Chris Brenna likes to say Revolutionary Earth farm has 1,000 acres of land. Currently, most of it is fallow, he adds.
For now, the most cultivated crop in the U.S. covers most of those acres — turf grass.
Last year, Brenna and a team of volunteers started a mission to convert that grass into food crops. If those acres of grass were used to grow food, they could feed about 100,000 people, he said.
“Our vision is to feed everybody in the city with food grown in the city,” Brenna said. “That’s something I think is possible.”
Replacing grass doesn’t mean growing food for people only. Food crops create food for birds and pollinators. Their compost and roots help organisms in the soil thrive. Lawn grass is not only devoid of these benefits, but often the chemicals used to keep the grass looking healthy hurt pollinators and the soil, Brenna said.
Last year was a pilot year for the farm. Its business model evolved as needs and resources arose. Initially, Brenna envisioned the operation as a profitable farm selling produce to businesses and at farmers markets. Instead, the operation has become a nonprofit providing fresh produce for households that are food insecure.
By the end of the growing season last year, Revolutionary Earth farm volunteers grew enough food to give 15 subscriber households about a bushel of produce a week.
Like an ecosystem, Revolutionary Earth farm has adapted to what volunteers had to offer in skills and time and how the volunteers dealt with the operations’ needs.
“We’re driven by who shows up and what their talents are,” Brenna said.
As the farm’s first season progressed, its mission changed. So did the challenges.
“I thought the first biggest hurdle would be to get money to rent people’s backyards,” he added.
Instead, people offered land at little to no cost in an effort to support the mission. But another need emerged — volunteers to tend to the offered land.
“Practically speaking, if we take on new land, we need volunteers,” Brenna said. “Labor will always be our No. 1 need.”
To best use the limited labor they had last year, Revolutionary Earth shied away from spaces smaller than 1,000 square feet and will probably stick to that threshold this year. Anyone with less space than that who wants to contribute is welcome, but they will likely have to help provide labor on that land.
To entice more people to help on the farms this year, Revolutionary Earth is offering a food membership for 50 hours of service. Last year, volunteers put 225 hours of work into Revolutionary Earth gardens. Brenna said he put in 100 of those hours. Despite that, Brenna said he’s not a farmer or even a gardener.
“I’m an organizer,” he said.
People who want to be involved don’t have to be farmers or gardeners either, he added.
“We’re driven by who shows up and what their talents are,” he said.
That’s a reason the mission and focus has changed. Brenna returned to his ecosystem analogy. As different talents and visions joined the project, its focus changed to reach a new equilibrium, he said. Anyone is welcome to add their vision and talent, he added.
“Nothing is wasted in an ecosystem,” he said.