This year they purchased a time-saving $2,000 Japanese system that plants seedlings with proper spacing.
By Debbi Snook
March 06, 2019
Annabel Khouri and Eric Stoffel recently shared big news with fellow farmers: After nine years of tilling a patchwork of city lots in Cleveland and Lakewood, their Bay Branch Farm was turning a profit.
The news, delivered at a workshop conference for beginning farmers, drew cheers from the crowd. Many there still needed to keep their day jobs for income and insurance.
That profit was a mere $14,000 but it allowed Annabel to continue to do what she liked: divide time between the farm and her work as a part-time career counselor for Case Western Reserve University. Eric, on the other hand, could walk away from his work as a software developer. He was now a fulltime urban farmer.
Those of us who spend our summers with a few potted tomato plants might wonder at the length of such a journey. We love fresh, locally grown food. But grow it to make money?
We wanted to know their story.
The two bought a vacant 5,000-square foot lot nearby after testing the soil for contaminants such as lead, making sure it met food-grade standards. But they didn’t evaluate it for rock debris, and spent months clearing the space.
“The soil turned out to be 100 percent clay,” said Eric. “It was devoid of everything including nutrition and organic matter.”
They rebuilt the soil with 50 cubic yards of humus over the seasons, and one nutritious grain cover crop at a time. Tilling those crops into the soil added nitrogen and organic matter.