Urban farmers in Fresno find their niche

FRESNO, Calif.

Armed with tasty tomatoes, Nolan Schmidt came full circle. He delivered produce to the kitchen of Roger Rocka's, where he used to cook 13 years ago.

Schmidt, 55, grows varieties of tomatoes for local restaurants and a farmer's market. Schmidt is an urban farmer who grows out of his central Fresno backyard.

Sunflowers attract bees and beneficial bugs to his organic farm. He said, "Nobody's really trying to do it within the city limits, which is something that kind of makes us different. We're trying to reclaim lost land."

A year ago Schmidt launched Tower Urban Family Farms with the help of his brothers and a few friends. They grow out of four backyards to meet commercial demand.

Lela's restaurant in Northwest Fresno buys all of its produce from Schmidt. Executive Chef Manny Carr said now more than ever consumers want to know where their food comes from. Carr said, "I think it's really important not only because we're two local businesses but because the quality of produce that you get reflects in the dishes you create."

Carr was excited by the variety Nolan provides, including flying saucer squash. Schmidt also grows arugula, kale and herbs.

Schmidt wondered why the Urban Farm Movement hasn't caught on in an area known for its fertile land. "For the longest time people's backyard really it's just wasted potential revenue. People could be putting in large gardens and if enough people are connected together, instead of paying your water bill every month your garden could be paying your water bill."

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