Hi everyone, Spiffy here, your one and only interplanetary journalist reporting from Planet Earth. I’m thrilled to be talking to an entrepreneur working to make the world a healthier and more equitable place. Jamie Bruno, is the co-founder and program director of Urban Agriculture Cooperative. Are you ready to be enlightened?
Spiffy: Welcome, Jamie! I’m very excited to talk to you today! Can you start by telling me what challenge you’re addressing?
Jamie: Well, Spiffy, did you know that in the USA, food travels nearly 1,500 miles before it gets to your plate! It's estimated that 30-40% of it becomes garbage, and being in landfills contributes to the rise of greenhouse gas emissions! At the same time, there’s significant food insecurity. Nearly one-fourth of Americans have experienced food insecurity since the pandemic. Food relief programs provide quick help, but don’t target the cause, which is poverty. Urban Agriculture Cooperative aims to make an impact in food system inefficiencies and poverty by reducing inequality across the supply chain and by prioritizing local food purchasing and skills development.
Spiffy: What motivated you to make an impact on the food system?
Jamie: Well Spiffy, what attracted me to this sector initially was the empowerment I felt growing my own food after I graduated from college in 2008. I had observed there was a lot of waste in my university's cafeteria and a lot of poverty and food insecurity down the street from the campus. How could there be such excess and scarcity in one small city? It got me thinking more deeply about sustenance, economic development, and inequality. I wound up backpacking across the United States, visiting small farms and farming communes in 2011. When I moved to Newark in 2012, there was a vibrant agriculture community that inspired me.
Spiffy: How does Urban Agriculture Cooperative help to create a more equitable world?
Jamie: Our work is informed by an asset-based, community-development mindset. The food system—especially the agriculture sector—suffers from a severe lack of diversity. We aim to fix this by designing food hubs that prioritize purchasing from local and BIPOC suppliers. We’ve worked hard to accept all forms of payment at our markets, including government assistance dollars like SNAP. This approach allows people at all income levels to give back to their communities. We also manage a training reimbursement fund for food and agriculture practitioners. And we help develop safe pathways to community composting.
Urban Agriculture Cooperative staff boxing food for their Farm to Families food access program. (Image courtesy of Jamie Bruno)
Spiffy: I’m curious if you’ve achieved any milestones recently?
Jamie: Urban Agriculture Cooperative was awarded a big cooperative grant for our ‘Northern New Jersey Small Farm Food Link Conservation Project.’ Through this, Urban Agriculture Cooperative and the USDA National Resource Conservation Service will deliver hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of technical and financial assistance to new and historically underserved urban farmers in northern New Jersey over a five year period.
Spiffy: Have you ever experienced failure, Jamie? What did you learn?
Jamie: Well, Spiffy, Urban Agriculture Cooperative had many iterations over the years. My first business was called P3 Organic Exchange and I had to dissolve it in 2016 around the same time that a local food initiative I was involved in also fell apart! Though a project may fail, the most important part of the journey is learning, communicating, and maintaining your relationships. You might have to take a pause, a meditation, a deep reflection—but don't stop! Grit will get you through the humps.
Spiffy: That’s great advice, Jamie, and I’m glad you didn’t give up either. Thank you for telling me about the impact you’re making through Urban Agriculture Cooperative. It’s been an absolute honor.
Artist, data analyst, and creator—Jamie Bruno began food system work after an impactful cross country backpacking trip visiting intentional communities and eco-farms in 2011. Originally from New Jersey, she moved from South Korea to Newark in 2012 and served as a Foodcorps Service Member there in 2014. In 2017, Jamie co-founded Urban Agriculture Cooperative with the desire to support heightened sustainability and resilience for small lot agricultural practitioners. (Nominated by Impact Hub New York. First published on the Ladderworks website on May 21, 2021.)
© 2021 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Jill Landis Jha. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. Follow Spiffy’s interviews of founders building a more equitable world here.