Flint, MI—Luke and Anna March live at the top of a hill in the center of Wolcott Street, nearby Atwood Stadium and Kettering University—Luke’s alma mater.
Because of the hill, the couple has a steep, brown staircase up to a wide front porch that’s perfect for lazy summer days. But neither porch nor staircase are what passersby notice first about the couple’s home.
Instead, it’s the urban farm next door.
“We started here with just this little mound against the retaining wall back in 2017,” Luke said, pointing toward a patch of dirt near the south-facing side of the house. “Then each year since then we’ve added more and expanded.”
The Marches launched a Kickstarter campaign on Feb. 11, 2022 in the hopes of developing their expanding garden—which occupies nearly two parcels they are leasing from Kettering—into a business called Grace Fields Farm.
The farm would use regenerative methods, “which means instead of just focusing on sustainability where things stay the same, we’re focusing on improvement,” Luke says in the campaign video. “We want to see the ecology continue to flourish and improve—the soil to improve—as we keep farming this land.”
The urban farm would also operate as a market garden, selling direct to consumers instead of going through distributors.
Back on the farm, Luke continued his brief tour of the beds.
“Up here we have perennial stuff,” he said, walking down a path of wood chips. “Those two sticks are pear trees. This is a peach tree. These are berry bushes—aronia berries and white currants.”
Luke has a background in engineering but currently works at a small business that helps people on disability find employment. Anna is finishing her education degree at the University of Michigan-Flint and had just got home from student teaching. Wood chips crunched softly beneath her boots as she and her husband walked along, naming plants and vegetables.
“These two beds have garlic in them,” Luke said, pointing to growing beds midway down the hill. “There’s a couple little shoots that are coming up already because you plant garlic in fall.”
He noted an area of new expansion that is covered in black tarps. The method kills grass without tilling—or agitating—the soil underneath, a process that can otherwise cause the loss of organic matter and make soil less productive over time.
Luke carried on, gesturing here and there while highlighting where tomatoes, green beans, cucumbers, and cabbages had grown back in the summer.
“Yeah, it looks quite different out here than it does in August,” Anna said, smiling before ushering her husband out of the February air and through the back door of the house.
Balancing ideals and business
When he talks about his farming method, it’s clear that Luke began his professional life in science.
“At the core of regenerative agriculture you’re looking at working with nature in a way to improve the ecology and improve the soil over time,” Luke said. “So that’s why (we do) the no-till, the wood chips, the use of compost.”
The wood chip paths through the farm will actually break down overtime, he said, adding further nutrients to the soil below.
When asked where his farming knowledge came from, Luke excitedly passed over a textbook, “Regenerative Agriculture” by Richard Perkins, which seemingly lives on the couple’s coffee table for regular reference.
“Last summer, I actually got to take this online masterclass with this guy in Sweden,” he said, his index finger on Perkins’ name.
Luke received a scholarship to participate in the masterclass after posting his rationale for wanting to take the course on his Facebook page.
His reasons included wanting to ensure Flint has access to fresh, healthy food; provide employment and training opportunities for others interested in urban farming; and viewing it as a way to restore “a measure of wholeness to our lives, and to our city.”
Luke said he was grateful to have won the scholarship, which helped him learn not only about the ways he and his wife could improve the ecology of the once-vacant parcels next door, but also how to make that improvement into a functional business.
“When you get into more … of the permaculture or ecological side of things, sometimes people let that idealism run the show, and then it doesn’t work as a business,” Luke said. “I really appreciate this guy because he balances those things well.”
A kick at the start
Luke and Anna’s Kickstarter campaign was fully funded within its first week, which seemed like a promising show of support for Grace Fields Farm’s ideals and business model.
The couple said the immediate backing was both wonderful and unbelievable—almost too unbelievable.
Because Kickstarter operates as an all-or-nothing funding platform (meaning that unless a project is fully-funded by the campaign end date, it receives none of its pledged funding) all pledges are vital to a project’s potential success.
So when an anonymous $6,000 pledge came through, Luke felt he had to make sure it was real and emailed Kickstarter’s support team.
On Feb. 23, the support team told the couple that the generous pledge was from a scammer, and Luke and Anna’s 108% funded campaign dropped back down to around 40% of its requested total in one day.
“Yeah, that was disappointing, but not entirely unexpected,” Luke said in an emailed request for comment. He said that calling out a fake pledge wasn’t important to him and Anna, and instead devoted the rest of the email to elaborating on what he felt was: the ‘wholeness’ aspect of regenerative farming.
“At the base of it all, I think ‘Wholeness’ is probably the best word to use,” he wrote. “The concept of regeneration and regenerative practices are a means towards wholeness…Everyone can take real and concrete steps towards wholeness. That’s what we want to embody through Grace Fields Farm, and that’s what we want to invite our neighbors in Flint to participate in.”
Why Farming, and Why Flint?
When asked why they decided to stay in Flint to develop a regenerative urban farm instead of moving to a nearby rural area, Luke spoke of the entrepreneurial spirit of the city.
“I met a lot of people who are very committed to Flint,” Luke said. “They want to see Flint improve. They want to build their lives here and be part of making it better. That was inspiring to me.”
For Anna, she’d seen how Grace Fields Farm had already begun to connect her and Luke to the city, and she is looking forward to fostering that connection further with an expansion.
“I’m most excited how this is really going to bring us together and bring us more into the community,” she said. “Even just how different conversations we’ve had with our neighbors (have felt), that’s exciting to see. … And just being able to share food and give people joy.”
The couple smiled at one another as the afternoon light faded through their front window on Wolcott Street’s hilltop.
“(We) could do this out in the middle of nowhere,” Luke said. “But that’s not going to really help people in the same way. You know?”