Hugs Urban Farm Will Turn Your Backyard Into a Growth Business

Michelle and Nate Dodson with daughter, Josephene, in their backyard garden plot on Bloomington’s northwest side. Photo by Darryl Smith

Michelle and Nate Dodson with daughter, Josephene, in their backyard garden plot on Bloomington’s northwest side. Photo by Darryl Smith

BY JULIE GRAY

Nate Dodson, 32, who founded Hugs Urban Farm with his wife, Michelle, 30, admits he can’t remember how they came up with the name. But he says they’ve now decided it stands for Hodgepodge Urban Gardens. “Hodgepodge” is an apt moniker, not only because they grow a mix of vegetables, flowers, and microgreens, but also because they plan to grow them on plots scattered around town. Dodson envisions providing Bloomington chefs with fresh produce grown using natural gardening methods and delivered by bicycle.

He sees a burgeoning market opportunity for urban farmers. “I think the trend is going more toward local farmers who can provide stuff that has a longer shelf life,” Dodson says. There may be support in the legislature, too. A bill requiring the Indiana State Department of Agriculture to develop and promote urban farming is currently making its way through the Indiana General Assembly.

For his first season, Dodson has focused more on growing a business plan than crops. He currently has three plots, all on Bloomington’s northwest side. One is in his own backyard, near Mills Pool, another is near Valhalla Memory Gardens & Crematorium, and a third is on North Adams Street. This summer, he sold produce to Upland Brewing Co.’s Bloomington Brew Pub and mobile pizza maker King Dough. He also interviewed area chefs for market research. “Everyone was extremely interested in buying local,” he reports. “It’s kind of a cool story that chefs can tell their customers: ‘This was grown six blocks away, and it came in this morning.’”

Dodson won’t own most of the land he farms. Instead he’ll barter with homeowners, offering them produce in exchange for working their land. After he advertised for plots on Craigslist, more than two dozen people replied. The appeal is clear, Dodson says: “I can take a big patch of their yard, they don’t have to mow it, and they can get some vegetables.”

Dodson, who majored in environmental management at Indiana University, also works part time on ecological restoration projects and sells his arts and crafts on Etsy. But agriculture was always in the cards for him, he says. Not only did he grow up on a hobby farm in northern Indiana, but he also met his wife, a dietician, at a class on edible plants while both were IU students. Details about their blossoming business can be found at hugsfarm.com.

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