Field Day: Joseph Swain Turns His City Lot Into Bountiful Urban Farm
You’ve probably seen Joseph Swain at the Clintonville Farmers Market where he sells his certified organic produce at his stand for Swainway Urban Farm. There, he offers a “a variety of gourmet vegetables, herbs, specialty items like shiitake and oyster mushrooms, Jerusalem artichokes, and sustainably grown potted plants and seedlings.” He’s been at the market since last year and it has been a wonderful experience for him.
“I enjoy creating a product that is unique, beautiful and tasty and blows people away,” Joseph said. “I want to show others that you can do an urban farm as your full-time job – make it your career and your living.” In the early stages of researching and forming his business plan, Joseph found that few people actually make their living off of produce farming. This fact motivated him to be an example that you can make a living off of subacre farming. He has turned his two tenths of an acre into nearly 650 linear feet of production space.
Joseph did not grow up with a background in farming. In fact, he didn’t really even eat many vegetables while growing up in Northern Indiana. While in Columbus to see The String Cheese Incident, he met a girl named Jess. They started dating and soon, he moved to Columbus for good. Jess had a home in Clintonville and they enjoyed spending time at the Clintonville Farmers Market together and getting closer to the local food movement.
His desire to eat better food and live a more sustainable lifestyle sparked the idea of starting a garden. He started with two plots in 2007 and grew the normal plants – tomatoes, peppers, things like that. He did more research on Urban Agriculture Systems and how to make a living off of subacre farming. He checked out as many books as he could from the library about starting organic growing and he studied indoor vertical growing.
In 2009, the success he was enjoying with his produce led him to study the farmers’ markets. Clintonville would be the ideal one to participate in because it was in his neighborhood and it was the one that got all of this going. But it was very competitive.
“I needed a niche,” he said. “Herbs, carrots, microgreens and mushrooms were things that I felt were missing there that I could offer.” He put in his application and got accepted. In his first year of business, he sold everything he grew, exceeding his goal of growing enough food to sell every Saturday the market is open. But that didn’t leave much food for him and Jess.
Trays of lettuces and microgreens
“Figuring out the balance of how much to keep for yourself and how much to sell is hard,” said Joseph. “In my desire to make my business profitable, I wasn’t leaving much for us to eat and we would have to buy food for ourselves.”
West side view of backyard
Some of his favorites things to grow are different varieties of carrots. They are also his favorite to eat. He said carrots can be very difficult to grow – the seeds take three weeks to germinate and once in the beds, they need to be delicately weeded. He now has eight boxes for carrots, growing hybrids such as Red Dragons and White Satins.
The backyard space consists of 30″ beds that are make of 2’x8′ pine. The beds have 12″ walkspaces between them. In the very back are his slow compost piles – a 3 year system he developed for leaves/yard waste/weeds/straw. He also uses a tumbler system (pictured right) for a faster 30 day turnaround to compost mushrooms/microgreens/food waste. A greenhouse sits on the east side of the backyard and houses many of the organic starts that he sells for $3 a plant. The plants are in 4″ pots.
Slow composting system and greenhouse
His pricing is his attempt to bridge the gap between convention plants and certified organic plants. “Eating organically does not have to be expensive,” he shared. Because he does not have the required space around his farm that organic certification requires, his neighbors have signed agreements that they do not use any pesticides or such on their properties.
His mushroom and seed operations occupy the basement of their home. This year he has added an orchard to the front yard, with rows of blueberries, raspberries and two fruit trees – a nectarine and a peach. Soon he is hoping to add asparagus and rhubarb. View a complete list of what Swainway Urban Farm grows to sell.
You can visit Joseph at the Clintonville Farmers’ Market on Saturdays until October 29th. Hours are from 9am to 12pm. He also supplies the Clintonville Community Market with seedlings and has participated in the Worthington Plant Fest. Visit Swainway Urban Farm on the web.
View our list of all Farmers’ Markets in the Columbus area.
Visit Jess’ Bee Natural Eco-Conscious Skin Care on the web.
Field Day takes a look at the people working to make our local food scene a source of inspiration and amazing produce and products. I’ll be talking to local farmers about why they do what they do and why they love doing it. If you have a farm you’d love to see profiled, please send me an email. Enjoy!