When life hands you lemons, what do you do? You build urban farms. At least that’s what architect Michael Madfis did when he contracted retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative eye disease that is slowly stealing his eyesight, leaving him legally blind.
Unable to continue as an architect, Madfis, originally of Newton, Mass., decided to apply his expertise to the process of farming in residential areas.
He chose farms because they are relatively inexpensive, and have a more positive impact on the environment than buildings. His goal is to create a network of sustainable, urban farms, easily copied, as part of the developing local food system in Broward County.
Madfis founded the company Ft. Lauderdale Vegetables with his daughter Hayley in 2009, just as she was finishing her graduate work in urban planning. He streamlined all the elements needed to build a farm, including how-tos for getting permits and city approval with the least amount of red tape, and providing needed growing guides.
Using experience he gained when he helped develop franchises such as Tony Roma’s, the Ritz-Carlton, Denny’s, and DryClean USA, he hopes to brand the farm company the same way.
Madfis has created numerous urban micro-farms. One of his earlier efforts was the well-publicized 110 Farm, on the roof of the 110 Tower in Ft. Lauderdale (since dismantled). He’s used each farm’s plans as another block of knowledge to improve on the next one. The newest and best, he says, is Fort Lauderdale’s Flagler Village Farm.
It’s premier, he says, because it boasts a farmers market on site and it’s walking distance for everyone in the neighborhood. The farm is 18,000 square feet, or about a third-acre, and is right across the street from a three-story condo called Sole, where Madfis now lives.
More than 50 crops throughout year
On the farm, 30 to 40 winter crops and 15 to 20 summer crops are grown. Madfis is studying Caribbean crops to see what other types of produce can withstand the brutal summer sun of South Florida.
“When farmers first started growing here they were trying to grow the crops grown in the East and northern climes,” explains Madfis, “You can’t do that here in the summer because they will burn up, but there are things that will grow, and we are doing it successfully.”
Many fresh food events take place each month at FVF, including the Farmer’s Market, open 9 a.m. to noon Saturdays, year-round, as well as Wednesdays, 5 to 7 p.m.
On the second Friday of the month, Food in Motion, an after-dark street fair/farmers market with 20 to 30 food trucks (see Food in Motion Facebook page) takes place, and a food-related film is sometimes shown at 5 p.m.
FVF offers a CSA plan (Community Supported Agriculture), where members can pick up their weekly share. Madfis has cultivated donors who buy shares and then donate them to some of the local homeless shelters a few blocks away.
Classes part of outreach
Classes at FVF include how to become a farmer, workshops on how to handle or cook certain foods, and ongoing volunteer and apprenticeship programs. They also sell the compost, irrigation systems, grow bags, and the soil that they use.
FVF has worked with over 100 other nonprofits such as Made in Broward, Miramar Community Gardens, and Children’s Services of Broward, helping them grow seedlings that are then sold back to the farm.
Over the years, Madfis has observed that city dwellers in South Florida care most about convenience. He has found that if it isn’t easy to grow and easy to prepare, the public doesn’t seem interested.
So his plan is to expand the farm further and put in a kitchen. Then, supporting local farmers becomes as simple as buying a prepared meal. An ongoing experiment to be sure, and an urban farm by design.
For more information, see the Flagler Village Farm Facebook page.