One of the anchors of Oklahoma City’s Farmers Market District is shutting down. Urban Agrarian is a local food distribution hub. Its owner announced this Monday that he is closing the business.
Urban Agrarian owner Matt Burch worked with Oklahoma farmers to bring their products to Oklahoma City and other cities’ farmers markets. In Oklahoma City, he sold products directly to consumers and to restaurants that wanted locally-grown produce.
Burch wasn’t able to update equipment or generate as much business as he hoped, according to Journal Record editor Ted Streuli. During his weekly business conversation with KGOU, Streuli said Burch is still holding out hope that he can reopen the business.
“When he announced that he was shutting down, he got a lot of calls from people hoping to help him stay open, including some potential investors,” Streuli said. “But that will take a while to develop. And since he leases the whole building, if he were to reopen anytime in the next four years while that lease is still in place, he could make it work in the very same spot. So there’s a little hope on the horizon.”
Burch leases the entire building,and sublets space to other businesses, including April Harrington’s Earth Elements Entrepreneur's Kitchen. That kitchen has helped launch businesses like Towhead Salsa.
The Journal Record’s Molly Flemming writes:
Towhead Salsa owner and operator Kirk Kuhlman started making salsa in the kitchen. He said he and his wife, Christy Kuhlman, wanted to see how it would do on the market before they invested in their own kitchen.
“If it wasn’t for that place, I don’t know where we would be right now,” Kuhlman said.
Towhead Salsa is available in 110 stores. It’s now made in a commercial kitchen in Tuttle.
“We’re growing as fast as we want to or can grow right now,” he said.
Burch started a Kickstarter campaign last year to raise $25,000, but was only able to generate $4,000.
Jacob McCleland: One of the Journal Record’s reporters, Molly Fleming, wrote about Urban Agrarian shutting down. Ted, what’s going on? Why is it closing?
Ted Streuli: Well, he just hasn’t been able to update equipment and generate as much business as he had hoped. He did try a Kickstarter campaign last week to try to raise about $25,000 to keep the doors open and update some electronics. But he was only able to raise about $4,000, so he’s just having to shut down, at least for the time being.
McCleland: What’s the niche that Urban Agrarian fills?
Streuli: The owner worked with farmers in Oklahoma and brought their products to Oklahoma City and other cities’ farmers markets, especially during the spring and fall. Here in Oklahoma City he was able to retain some of those products directly to consumers. He also had a number of restaurant clients. So it was an easy way for, especially restaurants, to get locally-grown produce.
McCleland: How did Urban Agrarian help launch other small businesses in Oklahoma City?
Streuli: Well the owner, Matt Burch, leases the whole building, known as the Earth To Urban Local Food Hub. He sublets some of that space to like-minded local businesses, the key one being April Harrington’s Earth Elements Entrepreneur's Kitchen. And that’s home to some startup food makers, including one that’s been pretty successful so far called Towhead Salsa.
McCleland: It sounds like owner Matt Burch doesn’t want to say that the store is gone forever. Is he already planning to open it back up again at a later date?
Streuli: Well, he is holding out hope because when he announced that he was shutting down, he got a lot of calls from people hoping to help him stay open, including some potential investors. But that will take a while to develop. And since he leases the whole building, if he were to reopen anytime in the next four years while that lease is still in place, he could make it work in the very same spot. So there’s a little hope on the horizon.
McCleland: Let’s turn for a minute to the Producers Cooperative Oil Mill. That’s the 37-acre property in Bricktown that used to process cotton seed. Journal Record reporter Brian Brus reports that good cotton prices have helped the coop move its operations to Altus. How so?
Streuli: Well, the cotton crop is setting records right now. It’s just been huge. That, combined with the move to Altus, created about 25 new jobs between the demand and the new facilities. And that in turn has helped support other jobs in Altus. The mill’s presence there has really created this synergy. The Producers Cooperative got into a joint venture agreement with two other coops to buy and operate a grain elevator, and that in turn has let them move more product by train instead of only by truck. So the mill’s relocation down to Altus has made it easier for a lot of the cotton farmers to get their product to market and has also directly created 25 new jobs, a lot of that because cotton prices are up and they’re just selling a lot more cotton.
McCleland: Let’s discuss what we know about the sale of this property because it’s a high profile piece of land. This is the same place that Bob Funk, Jr. is considering for a soccer stadium. How far have those discussions gone between Funk and the cooperative?
Streuli: Well, they’ve gone far enough to at least agree in principle to sell that 37 acres to the investor group that Bob Funk, Jr. leads. But that was back in June, and they’ve kept the details pretty quiet since then. They did tell us, though, from the cooperative’s side, that since that agreement in June, they’ve run into no problems whatsoever. So as far as we know, the deal is still on track and moving forward. They’re just working through the process.
As a community-supported news organization, KGOU relies on contributions from readers and listeners to fulfill its mission of public service to Oklahoma and beyond. Donate online, or by contacting our Membership department.