Farmers For Hire Turn Backyards Into Vegetable Patches

Jeanne Nolan grew up in an affluent suburb of Chicago. When it came time to apply for colleges, she shocked her family by opting to skip college and become an organic farmer. Then she brought her farming skills back to the suburbs and city, installing and tending vegetable gardens at clients' homes.

The Organic Gardener Ltd., the farmer-for-hire service she and her husband, Verd, started in the Chicago area in 2005, is one of many such services that have cropped up across the country. Some of these farmers have farming backgrounds, while others are landscapers who expanded their expertise, or entrepreneurs from a range of professional backgrounds who just love gardening and the outdoors.

"If you want serious exercise, you turn to a professional trainer to help you do it right. This is like hiring a gardening coach. Some people say, 'Come over every other week for a year' so they can learn and do it themselves. And I also have a hundred clients whose gardens I've been tending for years who are not even trying to do it on their own, but simply love having it done," says Jeanne Nolan, author of "From the Ground Up: A Food Grower's Education in Life, Love, and the Movement That's Changing a Nation" (Spiegel and Grau, 2013).

Urban farming services cater to both homes and businesses that want home-grown produce but not the work involved in growing it. Clients include apartment complexes, grocery stories, schools, shopping malls, even ballparks.

"It turns out that having home-grown produce is something a lot of people really want," says Jessie Banhazl, founder and CEO of Green City Growers, in the Boston area. The company's Fenway Farms project involves planting and tending vegetable gardens atop Fenway Park, where produce is served to fans at baseball games, and a portion is donated to charity.

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