A Day in the Life of a Tower Farmer
Beneath the unforgiving Arizona sun, lettuce, kale, and other cool season crops flourish year-round — despite temperature peaks of 120˚F.
The high-tech True Garden greenhouse creates a microclimate that supports the needs of these heat-sensitive crops.
Founded by pharmacist Troy Albright, True Garden grows a total of 50 different crops with 322 Tower Gardens in Phoenix. And like many urban farms, True Garden’s success is a result of the passion and dedication of its growers.
I’d like to introduce you to one of them.
Susie Cannon, farm manager and head grower at True Garden
6 Questions with Susie Cannon, a Tower Farmer
Meet Susie Cannon: True Garden’s farm manager and head grower. Though Susie is now deeply rooted in urban farming, that wasn’t always the case.
She first worked for 30 years in the corporate world. And when offered a new position at a major U.S. company, Susie realized she had a life-changing decision to make.
Unfulfilled by her career, she decided to leave her job in Washington and relocate to Arizona to start over.
Not long after the move, Susie began volunteering at True Garden. Four months later, she became a grower. And three years after leaving corporate America, Susie assumed the role of head grower and farm manager at True Garden.
I recently talked with Susie about what a day in her life — the life of a Tower Farmer — is like. Here’s what she had to say.
How do you start your day?
I actually start the day before — making notes and lists of items to accomplish the next day. Then in the morning, I add tasks to the calendar and whiteboard so that the staff knows when to add nutrients, deliver orders, and so on.
After that, I walk the aisles of Tower Gardens in the greenhouse and check the propagation table. As soon as seedlings sprout, I put them on the cooler table.
I also visit the seedlings outside to confirm they’ve been watered. And as temperatures change, I adjust the Tower Garden pump timers based on a seasonal graph we’ve created.
Tower Tip: Consistently logging data makes farming much easier over time, as you’ll have a reliable model to follow.
What do you do after your morning review?
I help the staff prepare seedling orders, harvest, and plant new crops. These activities keep me busy from 8:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
True Garden ships seedlings on Mondays. So at the start of every week, I review orders with the staff members to ensure they know which crops have sold and, therefore, need to be reseeded.
In an air-conditioned seeding room, we plant seedlings by hand or — for higher-volume seeding — with a machine. Then we move the operation to the propagation bench, where seedlings will grow for the next two to four weeks.
Finally, I record the seeding date so that we may estimate when seedlings will be ready to transplant or sell.
At the end of the day, I check emails and report to Troy, the owner. Then I walk the farm one last time to make sure everything has been put away and locked up.
Troy Albright, owner of True Garden
Do you have any help?
Shawn, our assistant grower, inspects the facility at 8 a.m. He makes sure plants are receiving nutrients and checks them for pests and other issues, always documenting what he finds.
Shawn also reviews the perimeter of the greenhouse, looking for pests in the weeds outside the building.
Tower Tip: It’s smart to regularly check for pest problems so you can catch them early. Controlling a couple of aphids is much easier than treating thousands.
Who are your customers?
We sell directly to restaurants, hotels, CSA program customers, and farmers markets shoppers. This direct-to-consumer approach allows us to keep more of our profits than if we were to go through a middleman.
With our snowbirds and locals who prefer to come out during the cooler months, farmers markets are busiest during the winter and spring seasons. On my own time, I help man the farm stand because many people want to meet the person who grows the bountiful, pesticide-free crops we sell.
That’s part of being a farmer. It’s about growing the business.
You have to get out of the “nine-to-five” mindset. When you’re a grower, it’s 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
We also donate produce to nonprofits, including veteran and church groups.
True Garden Tower Farm in Phoenix, Arizona
What’s the biggest challenge of working on an urban farm?
I’ve found that the greatest challenge is building a team of people who all work well together.
Training staff to my level of expertise is also something I’m constantly working toward.
What is your favorite thing about being an urban farmer?
I like to experiment and test, save seeds, and use beneficial insects to battle pests.
But ultimately, I’m where I truly want to be: growing out-of-this-world food and sharing my passion with others.
I also enjoy teaching staff how to grow plants. I tell them, "get good at what you are doing now, and then we can give you more responsibility."
Inside the True Garden greenhouse
Want to Experience Life as a Tower Farmer?
When it comes to urban farming, a degree in horticulture can be helpful. But most new Tower Farmers don’t have any formal agricultural education or experience.
Susie is a great example of this fact. Still, she is able to apply her existing business skills to help grow True Garden into a profitable long-term venture.
Because with Tower Garden, you don’t really need an extensive knowledge of plant biology — especially when you’re passionate about providing real, healthy food to others.
If you’d like to learn more about starting your own Tower Farm, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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