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Greg Willerer

By Amanda Lewan
October 25, 2013

Urban farming is centered on reuse – the reuse of land and healthy produce to create a sustainable living. Greg Willerer describes his model of urban farming as one that recognizes all of the ways healthy food helps regenerate the economy.  
In 2009, Greg Willerer quit his job as a teacher and began to make a living off of just one acre of land in Corktown, near Temple and Rosa Parks. Not many people could do this effectively but Willerer had been gardening on his own for years. He said it began with a conscious effort to be more self-sufficient. Gardening seemed like a natural thing to do. And that is how Brother Nature Produce was born.
Willerer graduated from Wayne State University with a bachelor’s in history and a teaching certificate. He taught in Chicago for eight years before moving back to Detroit to teach at the University Prep Academy. When Willerer began teaching in Detroit, he noticed what other schools were doing to grow food locally, citing a three-acre farm known as the Catherine Ferguson Academy Farm in Detroit.
"I saw a lot of potential for growing food with a market garden, something bigger than your own backyard," says Willerer. With a brother his mother both working as chefs, Willerer also knew restaurants had an interest in sourcing food locally, which helps cut back of food waste and also provides fresher menu options. Brother Nature Produce created a process that ensures food is cut and delivered right to a farmers' market or restaurant the very same day.
In the first year Willerer was able to make a decent salary – not too much lower than his paid teaching salary. He knew he had made the right decision.
Brother Nature's farm has grown over the past five years, expanding to a second location in Riley, Michigan near Port Huron. Most of their greens and herbs are grown here in Detroit, with squash, zucchini, pumpkin, and larger vegetables grown outside of the city. You’ll find their produce at Eastern Market, Wayne State’s farmers' market, and also at the Downtown Farmer’s Market that Willerer organized to bring local food to the downtown area.
The farm has expanded in size and reach, and it has also expanded their community services allowing other urban farmers to learn and grow with Brother Nature.
"It’s a community business. We keep everything open source, helping others learn how to be a market farmer too," says Willerer. "It’s not a competition. Helping other people get established creates a better food movement."
A better food movement also means tastier, healthier food. Brother Nature Produce is known for their salad and herbs, but Greg believes there is an overall demand for locally-grown food in Detroit. Restaurants like Mudgie’s Deli in Corktown and Woodbridge Pub serve Brother Nature Produce on their menu. Thirty people participate in their farm share program, receiving weekly produce from them.
"It’s not just people demanding Whole Foods. They are interested in new flavors and fresh food," says Willerer.
With winter around the corner, Greg will continue to grow until just before Christmas. Brother Nature has their own hoop houses the help keep produce warm passed the first frost. Though Greg and his wife usually work 12-14 hour days on their farm, their hours will slow down as the winter cools Detroit.
Winter gives Greg chance to relax and plan for their next season, which aims to continue to grow the local food movement in Detroit.  

All photos by Doug Coombe. 

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