Urban Futures Farm is a 3.5 acre urban farm located in the Northeast neighborhood in Olympia, Washington. We grow nutrient-dense vegetables, herbs, berries and fruits for our Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) customers and local charities. We also grow high-quality plant starts which we sell each spring to support our neighbors who are committed to growing gardens and producing their own food. Our passion for good food and building community are the cornerstones of Urban Futures Farm.
TJ and Stephanie Johnson started the farm in 2015. They have been growing food on the property since 2009, when TJ started the Wendell Berry Community Garden, Olympia’s first sustainable, collectively managed community garden. The Wendell Berry Community Garden, and TJ’s related work as the Local Food Program Manager for Sustainable South Sound, were catalysts for both Urban Futures Farm and Olympia’s now thriving local food movement.
TJ is the primary farmer. He grew up in Littleton, Colorado, a typical Denver suburb with few gardens and little access to fresh local food. After graduating from Columbine High School, he went on to earn a BA in Natural Resource Management from the University of Northern Colorado, and after moving to Olympia, Washington earned a Master of Environmental Studies degree from The Evergreen State College (TESC). Prior to finding his true calling as a farmer, TJ worked on energy conservation issues for the State of Washington. He has served on the boards of numerous community organizations, taught food and agricultural policy at TESC, served two terms on the Olympia City Council, and is currently the chair of the Thurston Conservation District Board of Supervisors.
Stephanie grew up in Greeley, Colorado and earned a BA in Art History from the University of Northern Colorado and an MA in History of Art from The Ohio State University. After moving to Olympia, Stephanie served as adjunct faculty at South Puget Sound Community College and curated a popular downtown art gallery. In 1997, she worked with her parents, Ed & Lillian Peeples, and TJ to remodel Olympia’s historic White house, and open the Swantown Inn B&B, which her parents sold in 2004. Since 1999 she has worked for the City of Olympia, where she currently serves as the Arts Program Manager. On the farm Stephanie handles marketing, communications, small construction projects and a lot of weeding.
Farming Philosophy and Practices
Growing tasty, nutrient-dense foods starts with building good soil. We test our soil annually, and over time we have developed an almost ideal agricultural soil through the use of cover crops, green manures, quality compost and the application of critically important micro and macro nutrients. Our soil health program is widely recognized, and we’ve hosted numerous tours and workshops to share our practices.
While we are not organically certified, our approach to farming would easily qualify for certification. However, we choose to not certify for several reasons. First, because we sell directly to our customers there is no need for third party certification. If customers or potential customers want to know about our practices, we invite them to tour the farm and see for themselves what we do. Second, progressive weakening of organic standards by corporate interests has resulted in current standards allowing such things as confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs), the use of dangerous pesticides, and even growing food in factories without soil. We certainly don’t want to be lumped in with the industrial mega farms who embrace these strategies and who see organic food as simply a niche market in their corporate portfolio.
We only source our seed from companies who have taken the Safe Seed Pledge and who refuse to carry genetically modified seeds (GMOs). We choose varieties based on their taste, nutritional quality and ability to thrive in our unique Pacific Northwest region, and our customers routinely tell us that ours are the best (tomato, beans, broccoli, etc) they have ever tasted. Every plant grown on the farm starts as a seed placed into a hand-pressed soil block, germinated and grown in our greenhouse before being transplanted into our minerally-balanced and hand-shaped growing beds.
We believe that growing food should be a net benefit for the environment, and we strive to farm in ways that are harmonious with nature. We have worked to improve habitat for beneficial insects, bees and pollinators, because we understand their success is crucial to our success. We’ve developed an irrigation management plan, use timers and water efficient irrigation methods that conserve our precious groundwater, and avoid the use of any substances that could jeopardize the health of our irrigation well. We also seek every possible way to minimize the use of fossil fuels and to lower our carbon footprint. In 2018 we installed 28 solar panels on our tractor shed, and now produce more electricity each year on the farm that it takes to run the farm. We are not just carbon neutral – we are carbon negative! Read more about it!
Urban Futures Farm reflects our belief that as the human population continues to grow, and as more and more people choose to live in urban areas, providing spaces for food production in cities must become a key focus for urban planning and public policy. Urban residents deserve access to healthy local food in the same way they deserve access to clean water, good schools and parks and recreational opportunities. Simply put, the future of urban areas must include food.
Read more at Thurston Talk!
Learn more about the Wendell Berry Community Garden.
Photo by DJK Multimedia for Rural Energy Development for Washington.