Greg Peterson of The Urban Farm: “Don’t give up!”

Don’t give up!Work weekly on your financesWork on your business weeklyWork in your business ever dayTake on the long view — build slowly — pass on the quick bucks! As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Greg Peterson. “What if there was a garden and fruit […]

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  • Don’t give up!

  • Work weekly on your finances

  • Work on your business weekly

  • Work in your business ever day

  • Take on the long view — build slowly — pass on the quick bucks!

  • As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Greg Peterson.

    “What if there was a garden and fruit tree in every yard?” This is a question that Greg ponders every day. For over 30 years he has been working on one of Phoenix’s first environmental showcase homes for urban farming. His 1/4-acre yard features a primarily edible landscape with over 50 fruit trees, rainwater and greywater harvesting, solar applications, and extensive use of reclaimed and recycled building materials.

    Greg is a longtime permaculture advocate, flunked out of university in 1981 because he was bored, then went back 20 years later to earn a bachelor’s degree followed directly by a Masters in Urban and Environmental Planning in 2006. He is a lifelong continual learner.

    Greg started his first business in 1975 at the age of 15 cleaning and servicing fishponds in Phoenix. From 1979 to 1984 he also owned 11 gift wrap centers in Phoenix malls. Then in 1984 he discovered the Macintosh computer and that sent him on a 20 year journey in technology that included the first laser typesetting business and Apple Authorized Training center in Phoenix plus he ran a software App company for 20 years. Since 1999 he transitioned to urban farming education. Over the past 47 years he has started over 30 businesses, 2 of them that have lasted over 20 years and some of them that lasted a sneeze.

    Greg is the creator of the Urban Farm Fruit Tree Education program in Phoenix Arizona which he began in 1999 when he discovered you could go into most nurseries and they would sell you a fruit tree that would never make fruit. Since then the program hosts thousands of people yearly in free online and in person classes where they get to preorder fruit trees for planting in the low desert. Each year the program delivers thousands of fruit trees into the local Phoenix market.

    In 2003 UrbanFarm.org was created as an online portal for urban farming education then in 2015 Greg created the UrbanFarmPodcast.com that in just 6 years has released over 600 episodes amassing over 2.8 million listens to date. On his days off he hangs out in his garden with Heidi his sweetheart, Kismet their pooch creating new projects and catching some rays.


    Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?

    I was born in the 60’s and grew up in the 70’s. My dad insisted that I work starting from a young age — and I was all about that. Had a paper route at the age of 12 and by the time I was 15 I was gifted my first business. As long as I can remember I was interested in fish, aquariums and aquaculture. So after my paper rout was delivered I hung out at the local fish aquarium store with Bill the manager — helping him clean tanks and bag fish for customers. One day he asked if I wanted to help him clean a fish pond and I was all over that. As we finished the day he said he was tired of cleaning ponds and would I like to do them. That sent me on my first business that lasted 8 years.

    You are currently leading a social impact organization that is making a difference for our planet. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to change in our world today?

    Our food system in the world is tenuous at best. It delivers sub healthy food, laced with chemicals, into a system that only has a 3 day supply of food on our grocery store shelves. At Urban Farm we believe that the solution to our global food challenges is growing organic food locally. Whether in our front and back yards, in shipping container farms, hydroponic greenhouses, on small and large urban farms, the environmental, social and health impacts

    Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?

    In 1975 when I was in the 8th grade I had to write a paper — the topic I chose was how we were overfishing the oceans. To this day I have no clue about where that came from or why I was inspired by it, but I knew back then that there was something significantly wrong with how we were/are living on the planet and with what we are eating.

    Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest them. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?

    1991 is the answer to this question. The most significantly impactful year of my life. 4 things happened that year — I discovered the precursor to a book called Ishmael by Daniel Quinn in it the author outlines how we as humans over the past 10,000 years has come to dominate and control nature, planting the seeds for my life work. The second thing that happened was that I discovered Permaculture — which I like to call ‘The Art and Science of Working With Nature.” I have come to believe that nature will always win over the human construct and Permaculture gave me the tools to see how I could work in the flow of nature rather than against it.

    That same year I was signed up for a personal growth course at Landmark education called the Advanced Course where we were to create our vision for our lives. With Permaculture and Quinn’s work simmering in the background I was ripe to literally take on a vision much greater than myself. So I created ‘I am the person on the planet responsible for transforming our food system.’ This still lives with me over 30 years later not as a burden but as what gets me up each morning. Then the crem de la crem of 1991 happened when I friend came back from sailing in the south pacific and told me this story. They had anchored off an island and wandered into a town looking for a grocery store. They asked the island residents where they might find one and the response was a startling…”go pick your own.” This one story solidified my resolve and desire to figure out how we could grow our own free food.

