Good, Thoughtful Hosts #209: Urban + Farm with Jimmy Talarico

Urban + Farm is a so-called agrihood under development in Bozeman, Montana. It’s an area with a long, rich history of farming, but this new complex is taking a modern approach to a food-centric way of life. We chat with Cushing Terrell project designer Jimmy Talarico about the inspiration, plans, and lessons learned from the project so far.

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About Our Guest

Jimmy Talarico is a veteran architectural designer whose role with Cushing Terrell more recently has morphed into a hybrid of designer, business development rep, and creativity instigator. A prolific, award-winning visual artist outside of work, he believes in the universal importance of holistic thinking and broadening perceptions. And he shares his musings in a column shared regularly through LinkedIn.

Jimmy; his wife, Melinda; and their two kids call beautiful Bozeman, Montana home, but he’s originally from Illinois and is a lifelong fan of the Chicago Cubs. He also wants to communicate in no uncertain terms how strongly he dislikes the taste of carrots.

Episode #209 Transcript | Listen on SoundCloud

Sarah Steimer 00:00
Hey everyone, I’m Sarah Steimer. And on today’s episode of good thoughtful hosts, we’re zooming in on a very cool urban farming project that’s in the works in Bozeman, Montana. But it’s not just for farming. It’s also a place to live, catch entertainment, grab dinner, and so much more. So it’s at this point in the season that I’ve really started to notice some themes within the main theme popping up. And in addition to talking a lot about food in the past several weeks, it’s also becoming clear to me how this idea of a 15 minute city lends itself to the idea of cycles. What makes them successful, and how these regions work in general, is that they’re often well oiled closed loop machines. Oftentimes, the money spent here stays within a local economy. And the less vehicles are used in the area, the healthier the people and the environment. But it’s also about recycling the lessons learned when communication flows freely in the feedback loop as well.

Producer 01:17
Today’s special guest.

Jimmy Talarico 01:20
I’m Jimmy Tallarico, with Cushing Terrell, based out of our Bozeman Montana office, project designer been with the firm for over 17 years now. And typically leading on the front end of projects with client relationships and establishing visions and getting teams set for project scope.

Sarah Steimer 01:39
For starters, Jimmy, thank you so much for joining us today, we’re really going to focus on a particular project in our episode. So just to give us some background here, tell us about the Urban Farm project and what your involvement has been with that.

Jimmy Talarico 01:54
Yeah, so urban farm is still kind of preliminary design. Right now. We’re working through some of the design with the city right now and filamentary submittals. So it started back in the COVID days. And I was contacted by a developer that I knew who at the time, they purchased about 17 or 18 acres and wanted to turn that into a community on the west side of Bozeman, that’s evolved into about 100 acres now is what the total project is, during COVID, we kind of saw a big explosion of growth in Bozeman and had a lot of people moving in from a lot of different places, developers are kind of going crazy trying to get a lot of projects out of the ground. And honestly, I was a little frustrated with everything that I was seeing in town and the type of development that was happening. It’s kind of the culmination of some of those things. When outlaw who’s the developer approached me about this project, actually said, you know, I’m not interested in doing mediocre housing and parking lots and having that take up good agricultural farmland in our county. And Eric lad, who’s one of the partners without law, he paused and he just said, well, let’s change that. And I was actually expecting that we’d lose the project when I made a comment like that saying that it wasn’t interested in doing that. But to hear Eric’s Eric’s comment about, let’s change that was just was refreshing that was new. And so that’s what really started us thinking about what this project could be, through some brainstorming where we landed was, well, we know growth is going to happen in Bozeman, we know that takes land that takes building to make happen. But we wanted to honor the traditional legacy of this valley and the agriculture that that is kind of sustained it. In from the native times and the early settlers. Agriculture is always big in this valley, that soil is rich. And that was part of the challenge, as you see these projects getting started and the ground turning up with all this black soil. So what we decided was let’s build a community that’s focused around urban agriculture. And how can we create a resource for the community that can kind of contribute to that heritage, but also look to the future. And that’s where we talked about having this year round production greenhouse that could produce greens for the community. It’s about 1000 doors that we wanted to design for, and have this greenhouse be able to produce that quantity of food for this community year round. And so that’s really what kind of started the trajectory of the development and that’s where we are today.

