Mike Kane wants to make your head spin — or at least make you think about SPINning. SPIN stands for “Small Plot INtensive”; it’s a type of farming that uses less than an acre — a backyard, a front lawn, a neighborhood lot, for example — to increase food productivity.
But he has some other projects going, too. Mike, Florida Food & Farm’s newest Farmer Tastemaker, recently partnered with Rosemary Square (formerly CityPlace) in West Palm Beach to open and curate The Garden Shoppe, a nonprofit pop-up farmers market and retail garden.
The Garden Shoppe, which is open at Rosemary Square through Sept. 30, features locally grown produce, plants, weekly happy hours with garden-inspired cocktails, other events, educational workshops, and live painting demonstrations by local artist Sarah LaPierre. A portion of The Garden Shoppe’s sales will benefit Palm Beach Farmyards’ nonprofit mission of growing food to alleviate hunger in Palm Beach County. (For information about Palm Beach Farmyards, visit pbfarmyards.org.)
Mike told FFF about his background and his plans.
Question: How long have you been in the farming business?
Answer: I’ve been growing food for over 10 years. Palm Beach Farmyards is not your typical farming operation. Being a young person with limited access to capital or land of my own, I’ve had to get creative to get into the farming business.
Q: How long has The Garden Shoppe been open, and what gave you the idea for that?
A: The Garden Shoppe has been open since July 1 and will run through Sept. 30. The idea came from our partnership with Rosemary Square, as we’ve worked together frequently on past events.
Q: Tell us about your first experience on a farm.
A: My first experience was in Kauai, Hawaii, as part of the WWOOF program (Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms), and it was a magical experience. I received a cabin in exchange for working two days a week on the farm. I’ve always been an ambitious person, and my nickname became “The Wwoofer of Wall Street.” They offered for me to stay in Kauai and to become the farm manager after only three weeks.
Q: Do you have any advice for those looking to become a farmer?
A: Sign up for the WWOOF program (wwoof.net) to gain some experience, read a lot of books, watch a lot of YouTube videos, and then look to start operating. If you don’t have land, you can operate on borrowed or leased land. And be prepared to work very, very hard.
Q: Do you focus your produce sales mainly on consumers or on restaurants?
A: At the moment, most of our farms are for private clients such as restaurants, but we are currently working on a 2-acre market garden site in downtown West Palm Beach. Through this project, we will begin to sell directly to consumers through farmers markets and a CSA (consumer-supported agriculture) program.
Q: Tell us about some of the local restaurants and/or chefs, if any, you work with.
A: Our biggest client is American Express. We operate an organic farm on the property of their corporate office in Sunrise, Fla. Every week, we deliver the fresh harvest to Executive Chef Gustavo Calderon of the American Express café, where they feed 3,000-plus employees daily.
Q: What made you want to start farming – and what made you decide to focus on reducing hunger?
A: Ten years ago, I learned that the average piece of food travels over 1,500 miles before it reaches your plate. This inspired me to grow my first tomato plant, which was so enjoyable that I began to think of a career in farming.
I’m passionate about reducing hunger because I went through a period in my life when I did not have money to eat, and I know what it’s like to wake up hungry. When you have only a few dollars to eat, you’re not going to buy organic vegetables, and the most-affordable options are unhealthy and highly processed. I saw how damaging this is to one’s health and wanted to make a change.
Q: Who has helped you the most to get to the place you are now?
A: There have been so many great people along the way who have supported us, especially my mom and dad. American Express has been greatly helpful because they hired us on a large scale, and that has given Palm Beach Farmyards the footing we needed to keep growing.
Q: Back to your farm: What are you doing there that’s truly unique to your business?
A: Palm Beach Farmyards is a completely new concept to our area. We are nonprofit urban farmers and edible landscapers on a mission to bring as much food-growing back into the city as possible. We offer edible landscaping services to help fund our nonprofit mission of growing food on underutilized spaces throughout the city, and then distributing the healthy, “beyond-organic” food to communities who do not have good access to quality nutrition. Our goal is to establish 30 “Small Plot Intensive” farms throughout Palm Beach County — one for each food desert.
Q: As far as The Garden Shoppe, what is different or unique about that?
A: By shopping at The Garden Shoppe, you are supporting small business and our nonprofit mission. We are able to keep our prices lower than big-box stores, and while our selection is smaller, we can easily source almost any plant a customer wants if it is not in-store. We offer specially designed raised-bed garden kits that make growing your own food at home super-easy and beautiful. We also host daily educational events, live painting by our resident artist Sarah LaPierre, and regularly offer fresh tea sampling. Stay tuned for our online store as well!
Q: Is anything on your agenda that we should know about?
A: Yes; we are currently working on five projects in West Palm Beach and one on Singer Island, including the Singer Island Community Garden; Henrietta Bridge Farm, a 2-acre urban-farm site near downtown West Palm Beach; the Bright Garden, in partnership with the West Palm Beach Downtown Development Authority, a production farm coming soon to Clematis Street next to the Brightline; the Tabernacle Garden, a soon-to-be full-production farm near Tamarind Avenue and Eighth Street; and we’re working on a partnership with Mounts Botanical Garden to help further develop their vegetable garden.
We are actively forming our volunteer group, The Planeteers, so please email [email protected] if you’d like to get involved.
Q: Is there someone you want to tell our readers about — for example, another farmer, small business, artisan, etc.?
A: I would like to give a shout-out to Sarah LaPierre (@thickpaint), a very talented local artist who has helped make The Garden Shoppe as cool as it is. Her art is amazing, and available for purchase at the shop. Also, a shout-out to the Art of Cha tea company (@art.of.cha). They have been extremely helpful at The Garden Shoppe and have the best tea around. Come in and give it a try.
Q: Anything you’d like to add?
A: Thank you to Florida Food & Farm for the opportunity to share our mission with your readers.
Please visit our website at PBFarmyards.org for more information. If you would like to support our cause, shop at The Garden Shoppe, hire Palm Beach Farmyards or consider a donation: #votewithyourdollar #bethechange
For information on SPIN, visit spinfarming.com.