Farmer Interview – Jameson Hubbard, Dirt Beast Farm

Posted on November 21, 2023 by Alicia Alferman

Jameson Hubbard started Dirt Beast Farm in the Ivanhoe neighborhood in 2018 after moving back home from Seattle to primarily be closer to family. His longtime passion for working outdoors was the motivating factor for starting the farm, and he’s put in long hours since then to truly feel at home in his profession.  Jameson sells the farm’s produce at Overland Park Farmers Market, through a CSA subscription program, and through an online store. It’s not too late to purchase a Holiday CSA Share!

As we continue to spotlight the challenges and victories of local farmers, Courtney Hattaway, Cultivate KC’s Community Engagement Specialist, recently interviewed Jameson.

How many acres do you farm?  
 1.5 acre, but only ¾ acre is farmed and “farmable.” 

Do you own a farm or lease it from someone else? 
Own.  I moved back to Kansas City after 10 years living in Seattle mostly to be closer to family but also to purchase more affordable urban or peri-urban land for farming. I was roughly familiar with the area before purchasing, but the primary reason I chose these lots was after researching available lots through Land Bank, this was one of the few contiguous clusters of vacant lots, and they were next to a fixer-upper house that I could purchase (not through Land Bank) with what little savings I had.

This was a pragmatic decision based on costs, as even then I knew how expensive starting a farm can be, as well as how many added costs there are when growing produce in the city.  There wasn’t any sort of historical, familial, or emotional attachment to the Ivanhoe neighborhood in particular, but the existing urban farming community of the Woodland Greenway was appealing. 

Tell us about the advantages and challenges involved in farming on these different lots.
My farm is split between two clusters – one cluster of 4 lots directly next to my house, and one cluster of 12 lots across the street and one block to the South.  

Walking Time: I would not have purchased two clusters of lots if they were not within easy walking distance of one another, as that would require a lot more travel time between them. We still do a lot of walking between the two farm sites, even with them being so close, and it’s a big drain on productivity.  Maybe it’s because they are so close; we aren’t holding ourselves as accountable as we should. It’s easier to justify making one more trip for that one forgotten tool instead of working with what we brought over. 

Security: We have had a lot of thefts on the farm.  Having a farm split between multiple sites makes it much more difficult to make sure things don’t “walk off” the farm.  Either everything needs to be returned to the site with the highest amount of surveillance/human-presence, or secure storage structures need to be built on each site, with the addition of security cameras (and wi-fi) at each site. Even when things are locked up, people have come through with pry-bars and pry off locks, break in windows, or just steal tools we had absentmindedly left in the field overnight. But consolidating farm sites doesn’t make things 100% secure – recently someone pried open the locked door of a storage structures and walked off with our wheelbarrow loaded with solar panel hardware.  I caught that on our security cameras, but my phone’s alert tone was not loud enough to wake me up at 2am.

What made you decide to become a farmer?  
I have always at least had a large garden to work in since I was in high school (I grew a row of corn in my parents front yard one year). I’ve managed rural homesteads, worked on urban and rural farms/nurseries, and volunteered with Seattle Tilth at their equivalent of New Roots. I decided to make the jump into purchasing land and making this my full time job after my last few years in Seattle. I was working long, lonely hours in my art studio making woodblock prints and fine art frames for other artists. It wasn’t good for my mental health, and if I was going to be working alone for so many hours in a day, I felt that the better option would be farming. It was. 

Ultimately though, I just wanted to be working outside, with nature. I wanted to work in an industry that satisfied my creative drive, and that industry couldn’t be a destructive force in our world that is full of human made destructive forces. 

How long have you been a farmer?  
Even though I started building out this farm 5 or 6 years ago, I wouldn’t consider myself a farmer until 2020.  That’s when I started to grasp the economic realities of farming. 

How do you decide which crops to grow?  
According to what people in my neighborhood and in my CSA program request, as well as what sells well at the highest profit margin at the Overland Park Farmers Market. We have quit farming lower-return crops such as winter squash, most summer squash, potatoes and sweet potatoes, tomatillos, etc., and have scaled back our garlic even though it’s a highly requested item. The list of nonprofitable crops is much longer than that, but that’s just what’s coming to mind now. 

What is your favorite food to grow and eat?  
Personally, my favorite food to grow and eat myself would be peppers of all types. There are so many different varieties with different origins and cultural significance. Researching the history, uses, and recipes is a lot of fun.  They’re a little more manageable than tomatoes, so they’re easier to grow. 

From a “farmers perspective” carrots are on the top of the list. It’s rewarding to put the amount of work into the soil that is required for long thick carrots, and it’s satisfying to pull those long thick carrots with high sugar content out of the ground. They’re my favorite to eat when they’re baby carrots, after thinning a bed – the greens are especially good at this stage. Also everyone- kid and adult- really likes them at the farmers market, and I sell out within an hour or two no matter how many bunches I bring. Per square foot, they’re one of our more profitable crops if we prepare the beds correctly to avoid too much weeding time. 

