By Laura Onstot
25 Jun 2013 7:28 AM
In Tallahassee, Fla., two women are upping the urban-farming ante. Claire Mitchell and Danielle Krasniqi started Ten-Speed Greens last November. They not only grow lettuce, tomatoes, and other produce on a formerly vacant lot in the city, they literally pedal their wares to local restaurants and cafes on a pair of bicycles.
If that wasn’t eco-friendly enough, Mitchell and Krasniqi make their deliveries with a pair of bikes made by a Tallahassee-based cycle-maker who uses their city-grown veggies to supply his other business — a vegan restaurant.
How about them locally grown, organic apples?
In 2006, Mitchell, then just 22, was finishing a degree in women’s studies at the University of Florida. She had aspirations to change the world, but, she says, “I didn’t really have any tangible tools to effect change, so I felt impotent.”
She took off for Argentina with World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms(aka WWOOF). “I didn’t know anything and I was really excited about everything,” Mitchell says now. “I just had a lot of drive to learn and didn’t really know how much work it would be.”
The work didn’t scare her off, and a few years after she returned to the states, she landed a job on a produce farm on the North Florida Community College campus in Tallahassee. There, she met Krasniqi, a fellow WWOOFer who had worked on organic farms in New Zealand.
The two shared a passion for growing things, but had quite different backgrounds. While Mitchell had spent years perfecting her farming techniques, Krasniqi became a licensed massage therapist, which is a bigger asset for an urban farm than you might expect. “She has a background of being independent and being able to manage her business affairs on her own and make her own living,” Mitchell explains. “It’s really critical in this business.”
In 2012, the community college farm lost its funding, but serendipitously, another gardener was giving up a project on vacant property in the city. “It had been sitting there for months and got overgrown — the landlord was about to mow it,” Mitchell says.
Mitchell and Krasniqi offered to take over maintenance of the land, the landlord agreed, and thanks to Florida’s year-round growing season, Ten-Speed Greens, as they called their enterprise, had its first harvest in January of this year.
The matter of distributing their produce was also settled thanks to a connection through the community college garden. Justin Pogge owns the Sweet Pea Cafeand had been buying produce from the community college garden. Pogge also owns Old Field Cycles where he makes custom bicycles. Mitchell and Krasniqi both own bikes made by Pogge with custom trailers that fit their produce coolers perfectly.
When the garden closed and Ten-Speed Greens opened, Pogge started ordering his produce for Sweet Pea Café from Ten-Speed. And of course, Mitchell and Krasniqi arrived with their goods on the bikes he had made them, making for an entire growing and distribution operation contained within a few city blocks. “The produce is extremely fresh,” Pogge says. “Sweet Pea is less than a mile away [from Ten-Speed Greens] so the produce potentially goes from farm to table in minutes.”
“We are providing nourishing, healthy food that’s as local as you can get,” Mitchell says. “It’s been really satisfying.”
The list of restaurants serving up Ten-Speed’s greens has grown to six, so the transportation area is slightly larger than it used to be thanks to the farm’s early success. And just in case you’re wondering, Mitchell confesses that the bikes do have more than 10 speeds. “It is Florida, but it is really hilly, so you need a lot of gears here.”
Laura Onstot is a Seattle writer and political wonk whose work has appeared inSeattle Weekly, The Seattle Times, High Country News, MSN, The Rumpus, andAgence France-Presse. As often as possible she is away from the keyboard on a bike, boat, or mountainside.