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Phil Cuddeback - Square Roots - Growella
Coolest Jobs in America

“I’m An Urban Farmer In Williamsburg, Brooklyn”

Phil Cuddeback is an Urban Farmer, growing and producing food in a heavily-populated city; and, a mentor to other Urban Farmers in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York.

Phil Cuddeback: Urban Farmer

This is the story of Phil Cuddeback, Head Farmer at Square Roots, an urban farming company in the heart of Brooklyn in New York City; and the journey of Phil’s career.

Phil didn’t always plan to be a farmer. He once studied to be a veterinarian. A round with livestock, however, moved him away from veterinary medicine and toward food and farming.

After a stint in Alaska, Phil moved to Boston and worked for two years within a company that modifies real-world shipping containers, then uses hydroponic agriculture to turn their interiors into working, vertical farms in a crowded city environment.

From there, he moved to Nicaragua to get off the grid.

“I wanted to work on a permaculture farm and learn what it’s like to grow fruit trees; and, what it’s like to not have any machinery.”

Phil’s breadth of experience puts him in an excellent position as a senior Urban Farmer and a mentor to others, which is the exact role he fills at Square Roots, an urban farming accelerator.

“Part of what Square Roots is doing is exposing people to how food is grown, to make them think about that, and to help them learn.”

Hear more from Phil Cuddeback, who has one of the coolest jobs in America.

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Episode transcript

Hi, I’m Phil Cuddeback, the head farmer at Square Roots, an urban farming company in Brooklyn New York.

Square Roots is an urban farming accelerator program where we have 10 entrepreneurs and teach them about entrepreneurship, and how to grow and sell food in the city, and run a profitable business.

Each entrepreneur runs an individual farm. Because we’re located in cities, we don’t have the luxury of space.

We have to farm and very consolidated areas and one way that we achieve that is by growing vertically.

I am responsible for helping the entrepreneurs farm. So a lot of the hands-on work in the farms includes planting the seeds, transplanting seedlings, harvesting, cleaning, and  general maintenance and repairs.

My background is in both traditional and hydroponic agriculture. I studied biochemistry in college. For a while, I thought I wanted to go on to veterinary school. When I started shadowing vets and learning more about the industry. I realized that it wasn’t really that interested in the medicine but more in the animals.

And then became interested in the food because I was working with livestock. And, then the food spiraled into what I’m doing now.

Right after I graduated college, I went to Alaska to fish for salmon for two months. But, then I was driven to find a more stable job in a start-up in a city. So I found myself in a company called Freight Farms up in Boston for two years. I learned all about hydroponic agriculture there and growing food in the city.

But, after being there for two years, I I wanted to get more perspective. So I decided to go down to Nicaragua and work on a small permaculture farm there and learn what it’s like to grow fruit trees, and what it’s like to not have any machinery, and be completely off the grid.

I think it’s very important to have mentors in your life. I was fortunate to have some in other people that I’ve worked for along this journey, and now at Square Roots, I get to mentor entrepreneurs. Some are older than I am. And, some are younger than I am just by a few years.

It’s been a challenge to learn how to teach people and understand how they learn best, but it’s been really rewarding and very fun at the same time.

Urban agriculture is so important because cities are concentrated with people but unfortunately, most of our food is not grown here. So, you become fairly detached from what it takes to grow your food and who’s growing it and all the consequences that might be associated with how that food is produced.

Part of what Square Roots is doing is it’s a exposing people to how food is grown to make them think about that, and to help them learn.

I think you can’t be afraid to take risks with trying something new. It’s always valuable to put yourself in an uncomfortable situation and learn from it.