Democratising farm to table dining with partnerships, capital and patience

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A new food and agriculture amenity in a public park in Arizona aims to create a virtuous community circle while promoting healthy and sustainable eating.

Greenbelt Hospitality is a partnership between Matthew Moore, a fourth generation farmer and artist, and Aric Mei, a third generation restaurateur. Together, we are partnering with the City of Phoenix Parks and Recreation Department to create a new type of food, agriculture and education-focused amenity in the heart of Phoenix, Arizona. The Farm at Los Olivos consists of a two-acre organic farm, education and events centre, and a mix of inspired and affordable restaurant concepts, all nestled on a 28-acre City of Phoenix-owned park. 

The goal of this project is to democratise true farm-to-table dining while creating a long-term benefit for this Central Phoenix community through food, culture, education and community connection. People need to be nourished by healthy foods and we need meaningful connections in our communities. Sadly, in America today, the trend is towards consuming nutrient-empty foods, and doing so in isolation. The Farm at Los Olivos takes direct aim at fixing this debilitating combination.

Bringing an organic farm into the centre of a modern city is groundbreaking in itself.  Add delicious and affordable dining, and pay both farmers and food workers above-industry standard wages, and Greenbelt Hospitality aims to do something truly transformational.  

The public/private partnership model creates a much-needed source of revenue for the city, as well as providing an opportunity for private impact investment to enhance a park in desperate need of revitalisation

Greenbelt Hospitality believes deeply in the fact that – to put it plainly – humans need to eat more vegetables. This is, perhaps, the single greatest change we can make to minimise human impact on the planet, as well as improving our health outcomes. To eat more vegetables, we need to get excited about vegetables. The Farm at Los Olivos will be an incredible place to come and see the entire lifecycle of a vegetable. There is real magic in observing and understanding how a microscopic seed turns into an enormous and delicious piece of food. Matt’s creative practice has always connected the wonderment of the plant world with the highest levels of art and culture.  

Seed to raw vegetable is magical, but that’s only half of the story. Once the crop is harvested, Aric’s culinary team will take over and create memorable and delicious food experiences. Altogether, this environment stands to generate enormous engagement with the community, focused on the celebration of the vegetable and the connection we feel at the dinner table.  

The innovative and long-term ground lease structure is key to making this model succeed. Through a competitive and public process, Greenbelt has obtained the rights to develop and operate within a small piece of a large public park. With this model, the park land continues to be owned by the City in perpetuity. This public/private partnership will be the first of its kind in the United States and it works to solve a growing problem for many cities.

Birdseye rendering of Los Olivos Farm
Image credit: Greenbelt Hospitality

Most parks departments in the US have massive landholdings. This real estate is incredibly valuable, but it is also costly to maintain. Many municipalities are having an increasingly difficult time finding the funds to properly care for their parks. The public/private partnership model creates a new and much-needed source of revenue for the city, which greatly benefits the Parks Department’s balance sheet, as well as providing an opportunity for private impact investment to enhance a park in desperate need of revitalisation.  

Under this agreement, Greenbelt will pay a ground lease for the property directly below the buildings, patio, parking and food service components. This is a fair market land lease for roughly half the total footprint of the development. The two acres of land used for farming will be an included amenity under the restaurant ground lease. The farm component will remain open and walkable during park hours and continue to serve the community through the enjoyment of the agricultural outdoor space. This structure provides the restaurants with an invaluable asset of a directly adjacent farm, without saddling the restaurants or farm with an enormous real estate expense. The park also benefits from a diversification of experience with the addition of a two-acre working farm that can be enjoyed by all.  

What makes this idea so universally appealing is that it is socially progressive AND fiscally conservative. It is hailed by progressive politicians and community stakeholders for bringing new assets focused on health, education and sustainability into the park. At the same time, it is heavily supported by conservatives for being fiscally responsible and putting valuable park assets to work to generate needed cash flow. This is an idea that has truly crossed the political aisle. Success at Los Olivos park will create a model that the rest of the country can follow.  

Community support at city meeting
Photo credit: Greenbelt Hospitality

We will be raising a mix of debt and equity with partners who are committed to driving impact in issues of agricultural sustainability and community development, and who are believers in the creative economy essential to building a lasting cultural fabric in diverse communities. Our terms will be driven by the alignment of our goals and a generational approach to our business. Valuing our restaurant and farm workers is important to the success of this project. These are historically low-wage positions, and this workforce has never been more scarce. Offering above-market wages and benefits to Greenbelt’s team will help complete the virtuous community circle that this project aims to create.

The driving mission of Greenbelt Hospitality is based on a simple philosophy. As a community, we need a place to gather and feel connected. As a city, we need to balance our budgets and maintain fiscal responsibility. As a country, we need to preserve the agricultural knowledge base to maintain our independence and food security. As a world, we need to celebrate and eat more vegetables. The Farm at Los Olivos can help achieve all of these intertwined goals.  

Transforming a few dry acres of city-owned grass into a vibrant and food-focused hub of community activity stands to be a beacon of what is possible when new ideas, private capital and public interests can all align to do good and make a profit.

We need to redefine ‘success’