Episode 28

Candice Gasper on Urban Farming

Candice Gasper of Valley Mill Microgreens shares her story from bright-eyed environmental science graduate, to corporate, to ultimately becoming an Urban Farmer. She explains what urban farming is, what microgreens are (and why they are such a great way to get nutrients from your veggies) and how anyone, with as little as a sunny windowsill of space, can grow their own food.

It's a great time to talk to Candice as her startup Valley Mill Microgreens is still in its first year, so we talk about the joy of working for yourself and soak up her enthusiasm for growing.

We talk about the state of food, why the world needs more Farmer's markets, and how wonderful it is to connect directly to those who grow what we eat.

Candice describes the foraging movement and gives us step by step instructions on how to germinate your own seeds, and grow your own food.

About the show:

Problem Busters is a show that explores solutions to the biggest and the smallest of problems. Hosts Jonathan Goodwin and Oliver Happy discuss making the world a better place with guests from far and wide.

About our guest:

Candice Gasper is an Urban Farmer and is the founder of Valley Mill Microgreens. An Environmental Scientist by trade, she has worked in both the corporate world and scaled urban farming but these days is enjoying the life of a startup founder. She lives with her partner in Baltimore USA and is passionate about educating people about nutrition and the joy of growing your own food.

Show mentions:

  • A childhood outside, and choosing to study environmental science.
  • A career in sales for environmental consulting  and green construction.
  • 02:00 Volunteering at the neighbourhood farmers market. One of the only place you can meet local farmers in a city.
  • Food justice and food equity - and how access to food affects people
  • 03:30 getting my first part time job on a women-owned microgreen farm.
  • Saving up, losing my job and then going full time as a farmer
  • 05:30 Hydroponics and how they work. Pros and cons.
  • Learning what it's like to work in a large scale production facility.
  • 07:30 Starting up my own business growing in my back yard. And the pride to get to here. The love of what I do.
  • 10:00 Microgreens - what they are and why they are so cool. They can be added to any dish. You can sneak them in and get nutrient density into any dish. They are packed with flavour.
  • Microgreens are nature's multivitamins
  • 12:00 Anybody can grow microgreens, all you need is a sunny windowsill, a container, some water, some soil and some seeds.
  • 12:30 Urban farming allows people to be more connected to their food.
  • It's just neat to see my peers doing this and just right down the street, not in the middle of nowhere or far away. 
  • Saving on carbon emissions by not having to truck food into the city.
  • There is really nothing cooler than getting to know your farmer
  • 14:30 There is a lot of healing in growing - it teaches you patience. 50% percent of plants will die, and you learn how to care for them.
  • The quality of food that is readily available not being great in many cities.
  • Is soil quality deteriorating due to constantly farming them?
  • 16:30 Cover crops are something you can plant between seasons that will extract nitrogen out of the air and regenerate the soil.
  • Mass production leads to no breaks in the growing season and leads to less nutrients in the soil and therefore in the food.
  • Microgreens grow so fast - they are only growing 2-3 weeks at most and they really don't need fertiliser.
  • 18:30 how to get started growing microgreens in your own home.
  • Kale microgreens have the cutest miniature kale leaves when they grow
  • 21:30 There is a certain level of acceptance of failure in farming. Everything has been a learning process - if something doesn't work, I don't feel like I'm failing, I feel like I'm going into the next round of learning.
  • 23:30 It's hard to make a good living as a farmer. Farming is difficult to get into because land access is difficult. Price of land, even renting land is unbelievable.
  • I started my farm with about $10,000.
  • 26:00 for most people wanting to get into agriculture, it's probably best to do it as a side hustle. Sell at your local farmers market.
  • I try to shop at farmers markets as often as I can. The best bit is at the end of the market you can trade with the other farmers - and have groceries for the week!
  • Food with backstory - you can tell by the way the grower raises their products that there is going to be more nutrient density in it.
  • Episode: Nathan Ranklin on taking charge of your weight
  • 31:00 The types of vegetables to look for in an urban area. Pay attention to what is in season. If it's in season and at a farmers market, you can bet it was grown nearby.
  • The cost of living crisis in the UK, and in the USA right now.
  • 33:30 What types of vegetables you could grow yourself. Microgreens are your best option. You don't have to repot them.
  • SNAP (Supplemental nutrition assistance program) in the U.S. you can use the money to buy seeds - which is really exciting. Your dollar goes further.
  • Urban garden rental plots. Renting a piece of land in a community garden.
  • Allotments and their growth in popularity.
  • Plant starts - a small plant you can repot when you get home, to get you started growing.
  • 38:00 How to make fertiliser from kitchen scraps. The benefits of alfalfa tea for fertiliser.
  • 40:00 How to support local farmers - buy directly from them. Sign up for a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) - paying in advance for a box of food. It helps the farmers to buy up seeds beforehand. Or go to the farmers market and buy directly from them!
  • Supporting restaurants that also support local farms.
  • Restaurant - Wild Flor (Hove UK). For supporting local farmers and having food that tastes just so amazing.
  • Movement - School gardens and exposing kids to the joys of growing food, of getting involved in food. It's something they can do at an early age and it really impacts their lives.
  • 44:30 Who do I most look up to in the world? Other women-owned farmers. Just to see someone else like myself doing well and being successful.
  • Book - Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain. How he talks about food is just awesome.
  • Movement - Foraging. Trying to understand indigenous foraging practices and learning about mushrooms and food all around you.
  • We have gotten away from some of those crucial indigenous food practices.
  • 48:00 What would I like to change in the world? I would love to see more young people get involved in agriculture. I love the creative energy that comes from having to solve a problem right away. Agriculture is really interesting because it involves so many skillsets.
  • 49:00 What one thing I would like people to take away from this episode? If you aren't happy sitting at a desk all day, just start being curious about the things that make you feel good, feel happy and spend some time volunteering.
  • Getting in touch
  • Instagram: valleymillmicrogreens
  • Farmers market: Central market at York Pennyslvania

Logo and concept by Christy O'Connor

About the Podcast

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Problem Busters
Highlighting people with ideas

About your hosts

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Oliver Happy

Oliver works in tech and builds things that help improve people’s lives. He hosts indie podcasts Old Fox Young Fox, Problem Busters and Gone Workabout. Oliver is a Kiwi, travels a lot, eats a lot and loves sharing good ideas. He is determined to leave the world in a better state than he found it.
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Jon Goodwin

Jon Goodwin works in financial tech implementing clever solutions that help simplify business processes every day. His passions include science, engineering and dreaming up solutions to common problems. In his spare time he is a multimedia producer & friendly co-host of two podcasts the Bouyon Boys and Problem Busters.