Sarah Steimer 04:30
I have to pause here for a moment because I’ve talked over and over throughout this season about how the focus has been on sort of this concept of the 15-Minute city, but I also feel like this could have been our food season because we talked a lot about restaurants and stores and agriculture, things like that. And it is important and you know, building a concept building a project around food, I think is you know, certainly really interesting. So you know before You guys kind of started to get rolling on this and you know, getting your plans underway, things like that, you know, you of course have this vision, but talk to me about some of the key considerations that you had. Because you did talk about, okay, there is this history here with agriculture. Be there a lot more people moving in probably a lot of digital nomads, I’m sure, especially since this was, you know, during the pandemic, and you know, you have to consider what the soil can take, and what you want to do so, so talk me through some of the key considerations that you really wanted to bear in mind throughout this.

Jimmy Talarico 05:34
Yeah, so we’ve explored a handful of different things. One was, do we keep a traditional agriculture component in this development, that was pretty challenging from a zoning standpoint, first of all, because part of when cities look at their zoning, they try to keep agriculture functions away from density. And some of that is the nuisance side of it with the sounds and smells and all that goes along with traditional agriculture. So that was going to be a challenge. But when I looked into it even more, what was interesting to me is that this ground right now is traditional agriculture, it’s already been used for farming different crops throughout the years. traditional farming can be really hard on soil, it can be really hard on the environment that it’s in. So the water usage, high water usage, a lot of times some farmers may not be as responsible as they could be, or how using sustainable principles which are challenging to do actually, for farming. And so they cost more money to do things more sustainably. So typically, you have higher water usage, you have chemical usage, these things that kind of contribute to soil erosion and the depletion of nutrients in the soils. And so it starts to be a challenge for the environment when agriculture is not done responsibly. And I’m not saying that’s the case in this valley, but it just tends to be the case more often than it’s not. So we wanted to look at a more sustainable approach to agriculture. That’s, again, where we landed on this, the greenhouse approach with vertical farming, which uses these towers that you’ve stacked plants vertically, in a smaller footprint, they use about 10% of the water that traditional ag uses, they use 10% of the land, and they can produce up to 10 times the amount of crops. So it was kind of a win-win scenario. And looking at what this type of farming could produce for community,

Sarah Steimer 07:30
It’s really exciting to know that there are these alternatives. And you know, you’re not just sort of ignoring the history of a place, but really trying to work with that history and work with the knowledge that you have also, though, from all those years, and so forth, you know, before we kind of jump into why that is such a progression of approach, I wanted to understand why maybe smaller cities might be ideal for this sort of projects, because, you know, we hear anytime we hear things like urban farms, stuff like that, we do tend to think about, you know, beekeeping on rooftops in Brooklyn or, you know, community gardens in Chicago, things like that, you know, why are these smaller cities may be great for this sort of opportunity.

Jimmy Talarico 08:16
The way I see it is that, you know, this approach needs to be scalable, we want to, we want to do something that can, can be effective at a variety of different scales. And the reality is, is that you have to kind of look at how much area is needed to create a food source for a certain number of people. And so in our case, you know, we’re looking at this model of 1000 households, basically. And we’re looking at about 7000 to 10,000 square feet for this greenhouse production space. And so that starts to give us this building block of, you know, what a community can can use and can maintain from a food source standpoint. So it’s kind of goes in line with the 15 Minute city, right that things within walking distance, things that are neighborhood centric, and don’t have to be these grand scale, 300,000 square foot warehouse buildings for production and all that they can be a little more community scale, and then just used, I’d say kind of more, almost like a stamp approach, you know, you have a diameter that you can service with the size of the production facility that you can create. And communities can take advantage of that at their scale, say 1000 doors for community, for example, in our case, and what’s great is that it allows a community to develop an identity around this system to so from a branding standpoint, for example, they can all have kind of a unique brand to their neighborhoods of what they’re creating, that’s kind of centered around this local food production. So we thought that was a pretty exciting approach and something that we’d like to see, you know, replicated as you know, we can get away from the dependency on on the automobile and looking for more sustainable solutions for our communities.

Sarah Steimer 10:00
I love how not just progressive this sounds, but also, it’s still future thinking like, it just sounds futuristic, this idea of, oh, I live in this place that is close enough to one of my main food sources. And we all get the same like CSA box every week, and we all sort of get to experience this thing together. And it just it sounds really, really fascinating. You know, so let’s talk about this sort of approach. So you talked a few times about identity. Now, you know, why is it so important to consider identity, whether it’s the history of a place, or what it could be, when you’re creating a sort of 15 minute city type project.

