I’m a relatively lazy person. I have a small garden in which I grow only the things I know I will regularly eat (cucumbers, tomatoes, basil, for instance) and often don’t get up early enough to beat the lines at Urbana’s Market at the Square. When I found out that there was a local business that grew veggies and herbs and would deliver them to my home, I was overjoyed. This is a lazy food lover’s dream. Or one of them, at least. “Such a luxury is surely out of price range,” I said aloud. But no! For only $20, I could have delicious, locally grown organic produce delivered to my doorstep.
Who are the nice folks who grow, harvest, clean, package, and deliver such produce? There are a few people involved, collectively known as the Urban Gardens Company. You may have seen some of the gardens at 3009 South Prospect Avenue in Savoy—the garden is hard to miss. Currently the folks at UGC are putting in a driveway/small parking lot in order to beef up (ha, ha) access to the already existing produce stand. The Prospect Avenue garden is only one part of UGC’s gardens—the other gardens are in the backyards of four homes in Champaign.
Like many other businesses in town, UGC sends an email blast on Thursdays with the list of produce and price (currently at $20, but could change depending on the amount of produce) for Friday’s delivery. You simply respond to the email with your address, and sometime Friday afternoon a Styrofoam cooler of gently cleaned and bagged produce (with ice to keep it all cool) is dropped off on your front or back porch. Payment is made on the honor system, and you can drop it off at the 3009 South Prospect stand. The produce I received was beautiful, and unbelievably delicious. Included were cucumbers, eggplants, tomatoes, kale, collard greens, basil, and mint. The veggies were easily worth $20, and to have it delivered to my home would have been worth an extra charge.
I recently spoke with the folks at Urban Gardens Company. Check out our interview below.
Smile Politely: What is the Urban Gardens Company?
Urban Gardens Company: We are an organic, vegetable garden specializing in super-tasty, organic veggies, herbs, fruits, and flowers. UGC’s service area is where we live and work – the Champaign-Urbana-Savoy community.
SP: When did UGC get started?
Urban Gardens Company: In 2012 we piloted, from 2 family backyard gardens, a new category of produce we call “Ultra-Local” and “Ultra-Fresh”. The gardens and our produce home deliveries were promising enough that in 2013 we acquired 2 more family backyard gardens. Also in 2013 we piloted a street produce stand from the garden located at 3009 South Prospect Avenue.
“Ultra-Local” signifies that our produce is grown within the same community in which we and our customers live. Another ultra-local metric we use is “food miles”, which is the distance food travels from where it’s produced to the place where it is consumed. UGC’s food miles are “Zero”.
“Ultra-Fresh” means that all UGC produce for sale was growing in our gardens a few minutes or hours before it was harvested, cooled, washed, and readied for our customers. UGC produce is about as fresh, delicious, and homegrown as you can get. Our backyard is in your neighborhood.
SP: Which fruits, veggies, and herbs do you grow?
Urban Gardens Company: 90% of all the varieties we grow are flavor-filled, open pollinated, and heirlooms. We are growing 30 varieties of tomatoes in all colors, sizes, and shapes. We also have mild, medium, and hot peppers, as well as varieties of onions, kale, collards, cabbage, broccoli, eggplant, squash, potatoes, corn, herbs, and cucumbers.
SP: Do any local restaurants source ingredients from your gardens?
Urban Gardens Company: Yes, we love working with local chefs. More chefs are pursuing positive alternatives to the common, long-hauled vegetables and fruits. These chefs are creating menus from available local, garden-fresh fare that is nutrient dense and full of flavor. One example is a chef who regularly buys our large cucumbers because UGC cukes consistently are high-quality, fresh, and are beautiful on the plate.
SP: How about the produce stand on South Prospect? How does that work?
Urban Gardens Company: Our produce stand will open in August and will stay open through to the last harvest in November. Like chefs visiting the gardens to pull together the menu for the day, you, too, are welcome to stroll through our gardens and sample our diverse collection of heirloom vegetables and culinary herbs.
SP: Does UGC use an honor system at the produce stand?
Urban Gardens Company: Yes, last year when we were busy tending the garden, the produce stand operated on an honor system. A produce price list is posted and instructions on a sign at the stand stated: “Thank you for helping us bring the best, freshest, organic food to our neighborhood. UGC uses the honor system. Pay us through PayPal, in cash when you see one of us, or place your $ in the secure metal box.”
SP: Where do you see Urban Gardens Company in 5 years?
Urban Gardens Company: We are a family-owned and community-centric urban farm that hopes to contribute to the many regional efforts furthering healthy living, promoting nutritious eating, and providing safe, fresh, affordable, organic foods grown in the local foodshed, shaped by its climate, soil, watershed, fauna, flora, and micro-organisms. UGC will continue to improve its service, and will carry on its efforts to identify best practices and opportunities for the development of organic fruits and vegetables grown in urban, backyard environments.
SP: Any other information you’d like to share with SP readers?
Urban Gardens Company: Gardening is a labor-intensive and knowledge-intensive enterprise that engages with the environment as a whole. Organic agriculture produces products using methods that preserve the environment, its natural resources, its biodiversity, and its resiliency. UGC uses organic methods including raised beds, intensive planting, drip irrigation to conserve water, no-till, seed saving, and excludes the application of synthetic agro-chemicals.
Visit the Urban Gardens Company website for more information or to sign up for the produce delivery.
Article photos by Jessica Hammie. Gallery photos by Sam Logan.