Beginning Farmer Success: Dominic Nell
Beginning Farmer Success Interview Series
The purpose of this series is to spotlight and celebrate Maryland farmers and to inspire and offer farmer to farmer tips and advice to our readers.
Last month Dominic Nell, also known as Farmer Nell and Chief Nell, invited University of Maryland Extension Baltimore City to visit and learn about agriculture initiatives he leads in the neighborhoods inside the 21217 zip code. This interview is summarized from the visit.
Farmer Profile: Dominic Nell “Farmer Nell”, Educator, Mentor, Founder and Executive Director of CityWeeds and BeMoreGreen LLC.
What is the name of your farm and what does your farm produce?
CityWeeds. Located in Baltimore MD. CityWeeds grows hope, awareness, leaders, mentors and microgreens. CityWeeds hydroponically grows microgreens indoors to sell and to produce added value cold-pressed juices and healthy tonics. Products are sold through community partner establishments like Dovecote Cafe, at pop up markets and at BeMoreGreen. BeMoreGreen is on the corner of West North Ave and North Pulaski Street and shares a building with community partners CARRe Resource Center and For My Kitz. BeMoreGreen is a multi-use store, community art and entrepreneurship space and youth mentoring space. A portion of sales go towards youth programming. There are multiple vacant lots surrounding the building that are used to empower youth with the knowledge and the ability to grow food and tend to green spaces.
How did you get involved/interested in agriculture?
Growing up we spent time with family in rural PA. There, I learned about growing food, eating directly from the land, food’s cycle from seed to table, and how food and herbs were used as healing remedies. Fast forward many years, I kept seeing vacant lots and would constantly say “they can farm here” so one day I decided to be “they”. It was an aha moment when my lineage called me to action. I started guerilla farming with youth and created CityWeeds as a trauma-informed food business model to improve the health, wellness, and independence of Baltimore City residents through the growing and selling of microgreens and cold-pressed juices. The goal is for CityWeeds to operate without me, by my mentees so that I can focus on formally growing food with youth in the lots around BeMoreGreen.
How do/did you decide what to grow and what influenced your decision?
For the microgreens, it was about space. You don’t need land and good soil to grow them. Tomatoes and basil are also popular and we produce small batch tomato sauces each year, about 1000 jars. As we get land, this enterprise will grow.
You mentioned that farming for you is not just about what CityWeeds grows? Can you tell us more about fresh food distribution in your community?
I look at what fresh food that someone already grew that can be rescued and distributed to the community. For four years CityWeeds has been partnering with the Food Project and distributing rescued food in front of UMAR Boxing Gym with Umar and his wife. I ask the community what kinds of fresh food they want and I work to provide foods that they will use. Simultaneously I teach cooking classes on instagram and at Independence High School, also in the 21217 area code. Here I expose youth to new foods and encourage them to think of creative ways to season and cook fresh foods that they may not initially be excited about eating.
Can you tell us more about CityWeeds being a Trauma Informed Food Business?
We don’t just grow and sell products, our programming targets communities that have been impacted by trauma, and that have been designated as Food Deserts. Planting seeds with youth is more than growing food, it's planting seeds of independence and stability.
What advice would you give to people who aspire to farm in urban areas or are just beginning their agriculture careers?
If you are intending to distribute the food you grow in the area you farm, ask the people what they want to eat. Don’t reinvent the wheel. See who is doing what in your community and build partnerships that can work towards a shared vision.
Farmer Nell’s vision for CityWeeds is to “feed and heal the community by growing food out of vacant lots.” BeMoreGreen is a centralized location in the 21217 area code for Dominic to grow his vision and build a healthy and healing hub for its communities and the city at large. Dominic Nell lives, works and serves in zip code 21217, Baltimore City.
Looking to grow your agriculture business idea?
Cultivating Entrepreneurship is our Coaching Assistance Program that provides conversations with the clear goal of helping you launch or grow your business idea. The University of Maryland Extension has trained business coaches that know the ins and outs of agriculture and food-related businesses. An entrepreneurial Coaching session is free of charge and all individuals interested in growing their businesses are invited to participate.