How Two Urban Farmers Got Their Start Leveraging Backyard Space
By Lindsay Campbell
In 2015, Madeleine Maltby began knocking on neighborhood doors in Canada's capital city, Ottawa, with a simple proposal. In exchange for a backyard, the residents would let her grow a garden full of crops with a percentage they could enjoy.
"It was kind of like let's see where this goes and I just really wanted to grow some vegetables," she said.
The approach allowed her to acquire four separate yards in the Ottawa area.
"I would talk to the homeowners about what the parameters would be and I always asked them what their favorite vegetables are and what would work," she said.
By her side was Matthew Mason-Phillips, her partner, who she says helped her turn over her first urban garden. A year after the initial door knocking in 2016, Mason-Phillips decided he would formally join Maltby in her quest to grow food in Canada's capital city. "It felt natural to dive in," said Mason-Phillips, "especially being a naively optimistic, idealist."
Within four years the project evolved into Backyard Edibles, a popular local supplier of vegetables, microgreens and edible flowers.
The pair doubled their backyard donors from their first year, and had 20-25 members from the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), a Canadian program that allows consumers to buy a share of grown goods from farms of their choice.
"The amount of support and demand for what we were doing in the beginning was overwhelming," said Mason-Phillips. "People were offering up their balconies, the space in their flower gardens … They were offering space from Montreal to Kingston, so that was pretty cool."
While their business took off, attracting a strong consumer base with an appetite to eat local, Maltby and Mason-Phillips had to think about how they might make a profit during the cold Canadian winters.
"The off-season was the elephant in the room," said Mason-Phillips.
After some brainstorming and experimenting with plant varieties, the two rented a warehouse in the city's downtown core where they started to grow microgreens in 2017. "It allows us to become a year-round business and to have a year-round income." said Maltby. The operation has become the backbone of their business with more than 50 local restaurants sourcing their microgreens.
Although the pair has had to scale back their number of yard donors in order to stay on top of their microgreens venture, they've still managed to maintain a piece of their original vision.
One borrowed yard full of edible flowers remains in use where its contents are sold to loyal customers. With about four years of operations behind them, Maltby said it's often difficult for her to take in what her and Mason-Phillips have been able to accomplish, but she's proud of what they've done so far.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Modern Farmer.
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By Aaron W Hunter
A chance discovery of a beautifully preserved fossil in the desert landscape of Morocco has solved one of the great mysteries of biology and paleontology: how starfish evolved their arms.
The Pompeii of palaeontology. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<h2></h2><p>Although starfish might appear very robust animals, they are typically made up of lots of hard parts attached by ligaments and soft tissue which, upon death, quickly degrade. This means we rely on places like the Fezouata formations to provide snapshots of their evolution.</p><p>The starfish fossil record is patchy, especially at the critical time when many of these animal groups first appeared. Sorting out how each of the various types of ancient starfish relate to each other is like putting a puzzle together when many of the parts are missing.</p><h2>The Oldest Starfish</h2><p><em><a href="https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/216101v1.full.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Cantabrigiaster</a></em> is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. It was discovered in 2003, but it has taken over 17 years to work out its true significance.</p><p>What makes <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> unique is that it lacks almost all the characteristics we find in brittle stars and starfish.</p><p>Starfish and brittle stars belong to the family Asterozoa. Their ancestors, the Somasteroids were especially fragile - before <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> we only had a handful of specimens. The celebrated Moroccan paleontologist Mohamed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2016.06.041" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Ben Moula</a> and his local team was instrumental in discovering <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031018216302334?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these amazing fossils</a> near the town of Zagora, in Morocco.</p><h2>The Breakthrough</h2><p>Our breakthrough moment came when I compared the arms of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> with those of modern sea lilles, filter feeders with long feathery arms that tend to be attached to the sea floor by a stem or stalk.</p><p>The striking similarity between these modern filter feeders and the ancient starfish led our team from the University of Cambridge and Harvard University to create a new analysis. We applied a biological model to the features of all the current early Asterozoa fossils in existence, along with a sample of their closest relatives.</p>
Cantabrigiaster is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<p>Our results demonstrate <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> is the most primitive of all the Asterozoa, and most likely evolved from ancient animals called crinoids that lived 250 million years before dinosaurs. The five arms of starfish are a relic left over from these ancestors. In the case of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em>, and its starfish descendants, it evolved by flipping upside-down so its arms are face down on the sediment to feed.</p><p>Although we sampled a relatively small numbers of those ancestors, one of the unexpected outcomes was it provided an idea of how they could be related to each other. Paleontologists studying echinoderms are often lost in detail as all the different groups are so radically different from each other, so it is hard to tell which evolved first.</p>
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