect when someone says “farmer.” For one, they’re practically just out of college, donning Birkenstocks and North Face windbreakers. Madelyn boasts a silver nose ring. Joshua and Madelyn argue they’re at the forefront of a new movement among young adults in today’s society. They describe how there has been a renewed interest in sustainability in our food system—How can we feed growing populations but without completely desecrating our environment in the process? How can we do this in increasingly tight quarters? And, admittedly, these are issues younger folks must face in the coming years.
“During my grandparents’ times, there was real worry about not having enough food,” Madelyn says. “The way our parents were raised was that they were so lucky to have so much food readily available that doesn’t go bad and is inexpensive. It was necessity based. Along the way, we’ve realized that when you take out certain things, it can be detrimental to the land or our health. I think young people are starting to go back to old ways, but using methods that are rich in what matters.”
What matters is a simpler and cost-effective approach to growing food in a tiny plot of land. A golden-hued wheelbarrow rests against a mound of dirt: one of the only items of technology the two have used to supplement their bodies’ strength.
“We believe in minimal impact on the soil,” Joshua says. “It sustains the soil’s integrity, and creates more fertility. That fertile soil is the foundation for all of this—without that, all of this life couldn’t happen.”
Their hardwork has paid off. The Chance’s greens may be found at Root Public House, Pizzicletta, Brix, Criollo or Shift. They hope to begin producing during all four seasons, with the help of humble hoop houses.
“[We love] showing people you can grow a lot of food in such a small space,” Madelyn says. “It’s refreshing to be small and in town—people can just walk right by.”
This summer, Roots Micro Farm has consistently produced 22 pounds of lettuce per week.
While the vibrant, leafy additions are eye-catching, they’re not just a pretty garnish. They’re meant to be eaten, the flavor complementing the other ingredients. Diners may be surprised by the unexpectedly spicy or tangy flavor—it definitely isn’t iceberg lettuce.
The freshness of the greens also set them apart. The farm on which the greens were sowed, cared for, and eventually harvested is less than a mile from many of the restaurants where they are served, and an easy walk from the center of downtown. They are grown in a local neighborhood, adding a level of intimacy to the dining experience.
“I like to describe lettuce for example,” Joshua says. “The story of most of the lettuce that we eat, that lettuce, by the time you get it, has been harvested a week or two weeks before you bought it. It’s probably traveled hundreds of miles. By the time it gets to you, it’s probably old and then you eat it, and it sits in your fridge and it’s wilted.”
At Roots Micro Farm, the philosophy is almost the exact opposite. There’s a level of intention all the way from how the plants are grown to how they are delivered.
“We like to deliver by bike as much as we can, it’s just the tiny bit more of a positive impact,” Joshua says.
The Chances argue that it is not just about hopping on the farm-to-table bandwagon; it is about strengthening our communities and empowering residents with the knowledge of where and how their food is produced.
“Growing local food is vital to our health and sustainability as a community,” Joshua says. “It’s important to have more people growing food locally. With more people doing this, it will become more accessible to the general public as well.”
Their ultimate goal is for people to start their own farms and gardens—to continue this trend toward simplification, a trend that will hopefully be carried on by younger generations.
“If you can show young people that they can farm and make a living, there will be more young farmers,” Madelyn says.
One only has to explore the downtown neighborhoods to find the farm. If you’re lucky, Madelyn and Josh will be hard at work. They might even offer you a fresh bouquet of chard or arugula, perfect for your own hyper-local garden salad.
To learn more about Roots Micro Farm, visit them at www.rootsmicrofarm.com.