Sky High Workwear: Brand in support of nonprofit Sky High Farm joins forces with Dover St Market for bumper crop of wearables
Sky High Farm is the New York-based not-for-profit co-founded by artist Dan Colen in 2011 to help fight food insecurity. A funding body of donors and foundations back their farming of nutritious produce and protein which is donated to anybody who needs it: this year, that will look something like 27 000 meals.
Come 2022 and it sees Dan Colen partnering with Comme Des Garcons and Dover St Market to launch Sky High Farm Workwear, an international apparel line positioned at the intersection of fashion, culture and social justice, empowering consumers to contribute to the revenue and work of the farm with a share of the profits given back to the Farm’s not-for-profit work.
Sky High Farm Workwear’s brand shares values with its farming counterpart: the offshoot follows responsible manufacturing practices, respects workers’ rights and doesn’t contribute to waste: most of the garments are made from recycled and deadstock materials. Ahead of their first season with Double Double, we spoke to Chief Operating Officer at Sky High Farm, Josh Bardfield about the food justice movement, and increasing demand for socially-responsible brands.
How’s it going, Josh? What have you and the Sky High Farm crew been working on so far this year?
Sky High Farm is deep into planning for the 2022 growing season; crop planning, seeding starts in the greenhouse, caring for our livestock and tending to several early lambs that were born last week. In the coming weeks, we will be expanding our flock of egg-laying and meat chickens this season, which involves significant infrastructure planning for a new chicken coop constructed on site.
We are in routine dialogue with our food access partners and integrating their feedback into our planning process so that we can best meet the needs of the individuals and families that receive food from Sky High Farm through these networks.
Beginning 2022, we officially launched our SHF Grants Program that will grant up to $250,000 (total) to individuals working in agriculture, food justice, and/or land sovereignty. The funds are prioritized among those who identify as Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex and Asexual and those working in communities historically exploited and harmed by the existing industrial agricultural system. Our goal is to support innovative ideas and projects that would not otherwise have an opportunity to flourish due to structural barriers inherent in other types of grantmaking and/or exclusionary lending practices. The decisions will be made quarterly by the Committee beginning in March 2022.
We are also planning for this season’s programming at a satellite location that is part of Forge Project, a native-led arts and culture organization. This season’s plans involve creating a three sisters vegetable garden whose harvests will be included in SHF’s food access program with a focus on Indigenous-focused food justice organizations. While the farm is in development, a field-side teaching kitchen will serve as the central point on the property for the activation of the Forge Project and SHF collaboration, through arts, agricultural, and food-centered programming for the public and local youth organizations.
You’ve known Dan Colen since you were kids – how did you guys meet? What do you remember about your early friendship?
Dan and I met in first grade and we grew up together in northern NJ just across the Hudson River from NYC (we’ve known each other for nearly 40 years). It is truly wonderful to see how Dan’s early interest in art has grown into a successful career and branched out to include Sky High Farm as an expression of gratitude and civic responsibility.
What attracted you to the food justice and restorative agriculture space?
My professional background is rooted in public health practice with a focus on population and family health and reproductive health and rights. Most of my career has involved working on reproductive health and HIV programs in New York State, sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.
Early on, it was evident that food and nutrition play a critical role in ensuring successful engagement with vulnerable communities; without access to nutritious food, HIV treatment cannot succeed.
In that context, my curiosity around food security and “food deserts” evolved into more intensive research and inquiry around our agricultural system and the impacts of “factory farming” not only on our food systems, but also on communities. This of course involves questions around climate and the interconnectedness of agricultural practices and the environment. “Regenerative” agriculture and support for food sovereignty in terms of putting land and resources back into the hands of communities to achieve greater self-determination is the only antidote to the egregious effects of dispossession and environmental degradation.
How has Sky High grown since you and Dan initially dreamt it up? Dan’s spoken about how farming is an inherently creative act – do you think it was advantageous to have a partner with a background in artistic practice when you set up the organization?
SHF began as a farm growing food for donation with only one full-time employee and a few thousand pounds of produce and protein each year. By contrast, this year we will grow 30,000lbs+ of produce and 12,000lbs.+ of protein – an equivalent of 27,000+ nutritious meals – 100% for donation.
Our program has expanded to offer a beginning farmer training program, a SHF Grant program, a partnership with Forge Project, and continued collaborations with stakeholders and collaborators – we look forward to continuously improving and expanding these efforts over time.
The power of art and culture is undeniable. Dan’s artistic practice and platform allow us to reach a broader audience and create new points of entry/access to this conversation thereby elevating the issues that underlie the work that we do at SHF. It cannot only be about “preaching to the choir;” we have to reach deeply into all communities to make an argument for why our food system is in peril and why food sovereignty is so important. It’s really about building awareness that is both broad and deep.
What’s something you’ve learned about social enterprise since starting the farm, that you didn’t know at the beginning?
Creativity is endless. I am fascinated by the various models and strategies that non-profit and socially conscious for-profit enterprises deploy to serve a mission or set of objectives. I particularly admire those that start from the mission and use those principles as the basis or foundation for a more expansive undertaking.
What are the biggest barriers to food security at the moment and how does SHF try to break those down? Has the pandemic exacerbated the food apartheid?
You point to a major issue in that the pandemic has not created these inequities but certainly exacerbated them to a point where we need to do more for more people at an accelerated pace. The barriers are logistical; supply chain and distribution, but also structural in terms of meeting the needs of vulnerable communities that continue to be pushed to the margins. We recognize that we will never be able to feed everyone in need regardless of the size of our farm, which is why we are also dedicated to training the next generation of farmers in responsible agricultural practices and offering grants to individuals working to transform the food system in support of food sovereignty.
It’s really exciting to see a growing cohort of brands who are trying to be truly sustainable in their production and distribution, with either zero-impact or even net-positive goals for their supply chain. Do you think consumer expectations are contributing to the sense of responsibility brands feel to evolve their processes?
I hope that some of this is driven by consumer demand for a new way of thinking about the production and delivery of goods and services, as well as innovation – but I also think that many people and corporations recognize the urgency of issues around climate change and don’t see any alternative. Humans are responsible for climate change and environmental degradation and we now have to reckon with that reality…