Mezzacello: Reimaging the Future with Roots in the Past in Olde Towne East
Jim Bruner did not set out to be an urban homesteader. He did not go to school to run a farm, but rather for industrial design.
“I got my ‘degree’ in farming from a mix of YouTube, interviews with farmers, Amish families, and trial and error,” says Bruner. “I also grew up desperately poor and hungry, so I also went to the school of hard knocks!”
Mezzacello, Bruner’s urban farm based on Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, was born out of Bruner’s twin passions of “necessity and sustainability” in his Olde Towne East neighborhood of Columbus. The name was inspired by a remark made by Bruner’s husband in 2012.
“Like all great names, it came from a derisive and satirical remark…regarding my grand scheme of creating a ‘New Monticello with better technology and more efficiency,’” says Bruner. Bruner’s husband quipped, “New Monticello? More like Mezza cello.” And so it began.
Bruner chose Olde Towne East as the home of his urban farm because it is centrally located and a mix of innovative and diverse people make up the neighborhood. He also believes Columbus has something special that supports the success of his vision for Mezzacello.
“I love Columbus; It is a city that thinks it’s a town,” says Bruner. “Almost anything is possible here because Columbus is all about inventing itself.”
The strong sense of community already present in Olde Towne East also drew him in. He knew his farm would need to have community support to thrive.
And support Mezzacello they have. Bruner developed a Martian Bioreactor in collaboration with both local organizations and foundations and the support and participation of his community. It would not have been possible without this massive collaboration.
“The bioreactor efficiently converts green and brown materials into rich compost in 21 days,” says Bruner.
This is an incredible turnaround time for compost, and more compost means more nutrients and richer soil for both Bruner’s gardens and his neighbors’ gardens. Richer soil and better gardens means more food can be grown in urban backyards and patios.
While Mezzacello does not have products for sale per se, Bruner is heavily invested in creating a “hub” on his urban farm – both for urban ag and for his community. Compost being one way he gives back to his community, and another is by developing exciting educational opportunities for Central Ohio youth. Friends and neighbors also use his eggs and fresh herbs in delicious baked treats, breads, and pastries, including Ooh La La Patisserie.
Bruner describes himself as an “educational innovator,” and this shows in the creative and forward-thinking ways he has invested his farm in the future of Central Ohio youth. A one-of-a-kind summer camp will be offered this year at Mezzacello.
“Urban Ag Technology Summer Camp will challenge middle schoolers to learn to become engineers, ecologists, programmers, biologists, and mathematicians at Mezzacello with the goal of better understanding what it’s going to be like to live on someplace like Mars,” says Bruner. “The end result will be a proof of concept for how we can radically rethink the way we teach, deliver, and learn with agriculture in this country.”
His passions have blossomed into an applied STEM magnet for Central Ohio. He is in the process of turning Mezzacello into a 501c3 and partners with the Past Foundation, Ohio Farm Bureau, and more. Summer camps and online tools are in development to help Bruner build Mezzacello into his dream.
“My dream for Mezzacello is for it to become a functional model for urban ag campuses anywhere in the city, country, state, or nation,” says Bruner.
Bruner believes today’s youth need to be interested in and invested in more than one skillset and career, and he is building a landscape to support the growth of these beliefs. He wants Mezzacello to be a place where youth and the Columbus community engage in the urban ag food system and become innovators in how food is produced in Columbus and serve as an example for urban communities beyond.
“On any given day, I need to function as an agriculturalist, a botanist, a biologist, an author, a statistician, a scientist, an engineer, an inventor, and a vet,” says Bruner. “When I started Mezzacello, I did not need to just learn how to be a ‘farmer,’ I needed an entire arsenal of new skills, insights, and knowledge.”
Bruner is passionate about Mezzacello meeting the call to action of the United Nations and The Gates Foundation and educating others while doing so.
“The world really needs a way of feeding urban populations and training people to rethinking food, convenience, habits, and health,” says Bruner. “The UN Conference on Trade and Development, the UN Economic and Social Council, and the Gates Foundation all list malnourishment and food deserts to be the most significant challenging facing the world in the 21st century.”
He believes innovation is key to addressing these issues and Mezzacello is a direct response to the upcoming challenges.
“There will be a large-scale crisis if we do not start at least innovating how we think about our relationship to food, the planet, and each other in truly sustainable ways,” says Bruner. “We need to give educators and learners the confidence and opportunity to explore their genius and passion – mine is just through a farm. The product I am most interested in producing is keen young minds that understand that sustainability requires resources, effort, and wisdom.”
For more information, visit mezzacello.org.
All photos provided by Jim Bruner