Jimmy Talarico 10:44
It’s been great living in Bozeman. From that perspective, just using this as an example, because the people in Bozeman show up, you know, like, when there’s something going on, they show up to support or to rally or to oppose, you know, whatever the case is, they show up, which is great. And I think, along those lines of identity, that’s a part of it is that communities that have identity, they have kind of a rallying point, they have a cause that’s kind of developed through that identity, of saying, we want to be supportive of what we’re creating here together. And I do think that’s an important part of what something like this would need is that kind of community support and buy off that what we’re doing is for their benefit, and understanding that and mandate, they’ll get behind an idea like this, and push it forward in their own way, because they see the value in what it does for creating a place that they want to call home, and that they’re proud to be a part of.

Sarah Steimer 11:42
And that’s something you know, we’ve talked similarly in previous episodes about really getting people on board with it, because, you know, as much as just the concept of something a little bit more progressive and exciting, can get people to, I don’t want to say get in line, but you know, they have a little bit of that excitement, too, it’s a way to have that buy in, that’s so important. Because it’s not always, you know, people like the old way, they may be like going, you know, to the grocery store on their way home that they liked that they’ve always gone to, and they know what aisles, blah, blah, blah, whatever it may be, you know, really holding on to. But this this mix of past and future sounds like something that could be really activating for probably many people, I’m sure. So you know, just from where you guys stand right now. So where is the project at the moment,

Jimmy Talarico 12:34
We’re in preliminary design with the city. So preliminary plat is kind of the term for that we’re looking at the big chunks of the parcels that will be sold as basically land for housing developments. And we already have certain things like community park designed and laid out we have the location for the greenhouse component, a rec center component, and event lawn that kind of ties all this together as well. So building the ideas of what the community core elements are going to be, we have the locations developed for that, and some of the imagery, the renderings and things that go along with that to kind of sell the story and tell the story and tell the vision. And so it’s a process now of going through the the entitlements with the city, their review and our response back and forth. So we’re a few months out before we will be able to start building infrastructure probably sometime this fall is the goal for when we’d be able to start infrastructure, which will be the roads and all the things that are under the roads, sewer, water power, all that that goes into creating neighborhoods.

Sarah Steimer 13:41
And I you know, I wanted to also get an idea from you, you know, maybe what are what are some of the features that you’re most excited about something that sticks out? In my mind when you know, you and I talked before this episode was that you mentioned, you’re going to obviously explain it better than I will, but about the way even you know you’re thinking about I’m going to call it stacking the different floors in terms of recycling energy, things like that. This is going to be heated, this is going to be cool. You know, tell me some of the highlights you’re excited about.

Jimmy Talarico 14:11
Specifically for that we’re looking at this greenhouse building being integrated with a restaurant and a cafe. So the design so far has been pretty cool. It’s got the restaurant, the cafes, on the ground level, there’s a plaza between the two. And then above it, which kind of bridges between those two spaces is the greenhouse. And what is important about this and specifically in our climate, Bozeman, you know, no surprise we have long winters last year was a lot longer than usual. But that’s that’s kind of how, how it goes sometimes. And so even for a greenhouse, you know, you want it to be passive. You want it to be able to rely on the Sun for most of its production when you can, in the wintertime it’s going to need to be heated. The interesting thing about restaurants is that even in the winter in Bozeman Their demand is typically on cooling, they need mechanical cooling, because of the intensity of the heat that’s created through the bodies in there, and the cooking and all that that goes to kind of the energy of restaurants. So when you have these two connected, the idea is that we could have a heat exchange between the greenhouse and the restaurant. So the heat that’s produced in the restaurant can be transferred to the greenhouse to keep that heated through the wintertime. And so there’s kind of this symbiotic relationship between the functions of the spaces and the programs of the spaces that’s helpful and beneficial for both, you know, pulling heat out, which adds for cooling in the, in the restaurant, while you’re, you’re feeding it to the greenhouses, instead of having them need to produce more energy on their own. So that’s the side of it, where the, you know, the sustainability, just something like that seems to make a lot of sense. Another part two is just looking at how we can integrate the landscape with what we’re doing in the greenhouse as well. So we’ve talked about edible landscape, thinking about the landscape, in particular, the plants that are tolerable to our climate, and that can produce food. And having those as elements throughout the development too, that are accessible to the public. They can be also used by the restaurants in the cafes, as kind of supplemental elements to to the menu. And that’s all integrated with this public park, there’s going to be a pond on there as well. And so this community amenities thing that also becomes a source of nutrition for the community is pretty exciting.

