Entrepreneur Profile: Mill City Grows
Lydia Sisson and Francey Slater are starting a green revolution!
Their organization Mill City Grows is using food as a tool to connect the community of Lowell.
What is Mill City Grows?
Lydia: Mill City Grows is an organization in Lowell that fosters food justice through creating urban food production sites that engage the community. We have two main programs:
- Food Access Programs & Urban Community Farms–creates new food access points in the city including a new Mobile Market
- Food education program–growing food safely in an urban environment, teach garden coordination, and leadership skills
What inspired you to start it?
Francey: Lydia is a commercial farmer, so she has a lot of expertise with food production. I’m a teacher with a background in garden-based education. Through my experience, I really saw how food connects to people and connects people to each other. Looking at Lowell with a diversity of people who aren’t always connected to each other, it seemed like a great opportunity to bring people together.
What are some successes you have had so far?
- Transformed one garden (forty beds in total)
- Launched Gardener Training Program, a 10 month workshop series with over 150 attendees
- Distributed thousands of pounds of produce through the Lowell Farmer’s Market
- We are expanding to two more community gardens and one school garden (80 beds in total)
- Launched the Garden Coordinator Institute to train 23 new leaders in gardening and leadership skills
- Launched Urban Community Farm in May
Why did you decide to take part in the Sandbox Accelerator Program?
Lydia: We were at the point where we really wanted to put some real resources into this community farm model. We knew the accelerator program would provide that framework to help us go forward. We were ready to take the our organization to the next level and wanted to think critically about how to achieve our mission while creating a social enterprise and revenue source for our programs. We wanted to find a model that didn’t depend on grants to succeed, we wanted to find a way to work toward our mission and support it financially at the same time!
What did you get out of the program?
Lydia: It’s helped us get out of the program operations and be deadline oriented. Our mentor team is brilliant. They have helped us work through goals. The support network has helped—learning from our colleagues and presenters who come in and who talk about their experience as entrepreneurs. Lastly, the $5K capital that we were awardedwill be used to develop a year round growing system at our new Urban Community Farm, complete with a hoop house and low-tunnels as well as curriculum for our educational programs.
Can Mill City Grows be a model for other small urban cities across the country?
Francey: We are all for copycats! We have learned from others and now hope people will learn from us to create their own model. Food is a powerful tool that has the power to connect people. I hope in the long-term, people will see the value in what we are doing and decide to implement it in their own communities.