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All Good in the ‘Agrihood’: Urban Roots owners tackle new ag venture in Arkansas

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The owners of Urban Roots Farm LLC have headed to the Natural State to become part of a new agriculture team organized by Green Circle Projects LLC.

Husband-and-wife Adam Millsap and Melissa Young-Millsap departed for Bentonville, Arkansas, in mid-December to develop Farm Team, a six-member group formed by Green Circle to help grow local food economies. The intent is to train and mentor future farmers to run urban farms at the Noble Hill landfill north of Springfield and at Red Barn, which Young-Millsap described as an “agrihood” – an agricultural neighborhood with townhouses and flats – currently under development in Bentonville.

“When Green Circle came to us with this opportunity, it was kind of a no-brainer,” she said.

The couple maintains ownership of their 8-year-old Urban Roots Farm in Springfield, 831 W. State St., and named Alyssa Hughes as its manager. Hughes has worked with the Millsaps since 2013, when she spent a year as an apprentice on the farm, a 1.7-acre West Central property that annually grows more than 110 vegetable varieties.

“I’ve learned a lot here and I was just looking for a next step as far as more responsibility, more of a decision-making role,” Hughes said. “So it worked out. But any major decisions I’m going to definitely consult with (the Millsaps).”

The operators said the change at Urban Roots was fortuitous timing, as winter is a slower period. It allowed the Millsaps time to move and get settled in Bentonville as they prepare to have Red Barn up and running in the spring.

“Everything, oddly enough, really fell into place,” Young-Millsap said. “So we’re really excited about that.”

But there was never a consideration of selling Urban Roots, she said.

“That was our initial passion project and we really want to see what will continue to develop there. We want to see what Urban Roots can continue to become,” she said. “Technically, it’s a pretty young farm.”

In 2017, the farm generated $70,000 in revenue, according to past Springfield Business Journal reporting. Young-Millsap expects more for 2018, but final revenue figures were not available by press time.

New challenge
Young-Millsap said building Urban Roots from scratch nearly a decade ago and training future farmers through their apprenticeship program – which has run 18-deep so far – was a version of some of the work they’ll pursue in creating an agrihood in Arkansas.

“Getting started as a new farmer in this day and age is very difficult,” she said. “There are not a lot of family farms being passed down.”

The Millsaps are tasked with designing and building an urban farm at Red Barn, Young-Millsap said, with the couple to ultimately train a permanent leader for the property. After their work at Red Barn is complete, they’ll likely transition to other Farm Team projects.

Green Circle Projects CEO Matt O’Reilly said the couple is joined in Bentonville by Mark Bray, a horticultural specialist, and Jonathan McArthur, former manager for a fruit and vegetable farm in Rogers, Arkansas, owned by the nonprofit Samaritan Community Center.

In Springfield, Mike and John Chiles, who are father and son, are leading the Noble Hill project, for which Green Circle and Farm Team submitted a proposal Nov. 30 to the city for its agricultural accelerator on more than 60 acres adjacent to the landfill. After a 90-day review, the city will choose whether to accept the proposal and then enter negotiations on costs and timelines.

O’Reilly declined to disclose the company’s investment in the two Farm Team projects or their budgets.

Red Barn, currently preleasing residential units for the spring, is expected to produce hundreds of pounds of produce per week, with the first harvest of vegetables expected for purchase in May. The development will have a greenhouse that stores thermal energy in the ground to temper conditions during warm and cool parts of the day.

Greener grasses
The Farm Team has been in the company’s plans since June 2017, O’Reilly said, noting the Millsaps’ talents and expertise extend well beyond the boundaries of their own farm.

“This operation gives families like Adam and Mel’s the ability to take this extremely rare and valuable skill set they’ve developed and leverage it to create new farms,” he said.

Like the Millsaps, O’Reilly now calls Bentonville home, having lived there full-time since mid-2017. Springfield-based Green Circle currently employs around 10 in Bentonville, utilizing co-working space downtown, O’Reilly said. Upon completion of its two current major projects there, Red Barn and Crystal Flats, a mixed-use development under construction near Crystal Bridges Museum, he foresees expanding to 20 employees.

“The market there affords us the ability to be a little more experimental and a little more idealistic,” he said.

O’Reilly said Green Circle, which employs 30 companywide, has no intentions of leaving Springfield.

Likewise, Young-Millsap said she and her husband are maintaining their ties to the Queen City and will eagerly follow what Hughes has in store for Urban Roots.

“This was a good opportunity for us to make that natural next step but also continue our support and excitement for our hometown. We kind of shocked ourselves,” she said of moving to Arkansas. “The hardest part was leaving our amazing community.

“Now, we get to try and build a new one around the farm down here, which I think is going to be beautiful.”

Web Editor Geoff Pickle contributed.

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