Know Your Local Farmer | Micah Helle

Square Roots | 06.24.19

Our Next-Gen Farmers operate next-level technology, grow delicious food, and do it all in the middle of cities. We think that’s pretty cool. So every few weeks we spotlight their perspectives on food, farming, and how the industry is changing for the better. Go ahead, get to know your local farmer. →

Square Roots Next-Gen Farmer Micah Helle

Has farming always been a part of your life, and if not, what led you to this career?

Yes and no. I grew up in an “agrihood,” a mixed-use development focused on the intersections of agriculture, environmental stewardship, and community, called Prairie Crossing in Illinois. We had a 100-acre farm in our backyard; and my family volunteered on it. While my childhood was surrounded by agriculture, it wasn't until college that I seriously considered making a career in the field. My first job was at the Liberty Prairie Foundation, a food non-profit. There I helped harvest, train volunteers, and redistribute thousands of pounds of fresh produce to food deserts in North Chicago. I felt so fulfilled helping to connect people with local and nutritionally dense food in food insecure regions.

As college graduation neared I knew I wanted to work in agriculture in some respect and signed up for work as a farm hand. I worked a season on a 40-acre vegetable operation. On sunny beautiful days there wasn’t a better job out there, but weather and small paychecks with few benefits made me question if I could survive in agriculture. I wanted to find a way to make sustainable agriculture sustainable for the people and that's when I came across and applied for the Next-Gen Farmer Training Program at Square Roots.

How has becoming a farmer impacted your point of view?

Growing up, I had this antiquated picture of what farmers were supposed to look like. As I started to learn more about my own identity, I saw even less queer farmers in my circle. Coming to New York has completely changed my idea of what a farmer can look like. There is such a diverse community of us in the city and it's such an exciting time to be in this industry.

The tech is new. There are new faces every year and we are just starting to scratch the surface on what indoor agriculture can do for the people and the planet. We are part of the revolution!

Other than broadening my own definition of a farmer, I think I have a lot more respect for family farms and produce at the weekend farmer's markets. I have more respect for the process and the sacrifice of getting local food to the table.

In 10 words or less, what are your hopes for a better food system?

Take care of the farmer. The rest will come.

Next-Gen Farmer Micah Helle with basil seedlings.

Favorite local restaurant?

Sofreh, Persian Food in Brooklyn.

Go-to show?

Black Mirror on Netflix.

Best thing to do in NYC on the weekend?

Food! I love trying all the diverse food options in the city. I've been meaning to explore Queens more especially the night market they have every summer!

You can follow along with Micah Helle on Instagram @herb.m.grower and learn more about our Next-Gen Farmer Training Program on the Square Roots website.

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