Daniel Klemons, chief financial officer at Waterfields, helps run an urban farm that produces about 30 different of types of microgreens and edible flowers for over 140 chefs within the I-275 loop. The company is riding a wave of interest in locally sourced young greens and they’ve reclaimed multiple empty warehouses in the city, transforming them from empty eyesores into hydroponic Edens.
But the first thing he wanted to talk to me about recently was poverty. Waterfields describes itself as a social-mission driven enterprise. They don’t make money and donate a sliver of profit to some charity at the end of the fiscal year, they do good work in the community just by existing.
For example, Waterfields runs multiple urban farm operations in warehouses in the City of Cincinnati. In 2015, they opened farms in Lower Price Hill and the West End. Many of these warehouses were once abandoned: the West End building used to be a slaughterhouse. I asked Klemons why they didn’t buy cheaper property on the outskirts of the city:
“It wasn’t just about making money at the end of the day. One of the root causes of poverty in our city is a lack of meaningful, livable wage jobs. [Some prospective employees] may be previous felons. They were 18 years old, they did something stupid, and now they’re 48, but it doesn’t matter. They are immediately written off, and at the end of the day somebody like Starbucks wouldn’t hire them to clean the floors. We wanted to do something impactful, and by co-locating in the neighborhood in which we hire individuals, we could retain [community] wealth.”
By building their business in neighborhoods close to their employees, and by hiring groups of people that might have a hard time getting a foot in the door, Waterfields can lift entire communities. All of a sudden, there’s a place close by where people can make money. Those workers can spend their money at other shops, and even attract more money from outside the community, as other businesses move in to cater to new populations that have money to spare.
The Waterfields model has been successful since its 2013 founding. They plan to have 100 career employees, all working with a livable wage, by 2020. Their business model has also found a market in the Cincinnati restaurant scene. Klemons says the company has seen a lot of growth in the Cincinnati market. It started in Over-the-Rhine, but it has expanded. Since 2015, they’ve expanded their Cincinnati chef customer base by 40%. They also serve chefs in the wider Midwest, from Chicago to Nashville.
You can hear about Waterfield’s social mission firsthand at Cincinnati Mini Maker Faire on Sunday, September 16. Stay after Daniel’s talk for a taste of Waterfields’ microgreens, edible flowers and specialty cuts. And follow Waterfields yourself at waterfieldsllc.com or @WaterfieldsLLC on Twitter.