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HUBweek Change Maker: Jessie Banhazl

Jessie is the CEO and Founder of Green City Growers. After graduating college, she moved to New York City to begin a career in reality television production. Disillusioned with the entertainment industry, she moved back to Boston to run GCG, re-awakening her passion for food, farming, and sustainability. she has extensive experience in public speaking, marketing, communications, management, production, and PR. She is passionate about cooking with fresh, locally grown ingredients.

Zoe Dobuler: What is your background, and how did you find your way to founding Green City Growers? What problem were you trying to address?

Jessie Banhazl: I didn’t have a background in agriculture when I started Green City Growers. I had been living in NYC after college working in television production, and eventually, I decided that I wanted to switch careers, so I moved back to the Boston area, where I grew up. I wanted to do work that had a positive impact on the world. At the same time, I did some research into our current food system that made me realize how important open space and access to fresh ingredients were to my own happiness. When a friend of mine proposed starting a backyard farming company, it all came together for me — creating spaces for people to grow their own organic produce

ZD: Growing organic, local produce has obvious health benefits, but what other kinds of community outcomes have you seen as a result of having access to one of your urban farms?

JB: Urban farms have a positive environmental impact and help forge a sense of community. For the environment, food is produced more efficiently when it is consumed close to the source: Shipping food thousands of miles from factory farms to grocery stores requires trucks, highways, gasoline, and other resources. Picking food at a farm at your home, school, or business is far more efficient. Also, people come together around urban farms. Getting “back to the land” in these green spaces offers many opportunities for community engagement, giving people a chance to come together and learn about nutrition, ecology, and much more.

ZD: GCG has installed farms in all kinds of places — are there any particularly unique locations that stand out to you?

JB: GCG has installed farms in an amazing variety of places. We’ve worked on apartment rooftops in Boston’s Back Bay, reclaimed acres of unused space outside the city to create thriving farms, installed raised bed farms on top of major downtown business buildings, and more. Of our projects, though, a few stand out. Our farm at the Whole Foods Market in Lynnfield, MA is the only open-air rooftop farm on top of a grocery store in the country and the largest rooftop farm in New England. The tomatoes, peppers, green beans, and beets grown on the roof are sold directly downstairs in the store — the food couldn’t be fresher! Another stand-out project is our farm at Fenway Park. Fenway Farms not only makes highly efficient use of unused space and grows hundreds of thousands of pounds of food for the restaurants at the park, it has become a fan favorite. All summer, tens of thousands of baseball fans stop by the farm, enjoying this unique feature and asking questions about vegetable gardening and nutrition. It’s been wonderful for GCG to be associated with such a treasured and special place.

ZD: What advice do you have for someone looking to get involved in food innovation in the Boston area? How can our HUBweek community take part in this movement?

JB: There are many ways to get involved in food innovation in Greater Boston. In addition to following our work at GCG — sign up for our newsletter!—we’re hosting an urban farming intensive workshop over a weekend in March (info is available on our website). Individuals should also seek out the forums, workshops, and other events offered throughout the year by the Urban Farming Institute. Also, an organization called Branchfood, which focuses on food technology, is a great resource for those interested in learning more and getting more involved in urban agriculture and local food. People hoping to get involved in the urban farming movement should also check out the annual urban farming conference hosted by the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources.

ZD: I like to ask all of our Change Maker interviewees this question to wrap things up: The theme for our 2018 HUBweek festival was “We the Future.” From your unique point of view, how do you interpret that, and what does it mean to you?

JB: From our perspective at GCG, the theme “We the Future” means that we must all remain engaged in understanding how our actions affect the Earth and each other. Only through engagement can we make sure that the future is what we want it to be. For GCG, this means remaining committed to reclaiming unused urban spaces and furthering our efforts around community-building and education.