Grand Rapids’ largest urban farm adds pizza to their menu

New City Urban Farm hopes to serve up hot veggie pies this fall.

Lance Kraai, Dean Baas and Joel Schraam with the new wood-fired pizza oven kit.
Lance Kraai, Dean Baas and Joel Schraam with the new wood-fired pizza oven kit.

New City Urban Farm, Grand Rapids’ largest urban farm, is excited about their latest addition, a giant pizza oven and smoker. Thanks to a $7,379 North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program Farmer Rancher grant secured with help from Michigan State University Extension, New City Urban Farm was able to purchase a wood-fired pizza oven kit from Forno Bravo.

Lance Kraai, farm manager, and Joel Schraam, kitchen programs manager, led a workshop of about ten participants on August 8, 2016 to help others learn how to build a pizza oven. Kraai believes the oven will help will help the farm accomplish three goals:

  1. It will give their farm a competitive advantage over other CSA farms.
  2. It will be a great way to use some of their bruised or slightly damaged produce.
  3. Pizza nights will help the farm better connect with some of the Creston neighbors that aren’t CSA shareholders.

“This idea came from an NPR story featuring Suncrest Gardens Farm in northern Wisconsin. They were selling 800 pizzas every Friday night all summer long,” said Kraai, New City Urban Farm manager. “Since we have a kitchen on site and have an experienced food service manager, I thought we could pull this off. We are going to keep a close eye on all of the numbers to make sure this is truly a profitable and sustainable initiative for us.”

Kraai and Schraam have done their homework. They have met with the City’s Zoning Department staff and Health Department officials to properly plan the oven construction and food service operation. Schraam also renewed his ServSafe certification. They also conducted extensive research on building materials. The pizzas will be cooked at about 800 degrees Fahrenheit and many of the materials found at common hardware stores won’t sustain that high level of heat.

Dean Baas, Sustainable Agriculture Educator with MSU Extension, coordinates SARE programs in Michigan. “The proposal from New City was very well written. We think this is a great project that may help other small and medium scale diversified vegetable growers learn how a value-added project may help them increase their sustainability.” Lance will be presenting the project’s results at the Northern Michigan Small Farm Conference in early 2017, and a YouTube video of the oven construction will be posted.

This grant was awarded as part of NCR-SARE's Farmer Rancher Grant Program, which is a competitive grants program for farmers and ranchers who want to explore sustainable solutions to problems through on-farm research, demonstration and education projects. Funding considerations are based on how well the applicant presents the problem being addressed, the project's relevance to sustainable agriculture in the North Central region, and how well it aligns with NCR-SARE's goals, among other factors specific to each grant program.

Since 1988, the SARE program has helped advance farming systems that are profitable, environmentally sound and good for communities through a nationwide research and education grants program. The program is part of USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

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