Sarah Steimer 16:35
I mean, it just sounds like a more healthy Willy Wonka factory. I’m not opposed to that. I mean, I would still take the candy. But I realized that of course, you know, you guys are still at what you could probably consider pretty early stages, you know, since we still haven’t put on our hard hats and you know, broke ground, etc, I’m sure I want to, you know, find out from where you’re standing now, because at least things are rolling, of course, what have been some of your biggest takeaways that you would maybe pass along to, you know, another designer, another planner, another, anyone who is kind of going, why not? Let’s do this, let’s try something new and different and unique, like this.

Jimmy Talarico 17:17
Communication is sure this a lot that our profession is really about communication and how we communicate our ideas, there will be opposition to new ideas, like we’ve kind of talked about. And that’s a common thing, to be able to clearly communicate these ideas and the benefits, what they bring to a community. And not only that, we’re looking at business models to validate that as well to say, This is why we think a business like this can make money and can be functional and will be around and be sustainable for the community. So the communication side that comes down to education as well, and just really helping people understand, you know, practical things, what kind of a nuisance is it’s going to be, you know, how do you deal with waste in the greenhouse, that’s a year round greenhouse. That was one thing with the city and just making them understand that we’re not talking about having, you know, cows and chickens roaming the streets, we’re talking about, you know, having a really contained clean space for, you know, growing produce. So there’s the education component, and just really listening to what the concerns are for community, and making sure that you’re addressing those clearly with your clear points and having case studies as well, things that we’ve looked at from other communities around the nation that are exploring some of this as well. We’ve had conversations with other owners of spaces like this one, in particular, out of the Denver area. altius Farms is a great example of making this work. And Sally over there has been great a great resource for us. So I think it comes down to education and communication, being open, willing to listen, letting people know that you’re listening and showing them that you’re kind of validating their concerns through, you know, strong design solutions.

Sarah Steimer 19:00
Awesome. I mean, hopefully, this does help to propel more projects like this, whether it’s around, you know, food, agriculture, what have you. Well, Jimmy, thank you so much for spending some time with us today. Was there anything though, that I didn’t ask that you wanted to mention as it relates to either this project specifically, or just this concept of, you know, a very, I’m going to call it self sustaining community.

Jimmy Talarico 19:27
I did hear you mentioned CSAs. And I did want to point that out, you know, the Community Supported Agriculture. I think it’s a really important element to this approach that, you know, part of what we’re talking about is having the HOA dues for process development contribute to supplementing the greenhouse as well. So every household will have an opportunity to purchase the CSA so that’s a share in a farms production. The goal is that they will be able to, to participate in that at a discounted rate. ate because part of their HOA dues are going to supplementing the greenhouse as well, which I think is a is a win win as well. CSAs are great because they provide income for farmers, usually in their downtimes. When, you know, traditionally when it’s through the wintertime, they can have a source of income coming in that’s regular and helps them to be able to plan for their future. So CSA that CSA model is, I think really important and thinking about how it can be integrated into the HOA is a little bit of a unique scenario, which I think is it’s a good approach and I hope to see that become something that you know, can be used in other communities as well.

Sarah Steimer 20:37
You know, I love this idea of the HOA fees going toward the CSA, it’s almost like that idea of you know, typically you think of your HOA going to pay for landscaping and grass cutting and this is like, Oh, they’re going to cut the grass and then you get to have that grass in your salad the next day a terrible way to explain that. Great for picturing I’ll say that. But well, Jimmy again, thank you so much for taking some time to chat with us and I’m looking forward to seeing how the project progresses.

Jimmy Talarico 21:11
Me too. Thanks for your time. Appreciate it, Sarah.

Producer 21:20
Music for Good, Thoughtful Hosts was written, produced, and performed by Sam Clapp. Our moderator is Sarah Steimer. Editing by Travis Estvold, and a special thanks to our content development team, Amanda Herzberg and Marni Moore. For more information about the podcast, visit Thanks for listening.

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