The Urban Farm

7 mins read

All his life, Greg Peterson, host of The Urban Farm, has carried an enormous weight for the human race: 

“I’m the person on the planet responsible for transforming our global food system,” he says. “It’s not a burden—it’s what gets me up in the morning. I came into the world with this knowing.” 

At nine years old, Peterson started raising fish in aquariums, because he was interested in fish farming. At 14, he wrote a paper on how humans were overfishing the oceans—and that was in 1975. 

Each time he tried to turn away from his life’s calling, an opportunity would present itself and pull him back onto the path he had been traveling for years. For instance, in 1981, at age 20, he visited a farm that was harvesting fish, getting about 30% meat and throwing away the rest.

“I’m sitting there looking at that process thinking that it’s just wrong,” he says. “So, I designed what we would now call a ‘regenerative fish farm.’”

Fast forward 10 years to 1991, when four major events happened that clearly set Peterson on a fully invested journey:

  • He read Ishmael by Daniel Quinn. “It’s a conversation between a gorilla and a man, in which the gorilla teaches how we culturally got to where we are, especially around food.”
  • He discovered permaculture, which he describes as, “the art and science of working with nature,” a revelationary label for his way of thinking. 
  • He took an in-depth seminar at Landmark Education (now Landmark Worldwide), where he learned to create a vision for his life.
  • “And then, the crème de la crème—a friend of mine was sailing in the South Pacific, and he stopped at an island looking for a grocery store. The people who lived on the island looked at him strangely and said, ‘Go pick your own.’ That was a showstopper for me, because that led back to Ishmael, where it talks about food being free.”

Peterson went back to college 10 years later, and in the process, wrote a paper about his mission and vision in life, which included living for 14 years on an urban farm in the middle of Phoenix, Arizona. “I realized I wanted to create a showcase home for people to see,” he says. “So, in 2001, I dubbed my home ‘The Urban Farm’ and opened it up for tours.”

In the beginning, he only hosted about eight tours a year. Each Saturday, he would set up a tent in the front yard and wait for people to arrive. “Some Saturdays, nobody showed up,” he says. “Now when we do tours of The Urban Farm, we have to do three to five a weekend, because we get anywhere from 150 to 300 people showing up to see it.”

Peterson was driven to share his knowledge and passion with other people. From 2006 to 2009, he ran a website—Your Guide to Green—and, in 2015, he had his first experience with podcasts, releasing 48 weekly episodes of The Freshly Green Podcast

“It looked at how we live a green lifestyle on the planet, and it planted a seed for me to really get the message out there in the form of a podcast,” he says, explaining that he signed up for Podcasters’ Paradise with John Lee Dumas to learn how to podcast. “He taught me everything we did wrong seven years earlier and gave us the traction to still be here six-and-a-half years and 710 episodes later.”

In 2015, Peterson started a new podcast, The Urban Farm, published three days a week and featuring special guests like Jason Mraz, Lisa Steele, and Kari Spencer. He explains that the focus of the podcast became discussing the art and value of growing food in urban areas, exploring topics such as urban beekeeping and chicken farming, permaculture, successful composting, and monetizing farms. Peterson focused on providing tips and tricks to overcome common challenges, while letting listeners learn from the experiences of people just like them, so they could be informed, equipped, and empowered to participate more mindfully in their local food system.

Earlier this year, Peterson and his partner, Heidi, moved from The Urban Farm in Phoenix, where he had been for 32 years, to a four-acre property in Asheville, North Carolina. “It’s less about North Carolina and more about finding a temperate place that gets more rain—and it’s stunningly beautiful,” he explains. “This is a new opportunity for me to learn. I know permaculture in drylands. I can do that in my sleep. What I don’t know is how much nature works in a cold climate like that. It’s definitely exciting, and something we’re gonna learn a lot from. It’s an adventure.”

Peterson adds that one of the most important things people could be doing right now is figuring out where their food comes from and how to grow it, because the tenuous current system of food delivery is providing unhealthy food.

“If it breaks down, we’re in trouble—deep trouble,” he says. “That’s the reason I do this. That’s what’s so important about the work I do to get the word out… because we have a food system that could break down at any moment.”

With that said, Peterson reiterates his responsibility to his fellow earth dwellers.

“This is definitely my purpose in life… what I feel like I was gifted to do,” Peterson reflects. “It is sometimes a gift and sometimes a curse. I can’t get away from it. But it’s what I’m supposed to be doing every single day on the planet.”

 

August 2022 Issue

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