December 13, 2010, Andy arrived in Milwaukee in a blizzard. He parked in the Growing Power parking lot in the middle of the night and fell asleep.
Andy came to work there as an intern. He was already shoveling goat manure by noon, the day he arrived. Andy worked in a variety of capacities at Growing Power for two years. He’s been focused on creating more sustainable communities in Milwaukee ever since.
Before coming to Milwaukee, Andy’s life had a very different trajectory. He went to college for genetic engineering and biochemistry. He was able to secure a good-paying job in chemistry after graduating. Ultimately, he felt that the industry he was working in was not going to create the world that he wanted to see.
He was first exposed to the idea of urban farming by friends from Cuba. They suggested that he look into Growing Power, suggesting, “it’s the only viable urban farming you [the US] have.”
One of his former professors was going to Growing Power and was able to help Andy check out the farm and Milwaukee in general. Once he got home he developed his plan to “sell everything” and move to Milwaukee.
Andy, a current Riverwest resident, living on Holton Avenue, has recently developed a business called Ouroboros. This is the term for images of an animal eating its own tail. Usually a snake, but Andy points out the image for the web browser Firefox is also an ouroboros. The image represents for Andy and for many a notion of sustainability.
His business is focused on landscaping and small scale contracting with a triple bottom line of economic, environmental and social sustainability. The projects he has focused on in his business can help increase the capacity of Milwaukee’s food system and improve the city’s overall sustainability through small-scale infrastructure at his clients’ homes.
One of the projects he is working on exemplifies this goal for Milwaukee. He is currently building a root cellar, which will help his customer enjoy locally-grown produce throughout the (extra) long winter.
Ouroboros also handles landscaping. Andy likes to landscape yards with edible crops, which ties into his urban farming background. However, his business also takes on the issue of rainwater runoff, which is a major threat to Milwaukee’s waterways. Such projects include rain gardens and cisterns.
Andy’s business vision does not involve growing his customer base infinitely. He would rather focus on building his business with the clients, skill sets and equipment to form a co-op. His goal is to help people who want to start their own small contracting business access equipment and administrative support. With his experience working on starting his own business, he believes that there is a barrier that can become too burdensome. Rather than working on starting a co-op first, he feels that his effort is better spent on starting his own business and involving others down the road who are interested in joining forces.
Andy is taking business-planning classes at WWBIC. It was actually an article that was written a few months ago in the Riverwest Currents where Andy learned about WWBIC. He is also accessing funding to purchase equipment for his business through a low-interest loan offered by WWBIC. He plans to buy a truck and tractor that will allow him to take on a variety of projects.
Andy says excitedly, “The truck will have a winch, so if anyone needs to get towed we could pull the vehicle right on the truck.”
Additionally, the truck could haul equipment and the tractor could help with both landscaping and farming. Over time, others who may join him in his co-op can find use for the equipment in their own business efforts. He envisions other shared resources in this cooperative organization, like a garage to store equipment and access to a shared administrative structure.
Those who frequent the Riverwest Farmers Market might recognize Andy. He was one of the meat merchants during the summer of 2013. After his time caring for goats and livestock at the Growing Power site on 55th and Silver Spring, Andy transferred his experience and interest raising livestock to a farm in Northern Illinois that had a couple hundred goats and lambs.
With his usual knack for identifying new opportunities, Andy developed a plan to sell the meat from Mint Creek Farm at the Riverwest and East Side farmers markets. Though there were already ample vegetable growers supplying the markets from considerably closer distances, he saw a real opportunity for selling meat.
In the process he says he discovered “how much work it takes to make a food system work.” He was concerned about the legal barriers he discovered that await anyone seeking to sell at farmers markets. One challenge he cites is that vendors at farmers markets are not allowed to offer free samples.
Generally speaking, he felt that the cost of being able to sell at the farmers market, would keep too many people away. This experience also influenced his current efforts to build a co-op that will help to reduce the barriers for people to make their own contracting businesses happen.
Another project Andy is working on is orchard maintenance with All Peoples Church. He will be working with neighborhood youth to take care of the fruit trees. He sees this as an opportunity to pass on skills he has learned about tree maintenance. All Peoples will be partnering with the City of Milwaukee’s HOME GR/OWN Program. The church has plans to install a commercial kitchen. Once the orchard is in production Andy sees a lot of potential with People’s Church, between the commercial kitchen and their existing garden.
Ultimately Andy seeks to create projects that can take on a life of their own and allow him to move on to the next chapter in his life. Over the long term he hopes to get back to farming using permaculture practices.