Written by Farmer Tony
This all really started around 2004, a very pivotal year for me.
In 2004, my younger son Bryant was born, I got married to my beautiful wife Hillery, I started my computer shop business, and on Thanksgiving weekend during a stay in the hospital, I became determined to make changes in my life that were necessary in order to live better and longer.
I spent about 6 years thereafter building and growing my computer business.
My desire live more fully also compelled me on an accelerated journey of personal growth, through which I did a ton of reading and writing, participated in a wide variety of self awareness and health programs and used my new found free time to work on new hobbies such as gardening.
In the growing seasons of 2008 and 2009, I planted a 1200 sq ft garden at the property we rented in West Allis, Wisconsin. It was my first time ever gardening. I started my own seeds indoors and grew a ton of food. There was far more than I could figure out what to do with at the time, and much of it was returned to the land.
My wife Hillery went to Kenya on a medical mission trip with Fox River Christian Church in February 2010. She brought back with her a real palpable sense of the quiet desperation related to food security, which looked like this: Hillery told the story of Hilda, a 2 year old girl she met. Hilda was always the last person in her family to eat if there was not enough food for everyone. The reason that they fed her last, if at all, because she was deaf.
To me this seemed entirely unacceptable. It moved me enough to spark a little fire in my heart that would continue to grow stronger and stronger. Hillery and I took the opportunity to sponsor a couple of children so they would have enough food to eat and a basic education, but it really frustrated me that this still left so many millions of children with no help at all. I just somehow knew deep within every cell of my body that not only could we do more, but that we absolutely HAD to do more. It’s what we’re on planet earth here to do.
In January 2011 I attended a demonstration for a new self-awareness program called Higher Brain Living. After doing two sample sessions, I loved it immensely, and I paid for my wife Hillery to go through the program.
In April 2011, after much deliberation, I left my computer shop which was really bringing me down and holding me back due to a complex myriad of issues surrounding it.
Around August 2011, after Hillery decided to discontinue her own program, I began my own intensive Higher Brain Living work. As part of this work, I discovered that becoming a farmer and feeding the hungry was what I have been put here on this planet to do.
In my first strong action step towards the goal of feeding the hungry, I enrolled in Growing Power’s Commercial Urban Agriculture program in December and participated Jan-May 2012 with successful completion and graduation.
During the CUA program, I kept getting asked by Will Allen, “What are you waiting for?” and was encouraged to “just get started” because “there are people starving and they’ll never have good food to eat if we don’t start doing something”…but the desired outcome was to create an urban farm in a food desert, and I had no land, no farming skills, no relationships with people that had resources, and no money.
I almost dropped out of the program because I so often felt like I was in the wrong place at the wrong time; there’s just NO WAY I can get an urban farm going. However, when I started sharing this dilemma with others, it turned out that most of my fellow CUA students felt much the same way, and that convinced me to carry on.
And suddenly there was an epiphany: “I really don’t need anything at all to just get started.”
So without land to farm, without extra money to spend, without much farming knowledge, without partners that had resources, I got started anyways. Initially I started worm bins, then converted my fish tank to aquaponics, and it just kept expanding. By graduation time I was able to share with my class the worm castings I had produced, and the sunflower microgreens I had grown in them and watered with aquaponics system water. Will Allen’s comment about me during graduation, “We’re really proud of this guy because he decided to start small,” made me get teary-eyed. I had no idea at the time the importance of starting small; I just did it because it was all I had the ability to do.
I attended Growing Power’s urban and small farm conference in September 2012. There I met some men from Africa who were there to recruit people with farming skills to come to their country and help them. Though that did not turn out to be a ‘hit’ for me, it made me aware that the stage was being set for the work I was to do in huge, amazing ways.
In Fall 2012, I became a Vincentian – working through my home church of my youth, St Margaret Mary on 92nd and Capitol Dr, to provide furniture, food, clothing to the needy. I found out that – among other things – St. Vincent de Paul lifted huge numbers of people out of poverty in 17th century France through agricultural entrepreneurship.
I attended dismantling racism training at Growing Power’s Chicago farm in December 2012 and learned all the details about what racism is and how it works, and also what role it plays in the food system. This was a huge and very timely eye-opener for me.
I enrolled in Victory Garden Initiative’s food leader program in January 2013 and instantly got connected to wonderful group of local healthy food enthusiasts like myself, forming strong friendships.
Days later, a good friend connected me with a local chiropractor who would offer me an opportunity to plug into his vision for prosperity in Africa. I accepted his invitation on the spot and spent the next few months preparing to go to Africa.
In May 2013, I participated in the Mankind Project’s New Warrior Training Adventure where I tackled my deep rooted feelings surrounding the belief that I am unlovable and deserve to be rejected. I went on a guided journey within to discover my inner animal and assumed the animal name, “Smiling Worm” I also focused my journey into my life’s mission statement: “I create a world free of hunger and poverty by teaching everyone agricultural entrepreneurship,” and affirmation “As a man among men, I teach everyone to love all people.”
For 23 days from June to July, I traveled all over Burkina Faso (landlocked, West Africa, Sub-Saharan) to various different places in the city and out in rural areas, meeting local farmers and conducting agricultural training sessions. I did not speak French or any of the 50 some tribal languages, and very few people there spoke English, so everything was live translated. While there, I introduced and incubated several composting and vermicomposting activities at some more progressive training farms. At one location, I recorded a 60 minute long training video on basic composting and soil building techniques which I was told “will be shown to thousands of people.” The story of my trip to Africa has been written as a series of articles which was published in the Milwaukee Times Weekly Newspaper.
In August 2013, I enrolled in Victory Garden Initiative’s Urban Permaculture Design Certification classes and completed them in November 2013.
Through our Victory Garden Initiative connection, I began an ongoing conversation with my friend Charlie regarding a job training program for youth with microgreen production and urban farming as the core skill taught to take out into the world. These talks are beginning to manifest in a real program, scheduled to kick off in February 2014 and ideally provide local farming business ownership opportunities to youth once they are 18 years old.
Because I tried to sell microgreens to fund my trip to Africa, I had become aware that significant demand for microgreens existed locally. Therefore, in September 2013, my wife Hillery and I formed a business for it called Mission Greens LLC and branded as Farmer Tony’s Mission Greens. We are constantly improving and refining what we do: we tested higher production levels successfully, improved packaging, improved germination rates, decreased grow time, created a logo and branding, established credit card processing, and so on.
In December 2013, I completed Victory Garden Initiative’s year-long food leader certificate program, resulting in many awesome and amazing new, local friendships with others who are passionate about farming good food. While on our kickoff retreat together, we created the following mission statement for our group: “Leveraging strength in diversity, abundant resources and passion for farming good food to create a just community that celebrates sustainable improvements in health and wellness for all people and their environments.”
And in the future???? I remain dedicated strongly to this journey, and I am excited to see where it leads me and how it unfolds. Stay Tuned!