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‘Farming with a social mission’: Ex-chemical engineer hopes to change lives through urban farm


OGDEN — As he volunteered for an inner-city, after-school farm program in Philadelphia geared to kids, Karl Ebeling noticed the impact it seemed to have.

“Just half an hour in the garden, once a week, I noticed them transform in their disposition. They turned on like light bulbs,” he said.

Soon, he decided it was the sort of work he wanted to do full-time. He stepped down from his post in the Philadelphia area as a chemical engineer for DuPont and started assembling a plan to launch his own farm-based effort. It led him to uproot and move to Utah, where his five grown kids and other family live, and launch Grow Ogden, meant to help those in need of a lift or otherwise “disconnected” from the larger community through hands-on work farming.

“I call it farming with a social mission,” said Ebeling, who goes by “Farmer Karl.”

The first two participants, Marissa Prims and Isaiah Flax, will soon graduate from the 16-week Grow Ogden program, and Ebeling is in the process of raising funds to keep the initiative going. Indeed, he’s got big dreams — Grow Ogden is a subsidiary of Eden Streets, the parent nonprofit organization Ebeling created and runs with the hope of launching similar farm-based initiatives all around the country to assist those at potential risk of homelessness.

“We can teach them job skills and life skills and help them identify what the next step in their career is and help build a bridge to that next step,” Ebeling said. Aside from farming, program participants get lessons from the Grow Ogden team on personal finances, conflict resolution, preparing a resume, interviewing for a job and more. The trainees, who are paid, and the Grow Ogden managers meet two hours a day, five days a week.

Karl Ebeling, who developed the Grow Ogden initiative, shows some of the produce grown by program participants on Tuesday.
Karl Ebeling, who developed the Grow Ogden initiative, shows some of the produce grown by program participants on Tuesday. (Photo: Tim Vandenack, KSL.com)

It takes money to run the fledgling program, though, and those involved will host a plant sale at Farmers Market Ogden on Saturday to raise funds to help launch the second cohort of the Grow Ogden effort, which Ebeling hopes to start in late July. The farmers market is located on 25th Street between Wall Avenue and Washington Boulevard in Ogden and Grow Ogden and will be there from 8 a.m.-1 p.m. Ebeling is also seeking corporate and individual donations and grants, likely to be necessary to cover a larger chunk of the $20,000 or so needed.

‘This is my dream’

The Grow Ogden initiative is focused on a parcel of about an eighth of an acre on the grounds of First Presbyterian Church at 28th Street and Quincy Avenue in Ogden. There, Prim, Flax and a Grow Ogden team are growing tomatoes, peppers, onions, cucumbers, lettuce, radishes and more. “It’s not huge, but it’s a start to prove our concept,” Ebeling said.

Along the way, a contingent of Weber State University students helped prepare the First Presbyterian land, previously a messy, overgrown patch. The produce, meanwhile, will be donated to Catholic Community Services in Ogden for distribution at its food pantry. The program participants cut the first yields of their work, lettuce, on Tuesday.

“This is my dream. This is my love. I’ve always wanted to farm,” Ebeling said. He visited 20 or so similar farm-based programs around the country in coming up with the Grow Ogden and Eden Streets initiatives. He also worked for a time at Wasatch Community Gardens in Salt Lake City, another nonprofit initiative that uses urban farming as a means of helping those in need.

Grow Ogden trainees and managers pictured at the program site on Wednesday. From left, trainees Isaiah Flax and Marissa Prims and Grow Ogden employees Chance Petit and Rick Brower.
Grow Ogden trainees and managers pictured at the program site on Wednesday. From left, trainees Isaiah Flax and Marissa Prims and Grow Ogden employees Chance Petit and Rick Brower. (Photo: Tim Vandenack, KSL.com)

Prims and Flax, the two program trainees, say the program is giving them valuable skills and training.

“I like farming, and I want to start a homestead some day,” Prims said. The life skills portion of the program, too, has helped, providing her valuable insights in basics like the importance of good nutrition and getting enough sleep.

Flax wishes there were more time in program activities than two hours a day, but, thinking about his life trajectory before, said it has made a positive difference. “If things kept going the way they were going, I definitely would be homeless,” he said.



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