UrbanPonics will be the year-round go-to provider of agricultural products in urban locations by focusing on quality, technology, sustainability, local talent, and services.

Our mission is to deliver high-quality agricultural products at a fair price, reasonable profit, and with exceptional service to our customers.

What will we grow?

UrbanPonics will provide fresh produce and fruit initially focused on a core set of crops including lettuces, tomatoes, peppers, strawberries, and raspberries. We will utilize hydroponics and provide a year-round supply of goods to the local market. We will market these products initially via retail, restaurant, and specialty wholesale contractual relationships. We will also strategically leverage farmer's markets both as outlets for produce and as marketing activities.

Why do it?

Our hypothesis is that by addressing local community issues (employment, healthy food desert effects, sustainable agriculture, local food, etc.), leveraging location and technology to produce a superior product, and aggressively partnering with key stakeholders (e.g. cities for subsidized vacant land, non-profits for employment sourcing and training, universities and technology companies for world class know-how) to reduce costs, we can create defensible real value that can be shared with strategic partners as appropriate. We will leverage scale, hi-tech hydroponics greenhouse production, “green” power generation, and the elimination of transportation and other distribution costs to reach cost parity with alternative products.  We will use our technology to precisely control inputs to supply year-round superior produce, which is fresher, has less pesticide content and higher nutritional value than our competition.

When will this happen?

We are currently identifying capital and strategic resources to move forward including identification of a masters level growing expert to lead our R&D efforts. We are currently working on an agreement with a strategic educational partner to locate a technical proof of concept sustainable greenhouse system on their campus. We have identified and are actively pursuing sites in North Lawndale for commercial production. We are currently targeting our first crops to be available by 3rd quarter/ 4th quarter 2010.

Who are we?

UrbanPonics is a for-profit, entrepreneurial, start-up collaboration between North Lawndale Employment Network (NLEN) and Chicago Urban League nextone participants, Bral Spight, Lee Reid, Jr., Brenda Palms Barber (NLEN’s CEO), and Dr. Dennis Deer. We are minority owned and controlled. UrbanPonics also has an advisory board consisting of local experts who are qualified to advise on issues of strategic importance (e.g. product focus, technology, new project initiation, acquisitions, dispositions, etc.).

Where is this happening?

Our initial community of focus is North Lawndale on Chicago’s Westside. We are initially focusing in the community for three reasons:
  • Available workforce – UrbanPonics business model is to employ economically disadvantaged men and women who have multiple barriers to employment. Many will have either a criminal background or are Chicago Housing Authority residents. 70% of our hires will have limited education, little to no work history, and are not able to secure employment in the traditional job market. Many of our target employment base live in North Lawndale, a Chicago community that is 94% African American with an unemployment rate of 26%. Here, under-employment is also high: 34% of the annual household incomes in the community are below $10,000. In addition, 46% of households are female-headed, the median household income is $18,342, and 42% of families are living in poverty. (Data from 2000 Census)

  • Partner familiarity with the area – Our non-profit member NLEN (http://www.nlen.org/content/index.php), its CEO and UrbanPonics member Brenda Palms Barber, and Dr. Dennis Deer through his practice Deer Rehabilitation Services (http://www.deerehabservices.com/) have extensive relationships and experience working in the North Lawndale community with the very workforce we propose to employ. Please follow the link to learn more about their specific expertise and experiences.

  • Availability of land – North Lawndale has many opportunities to acquire city and privately owned vacant and underutilized property due to historic under-investment. Our goals are to secure enough acreage to ensure 7 – 10 acres of crop production as a first phase of activity. We have multiple levels of political and community support helping us in our endeavor.

In addition to North Lawndale we feel our model can apply to any urban or urban/suburban community with similar economic and demographic profiles combined with enlightened leadership. As we gain proficiency and develop our distribution relationships we will seek to expand to additional communities.

How can I get involved?

Potential hire?
Potential strategic partner?
Have an identified land opportunity?
Potential customer?
Just want to know more?

Please email greenurbanponics@gmail.com

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