    Many people don’t know the steps to take to start a new organization. But you did. What are some of the things or steps you took to get your project started?

    I don’t know how I knew what to do to get started. Perhaps it was the logic my dad instilled in me when I started my first job as a paperboy. I envision where I want to go then put those steps in place and go! I have had more businesses fail than succeed so the big thing for me is/was not to be afraid to fail. In fact I learn more from failures than successes.

    Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

    Having been self-employed my entire life I know how to run a business. But I don’t let that go to my head and am always looking for a new, better, more efficient way to be successful. Last year my entire team signed up for an online Elite Entrepreneur course online. A 3000 dollars focus on our mission and vision that brought us together and trained us in some areas that I had seen before yet forgotten. I am a lifelong learner and take every opportunity to learn something new. My advice, stay curious, it makes for a more successful life.

    Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?

    Mistakes/failures or learning experiences? In my podcast I ask my guests a question “Share about a time you failed and what you learned from it?” I ask this because I value failure over success as a learning method. Those of us that fail more often I believe are more successful over time.

    This questions stems from the many times I have failed over the years, especially in business. I have started over 35 businesses since 1975. Some of them lasting a sneeze and several of them lasting over a decade or two. One business I started in 2004 I started off really strong with. In many ways too strong, refinanced my house (which I am still paying off), invested way too much money for that start up and in the end it failed costing me almost 100k dollars. My take away from that was 1. Start small and build from there and 2. I really did not want to be in that business. We ended up doing a fire sale at the end of the season to move the spoiling inventory.

    None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?

    If it is not to cliché I will start with my dad who when I was young instilled an incredible work ethic in me, working with me to plan my paper route and taught me how to manage my collections which in the 1970’s was knocking in the customers door once a month. That being said…

    In 1979 I participated in and worked at Junior Achievement (JA) and at the time the treasurer of the Phoenix JA was Charlie Schuster, a 79 year old retiree volunteering there. One day he asked me to lunch and my first thought (I was 19 years old) why does a 79 year old man want to get together with me? I eventually said yes and it turned into an incredible 13 year mentorship/friendship which lasted until he passed away. Charlie was an incredible mentor and friend sharing his 50+ years of accounting and business experience.

    Are there three things the community, society, or politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

    Eat local, buy from local farmers, grow your own food!

    How would you articulate how a business can become more profitable by being more sustainable and more environmentally conscious? Can you share a story or example?

    Place community service and building over profit. My M.O. for the past thirty years has been to contribute & educate, in excess while at the same time creating a fun learning atmosphere. What we have created in Phoenix and online are events where people feel welcome and the atmosphere is that of Christmas. Often people feel like they are receiving holiday or birthday presents when they are buying from us. This in turn has created a business model that is very sustainable and financially profitable, while teaching people the importance of our food system and how to work toward fixing it.

    What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

    1. Don’t give up!
    2. Work weekly on your finances
    3. Work on your business weekly
    4. Work in your business ever day
    5. Take on the long view — build slowly — pass on the quick bucks!

    If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

    It’s for your future. Unfortunately the boomer generation (of which I am one) has left an unconscious tragic mess behind for future generations to deal with. It is said that the current boomer generation will live the best life and that if something drastic isn’t done future generations health, wellbeing and cost of living status declines drastically.

    I say that epic shit happens in the world because someone says so. It is up to us individually to take on life work and challenges that will create change as corporations and governments are not going to be able to keep up with the rate of societal challenges that are coming. It is up to us in our communities to take on the challenges and fix them from a bottom up perspective…Go ahead, pick something, I don’t care what it is, and go for it. The worst that can happens is you fail AND that is a wonderful learning experience.

    Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

    “Until one is committed there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative or creation, there is one elementary truth…that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves. too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would otherwise never have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in ones’s favor all manner of incidents and meetings and material assistance which no man would have believed would have come his way. Whatever you think you can do or believe you can do, begin it. Action has magic, grace, and power in it.” ― W.H. Murray The Scottish Himalayan Expedition

    I have seen over the years that once I commit to something magic happens just like the quote says. In fact my team has this a few years ago and actually named it because it happens so often. I run a popup nursery so the term my team created for happening is called the Nursery gods showing up to fulfill our request. Things like needing team members to show up to work and suppliers after telling us they cannot deliver comes through with the delivery. This is such a regular happenstance that it had to be named. And I have discovered the more that I trust this the more it works and the more I trust it the more it works!

    Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

    Daniel Quinn the author of Ishmael and other social structure novels. He changed my life forever with his writings and instilled in me Quinnian Philosophy. Unfortunately he passed away in 2018.

    How can our readers follow you online?

    UrbanFarm.org & facebook.com/TheUrbanFarm

    This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

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