How an urban farm in midtown could spark a revitalization on 13th Street

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An up-and-coming business venture in midtown is bringing a new word to the vocabulary of Columbus residents and visitors with an urban farm operating under the name “Bromatoes.”

Yes, that is the words “bro” and “tomatoes” mushed together to form a memorable one word salute to the plants Crawford Land is growing inside a former wholesale florist shop at 1231 Midway Drive, adjacent to Bloomers at Midtown.

Land is an insurance agent and rented the space, tucked away behind overgrown vegetation at the corner of 13 Street and 13th Avenue, as an office last fall. Two weeks ago he purchased the property, where he has slowly been building a small urban farm, utilizing the remaining infrastructure of the former greenhouse and a lot of ingenuity.

The building was most recently the short-lived home of a private rock and roll club, The Estate, and a Nirvana logo is painted on the wall above the entrance to where Crawford, 35, works most of his magic.

Fresh from the vine

Heirloom tomatoes take up one room sealed with a thick walk-in refrigerator door. The stalks are long and tangled. Land pointed out a small yellow tomato, either a Hillbilly or a Mr. Stripey, he said.

Wheatgrass and micro greens are the next room over — he grows the wheatgrass for Ride on Smoothie & Juice Bar.

“You sell it chopped and then they juice it,” Land said. “You take a shot of the juice, and it’s a crap ton of antioxidants — great for your body.”

Arugula, kale and alfalfa will be ready to harvest in about a week and will stand only a few inches tall.

The Columbus local is also already selling his greens to local restaurants Wicked Hen and Bare Roots. He hopes to expand to be able to provide produce for any business that wants it.

“I’m just an insurance agent with hopes and dreams,” Land said. “But hopefully within three months I’ll have FDA approval and be able to do wholesales.”

With that seal of approval, he’ll be able to sell his produce across state lines.

“The idea is to fill this building up, I’m growing what I have demand for right now,” Land said.

And he plans on doing all of this straight from the heart of midtown.

“Urban farming is farming in the city,” Land said. “It’s that simple.”

Bromatoes microgreens
Crawford Land, founder of local urban farm Bromatoes, cuts and bags microgreens to be taken to a midtown restaurant, Wicked Hen, on May 1, 2019. Allie Dean

Farm to table

On Wednesday, Land cut six ounces of microgreens off their stems. He weighed and placed the small green plants in two Ziploc bags and drove them over to the Wicked Hen on 13th Street, where owner Bryant Walker was waiting.

The greens went straight to the kitchen, where they would be used that night to embellish dishes for a five-course Italian Wicked Wine Dinner.

After the transaction, Walker said the choice to purchase greens from Land hasn’t required much thought.

“It’s a no-brainer, man. First of all, we always try to buy a bunch of stuff local anyways, so midtown is about as close as it gets,” Walker said. “Obviously we’re going to try to support each other.”

The two have known each other since grade school, and Walker said he was surprised when Land came to him with the concept. But he’s since jumped on board.

“Lately, we’ve been talking about the things I want him to grow for me, and now he’s going to start growing more of the things I always need to have,” Walker said. “Eventually hopefully, when he’s got it rocking, he will be able to bring a whole wheelbarrow over.”

Walker said eventually he’d like to get it where Land doesn’t even have to ask what he needs, and will just look and see what’s low, refill it, and invoice Walker at the end of the month.

“That’s basically the goal,” Walker said. “And I won’t have to buy so much in bulk, and it will go bad before I even use it all. So now if he’s that close and he’s growing most of my produce for me, we get to keep a much closer eye on it and a lot less waste for sure.”

Crawford Land Bromatoes
Crawford Land recently purchased property at 1231 Midway Drive in midtown and is starting up an urban farm, selling fresh produce to local restaurants. Allie Dean

An exciting project for midtown

From his office 15 minutes away, Julio Portillo, executive director of MidTown Inc., says Land’s project is exciting for a couple of reasons.

For one, the business idea is unique and familiar for a generation of producers and consumers fixated on local, fresh and ethical food production.

Portillo said Bromatoes will be the first urban farming wholesale business in the midtown area, where part of his office’s work lies in encouraging the community to unite for a common purpose.

“In midtown we try to encourage a lot of neighborhoods where there is abandoned properties or spaces they can use, is this idea of community gardens and community farming,” Portillo said. “We know schools like Carver High School started a community garden themselves, so it’s something that is a current topic and idea and it seems to be able to bring a lot of the community together.”

MidTown has also embraced Bromatoes’ presence, hosting its second annual community cleanup event at Land’s site.

“Our board of directors decided it would be a really cool thing if we could host it at his site and help him clean up not only his site, but we cleaned about 12 blocks around Bromatoes,” Portillo said.

Around 50 volunteers showed up and collected trash, including couches, mattresses and TVs.

Plans for 13th Street

What really sparked MidTown’s interest in the project was its location, according to Portillo. A young entrepreneur purchasing and repurposing a dilapidated structure in a blighted neighborhood is something he sees as a sign of positive change.

The Bromatoes location is also located a minute’s walk from 13th Street, a stretch of road that is preparing for a big makeover.

A few years ago MidTown Inc. proposed and endorsed realigning the travel lanes on 13th Street, which was solidified by a vote of Columbus Council in February of last year. The city has asked the Georgia Department of Transportation to reduce the number of main travel lanes on the portion of 13th Street from Fifth Avenue to 13th Avenue from four to two to help revitalize the area.

The road is one of the main connectors between midtown and uptown, Portillo said.

The current configuration of 13th Street from Fifth Avenue to 10th Avenue is seven lanes (six travel lanes and one center turn lane) and from 10th Avenue to 13th Avenue is five lanes (four travel lanes and one center turn lane).

With the project, each outside lane would be transformed into on-street parking, and the center lane would be used for medians and turning lanes. On the bridge across the train tracks, the outermost lanes would be blocked off from traffic and re-striping would turn some travel lanes into turn-only lanes.

Portillo said the work will be key to revitalizing the area both commercially and through increased pedestrian access, making it more like the strip of 13th Street between 13th Avenue and Cherokee Avenue.

“It just has a different feel to it. There’s bicycle lanes, crosswalks, there are HAWK beacons, wider sidewalks, the sidewalks are buffered by trees, so it just gives you a sense where you feel comfortable and safe and it’s inviting for you to walk,” Portillo said. “We’re hoping that this project is going to have the same impact in redeveloping 13th Street.”

Thirteenth Street is part of Spur 22, a state route maintained by the Georgia Department of Transportation. The re-striping will be done at no cost to the city as part of a GDOT resurfacing project on Spur 22 from I-185 to Veterans Parkway.

Penny Brooks, District 3 Communications Officer for GDOT, said the resurfacing project has been delayed due to city work that was already underway on Spur 22, which was unrelated to the project. She said GDOT is currently working on reconfiguring the project budget and finalizing the design.

Brooks said she believes work will start this summer, but the part of the project that does not involve Spur 22 could start earlier.

Dragonfly connection

Along with the roads project, Land is looking forward to when the Dragonfly Trail connects to the 13th Street area, especially with the recent completion of the MLK Boulevard portion.

The Dragonfly Trail is a planned 70-mile greenway around Columbus that connects sidewalks for pedestrians and bikers to use.

Land anticipates increased foot traffic and connectivity in midtown will be beneficial for the businesses he provides produce for, which will in turn be beneficial to him.

Land said although it will take time for the trail to be connected and create positive change in the area, he’s excited for the future, bro.