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An Interview With Chris Grallert, GCG’s Managing Director

How did you get into farming?

When I was a little kid, I asked my father for candy money. I was 12 or 13 at the time. He said to talk to Mr. Morrison, who owned an apple orchard down the road. My best friend Jimmy and I picked up dropped apples off the ground for 10 cents a box. I also worked at a local vegetable farm in high school. I just always liked it- always connected to it.

What’s your technical background?

I went to Stockbridge School of Agriculture out of high school and got a degree in fruit and vegetable production. I then went on to the University of Maine to complete my bachelor’s in sustainable agriculture. Back in 1992, I was the uncool kid on campus. A lot has changed since then and there’s certainly much more interest in local agriculture, local food production and distribution. I’ve been in this industry for over 20 years, with 25+ years working in agriculture, seeds, and super market retailing on a global scale, mostly in North America, Mexico, and Central America. I have a lot of experience in both operations and business development- I can wear a lot of hats.

Why do you think what you’re doing at Green City Growers is important?

When I became a partner in 2015, I envisioned that we would impact the distributed production agricultural model in the Northeast (as opposed to shipping products 3,000 miles across the country). I thought we could come up with newer systems, both indoor and outdoor, to increase production of local food supplies, reduce the local population’s carbon footprint and expenditures of energy, and develop a more sustainable model around perishables like fruits and vegetables.

When I started, though, I realized there was more to it than that. I saw that the disconnect between people and the agricultural systems that grow their food is so profound. Just 150 years ago, a significant majority of the population in the Northeast was working their own food plot to sustain their living and the rest of the population ran ancillary businesses that supported this lifestyle. Since the industrial revolution and mass migration to metropolitan areas there’s been a huge disconnect in people knowing where their food comes from.

I think that Green City Growers can be a big part of that re-connection and that happens when I watch participants get involved in our garden programs. I was fortunate enough to have that experience as a little kid. While I might not have been grateful for it at the time, I want other people to be able to have that experience too- to build a connection with growing their own food.

What’s your favorite part of your day at work?

I love working with other people and the vision that comes from working together, seeing the potential of an unused space or partnership. On a daily basis I enjoy watching things come to fruition, like watching past decisions we’ve made as a group really work out to the benefit of the people here and the organization, that’s really rewarding.

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned here at Green City Growers?

There is a huge learning curve to getting people to understand what food systems really are. Also, there isn’t enough communication between all the different communities involved in food production. In addition to the major disconnect between the average person and their food source, there is a growing disconnect between the desire for new agricultural technology and the reality of what works best to ensure that people receive the healthiest produce. People have a lot of different beliefs, opinions, ideals, ethics and make a lot of decisions often prior to investigating the realities of what our food system are built up on.

There’s a ton of work to be done here and that we need to look for ways to build bridges. Bringing our communities together allows for more positive collaboration where we can all learn from past failures and successes across the entire food productions system in order to improve upon existing systems to the benefit of all involved.

What’s your favorite thing to grow in your own garden?

If I had to pick it’s going to me tomatoes because there’s such a variety of different kinds of tomatoes, it’s a fascinating species. Studies in the past have shown that tomatoes have about 400 different aromatic compounds that can actually mitigate flavor to a person and that’s really cool.

This interview was conducted by Hannah Purcell, GCG’s spring 2019 CSFI intern. 

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