USDA Microloans Fund Nine New Farmers in New York City

Administrator Val Dolcini visited new urban farms at the Square Roots campus in Brooklyn. He is pictured in front of one of the container farms with several of the borrowers and FSA staff (l-r): Jonathan Bernard, new farmer; Josh Aliber, new farmer; Carol Ronne, FSA Farm Loan Manager; Tobias Peggs, Square Roots CEO; Nabeela Lakhani, new farmer; Jim Barber, FSA NY State Director; and Val Dolcini, FSA Administrator.

FSA Administrator Val Dolcini Makes Urban Farm Visits

By Lynnette Wright, Public Affairs Specialist, New York Farm Service Agency

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Farm Service Agency (FSA) Administrator Val Dolcini and New York State Executive Director, James Barber, traveled to Brooklyn recently to tour urban agriculture operations funded by USDA microloans. While in New York City Dolcini and Barber met with the producers, legislative representatives and partner organizations.

Nine urban farming entrepreneurs launched their urban farming operations by working with FSA and Square Roots–an organization that promotes urban farming and coaches urban producers to grow and sell produce locally while building a sustainable business. The urban entrepreneurs each used FSA’s microloan program to secure a low interest loan to lease a vertical farm from Square Roots and pay for operating expenses such as seed, water and electricity.

Vertical farms are repurposed shipping containers tailored for hydroponically growing vegetables and include a water system, heating and cooling units and light-emitting diodes (LEDs) designed to mirror sunlight. Each vertical farm is capable of producing the equivalent of what is grown on two acres of farmland.

“FSA’s microloan program provides capital for beginning, niche and small farmers to start, enhance or expand their agriculture operations,” said Dolcini. “As urban agriculture continues to grow, FSA loan programs have evolved to keep up with the needs of these unique, creative and trend-setting urban farmers.”

Square Roots aims to connect local consumers to the urban farmers who grow a variety of greens and herbs. The producers harvested their first crop the week Administrator Dolcini visited and have begun selling their produce at farmers markets and restaurants around New York City. As more urban farms start in New York City, consumers can find a wider variety of fresh, locally grown vegetables year-round.

Improving access to fresh and nutritious food is a primary reason USDA continues expanding efforts within urban communities. This summer, USDA released the Urban Agriculture Toolkit in addition to holding the USDA Urban Agriculture Forum in Brooklyn. Furthermore, FSA in New York has hired the first ever Urban Agriculture Outreach Specialist, Ian Marvy. Marvy has extensive experience in urban agriculture, is based out of Brooklyn and will provide current and potential growers throughout the city access to USDA programs that can help them get established and expand.

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