How a woman turned her backyard into an urban farm that sells to restaurants and hosts events

  • Joanna Bassi turned her backyard into an urban farm that sells produce to local LA restaurants. 
  • She booked nearly $7,000 in revenue in 2020, after creating new revenue streams.
  • Here’s how she built an urban farm from scratch and her advice for fellow farming entrepreneurs.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Joanna Bassi was working as a product assistant on the hit show “How to Get Away with Murder,” spending LA’s sunny days trapped inside, when she re-evaluated what she wanted in life. 

She desired more time outside and a way to support her community. Bassi didn’t have to look far; her unused backyard was 150 feet by 75 feet, enough space for an urban farm that could grow fresh produce for local establishments. 

The founder of Rose Hill Farm located in the Montecito Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles, had never been a serious farmer or gardener. “I literally just took the biggest risk knowing that I would love it,” she said. 

Bassi started from the ground up in January 2018, and by the following year, she netted nearly $6,000 in revenue from selling at farmers markets and local restaurants, according to documents viewed by Insider. 

In 2020, the pandemic temporarily closed Bassi’s restaurant clients and hurt business. She still managed to book nearly $7,000 by creating new revenue streams. 

Here’s how Bassi built an urban farm from scratch and her advice for fellow farming entrepreneurs, including how to diversify your income to survive the tough times. 

Start by defining your values and planning an irrigation system

Bassi started pulling weeds in January 2018, deciding early on that she didn’t want to use pesticides. She wanted to grow healthy food for the community, relying on nature’s ecosystem and beneficial insects to do some of the work. 

Clearing the land was an arduous process, even with the help of her father and boyfriend. She cut pathways between plots, which act as irrigation rivers when it rains, and installed retaining walls. 

In addition to the rivers, Bassi initially watered her crops by hand. That turned out to be unsustainable, she said. After learning more, she installed a drip system with timers that reduced her water bill in the long run and saved on labor. Instead of dousing a plant from above, the irrigation system periodically deposits a small amount of water directly onto the base of each plant. 

“I’ve learned that the most expensive cost owning a business is time,” Bassi said. “Anything that can minimize labor creates savings long term.”

Choose what to grow based on sunlight and water resources

For entrepreneurs interested in sprouting their own urban farm, Bassi suggests they analyze their land before choosing their crop. Consider how much light the plot gets, the water resources available, and the soil — those factors will dictate what you can grow. 

Bassi started by growing tomatoes, rationalizing that she was comfortable having grown them in smaller capacities before. She started with about 200 plants, turning the fruit into tomato sauces and sun dried snacks. 

As she experimented with urban farming, she learned that microgreens  — very young vegetable greens  — were a nutritious, desirable crop for many restaurants. She built a greenhouse, installed LED lights, and, once her product sprouted, she hawked them at local farmer’s markets. 

“Weigh the realities of whatever land you’re growing in,” Bassi said. “You have to be practical about what you want to take on and what you’re comfortable with.” 

Test the market on a smaller scale before diving into the restaurant scene 

Bassi started selling her microgreens at farmers’ markets in March 2019 as a way to test the waters, she said. She did that for six months, getting to know members of her community and treating the experience like advertising for her farm. While a customer might only buy a bundle of microgreens, Bassi saw their interaction as outreach and often invited the client to visit her farm. 

She also used farmers’ markets as an opportunity for market research, noting what the other sellers brought at the start of the day and what they had leftover at the end. Anyone interested in urban farming should consider a similar approach when exploring the market and finding your niche. 

After six months, she pivoted her focus to restaurants, which would buy in bulk and eliminate the need to work a farmers’ market stand. She cold-called establishments and brought them samples of her microgreens, eventually netting four clients, including Michelin-star-winner Orsa & Winston. 

Diversify revenue and find passive income streams

Bassi used the pandemic, and its negative effect on her business, to rethink her strategy and diversify her revenue streams. While she’s planning on continuing farming, she will also use the space for experiences like dining events and self-pick excursions. 

Bassi constructed an outdoor kitchen, is growing flowers that can be cut by customers, and is building an orchard. Several chefs have expressed interest in cooking at her farm and she just hosted a private, two-person party for Valentine’s Day. 

“I love the evolution of growing something from a seed, to having this little farm, to your plate,” Bassi said.

For entrepreneurial farmers hoping to diversify their revenue streams, Bassi suggests teaching online classes, offering tours, and finding other forms of passive income that support the business. 

To save money, seek free resources from the community 

Bassi spent about $22,000 when she initially established her farm. She had renters at the house, which also supplied a steady flow of income, and worked odd jobs as a production assistant when she needed extra cash. 

Additionally, she uses the free resources in her community to reduce costs — and recommends urban farming enthusiasts follow in her footsteps. For instance, she uses “zoo poo,” free compost material made from, you guessed it, animal poop from the LA Zoo. LA’s Griffith Park also gives away free mulch made from recycled Christmas trees, she added. 

“Doing is the best way of learning,” Bassi said. “You don’t know what type of questions to ask until you start getting into it.” 

 

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