Have you had difficulty gaining access to farmland?
I have had difficulty in acquiring additional farmland after my initial purchase. I got lucky with the Land Bank purchase of my two clusters of lots, but leadership changed at the Land Bank not too long after that purchase. They have been hard to convince to sell more land for the purposes of small-scale agriculture (or even homes to individuals to fix up themselves). Also, land prices here have gone up significantly. In my neighborhood, I used to be able to purchase vacant lots from individuals for between $1500-$2500, now the prices are closer to $10,000, which for a 28’x130’ lot. Recouping that purchase price, soil investment, and any other immediate improvements through growing vegetables would not be feasible, especially after considering the ever-increasing property taxes. 

Other than land access, what significant challenges do you face as an urban farmer?  
Mostly theft, which I’ve already talked about. Other challenges are probably the same that other urban farmers face: expensive water bills (no agricultural water rates), unpredictably high increases to property tax (a 2000% increase two years ago, another 200% increase this year, even after appeal), high insurance rates due to crime and theft, and of course meeting the budgets of lower income neighbors with a product that is relatively expensive to produce in an urban setting compared to rural/industrially grown. Making an income myself has not been possible, but I hope to be able to pay myself next year and wipe out my credit card debt. 

What’s a recent accomplishment that you’re proud of?  
We trialed a sliding scale CSA this year, and it was a success for its first year.  We had 18 members, ⅓ of those members had subsidized share prices of between $15-$20 per share made possible by members with higher incomes paying a higher share price of $30-$35. That was a major success, and we hope to continue this model next year, with a few tweaks. 

What are your plans for the future of your farm?   
I would actually like to try to NOT rely on grants for improvements to our farm, but we will see – if there are community-oriented projects that justify grant funding, I might reconsider. Over the past 5 or 6 years, I have been fortunate enough to acquire grants for most of our large improvements such as building the wash station and coolers, sheds, high tunnels, etc.

The benefits of urban farming lie in the farm’s proximity to its customer base and neighbors. I hope for our farm to be a kind of “third place” one day for our communities, where people can meet, eat, and exercise. We have been hosting pizza nights on our farm, and I would like to vastly improve the quality, ambiance, and regularity of those events. I am building an outdoor kitchen and will be installing more comfortable seating so that people can eat surrounded by crops and wildlife. I also hope to one day offer yoga classes in one of our high tunnels, so that people can come to the farm and exercise-in-community while surrounded by the herbs and tomatoes. Another service I plan to offer from our farm is increasing access to information by creating YouTube instructional videos. 

Lastly, we are also working on installing native bird and wildlife habitat on the half of our property that is too marginal to farm- the very steep and overgrown hillside. Because most of the residential improvements in our neighborshood are made by large out-of-state corporations, many trees have been removed and replaced with grass, leaving very little habitat for butterflies, birds, and other animals. We believe that our work on maintaining a healthy wildlife habitat is working as we have witnessed blue tailed skinks making a home on our farm.  This ecological restoration is extremely important as we are witnessing the effects of climate change and habitat disruption getting worse year after year. 

What do you love most about farming?  
I like everything about farming, aside from paying the water bill and the perennial theft, but I love the challenge. I knew farming was not going to be easy, but finding solutions to problems, and dialing in systems, while getting to do it outdoors has been very rewarding. I don’t think there is another industry where you are problem-solving as much as farming. Generally, the stakes are pretty low, so it’s not like building a high-rise apartment building in a short window (that sounds like a lot of problems to solve), but every day there are tens of tiny little problems- and sometimes huge problems- to solve. 

Have you ever faced a time in your career when you thought about giving up farming? What kept you going?  
Yes and no.  The past two years have been very hard financially, and I have thought about selling the farm out of desperation. But it was “easy” to decide not to when I took a field walk and was able to put on my problem-solving hat and formulate a plan. For me, being on the farm is inspiring, especially a farm that I’ve transitioned from overgrown Bermuda grass, compacted clay, and heaps of garbage into productive and healthy soil and efficient infrastructure and systems. 

If you had to choose one thing for the general public to know about farming, what would it be?  
When you buy from a small-scale local farmer, you are not only purchasing a product, but also a method of production that works with butterflies, bees, birds, worms, healthy bacteria, and fungi, not against them. The money that comes out of your pocket for that head of broccoli doesn’t go to fund another yacht for Jeff Bezos. The revenue generated by your purchase doesn’t fund exploitive labor practices, and almost all of it goes right back into the communities that you live in. If you see a price for a vegetable from a local farmer that you consider too high when you compare it to what you’re used to paying for that same vegetable at Sunfresh, Aldi, or Sam’s Club, you are not comparing the same thing because those two things were produced using methods universes apart.

While Jameson experienced initial success obtaining land for farming, he’s also been faced with hardships in maintaining and expanding his growing business since then due to inflation, substantial tax increases and lack of governmental awareness and support for urban farmers. Regardless of these setbacks, there have been improvements to celebrate, including installation of a solar powered water catchment system on his high tunnel through the KC Grow Grant and participation in a SCBG Sweet Potato Soil Improvement Project in 2022. Earlier this year, he was awarded a Cultivate KC Get Farming Mini Grant for improved market access and produce distribution.

Creativity, a climate-forward approach, and care for community all lend an equal hand in Jameson’s vision for the future, and Cultivate KC is here for it.