Artwork for podcast GREEN Organic Garden Podcast
Replay of 163. | FARMWORKS BUILDERS| Creating Green Jobs and Helping Green Entrepreneurs | Chris West | Ann Arbor, Michigan
5th January 2018 • GREEN Organic Garden Podcast • Jackie Marie Beyer
00:00:00 00:56:45

Share Episode


Originally published Dec 26, 2016 Since I’ve been talking about deep beds I thought this was a good episode to play for the new year and the 2018 garden goals challenge!

I hope your excited to learn about an innovator green job creator and advocate for sustainable agriculture who’s growing businesses Farmworks Ann Arbor and Farmworks Builders will inspire and excite you to know someone else out there is working to help change our world by educating communities, protecting our environment, creating jobs and growing healthy nutritious food all at the same time! 

Welcome to episode 163 of the Organic Gardener Podcast. I am so excited because we are talking on Christmas Eve 2016 because we both love our planet and the environment! 

I am very excited to introduce the founder of Farmworks Ann Arbor and FARMWORKS Builders today.

FarmWorks Grow Better Gardens Website

Chris West – Founder

Born and raised in rural Napoleon, Michigan, Chris West started his first business cutting grass for his neighbors.  A spirit for self sufficiency and a love for design and nature began there and has culminated with FarmWorks, producer of the world’s finest raised bed gardens.

Chris and Xinyan West Farmworks Ann Arbor Farmworks Builders

Chris lives and works with his wife Xinyan, and is the super proud father of 4 awesome children. 

So today to share his gardening journey and his business journey and his entrepreneurship! Im so excited you took time out of Christmas Eve to share with us today! And you have 4 kids I didn’t realize that til this morning! Thanks for coming on with my busy schedule!!! 

Tell us a little about yourself.

I am a very proud father! I have 4 children, 3 girls and a boy. I’ve been bouncing around, in the Marine corps in Southern California, I spent a good bit of my developing years in that neck of the woods. I spent a lot of time in Corporate America, my background was in Sales and Marketing, I was the Western regional director … also got into advertising and television along that way….

I just got to the point, I kind of woke up! You just Wake up to some things! I just wanted to get out of that. Fell back on the things with I grew up with,mowing those yards and must started FarmWorks out of that. I just converted that to a raised bed setting, took some pictures, set it up online and the next thing you know I got people saying can  you do that for me?

FarmWorks Garden One Man's Dream


OK, tell people about your beautiful website! It’s so beautiful already, you were saying in the pre-chat that it’s gonna be changing! 

So FarmWorkswe are an innovative garden design company, and we build a garden of any scale for any particular reason. We go the raised bed route, because one of our mottos is 


“less work and more food”

As anyone in the gardening world knows, it’s a tremendous amount of work, weeding an other aspects to it, and it’s pretty labor intensive. So kind of our goal and we move forward into this technological future is to alleviate a lot of those laborous aspects to it so you can really just produce high yielding plants, high yielding fruits and vegetables and things along those lines.

I love that, I’ve been telling Mike to do that for years, because IDK if you know we live in Montana on the border of Canada and now that logging has shut down because they are moving to Gerogia and other places where they can grow a tree and make a log in 20 years, so we’ve become a much more industry. There are Canadians everywhere and they care about what they eat, they support our Health food store, we have a great healht food store becuase of the Canadians….

I talk a lot about I usually work a lot almost always have a full time job where as he does more of the gardner, but I think a lot of my listeners are more like me who building a raised bed would be hard, not maybe because Im a woman, but because I am just not a perfectionist and to nail 2 boards the same way would be a challenge for me like my personal quirk … and just I think this is a great idea for busy people.

Tell me about your first gardening experience?

Gardening in that sense… there isn’t a time in my memory where that wasn’t present. I’m from a very rural area where there are more cows then people… I had a Tom Sawyer childhood … my front yard …. 800 acres of pine forest….

There were 30-40 kids who lived around that lake, so it was adventurous … and we were always …. building forts …. but 

…. the presence of naturally growing food was always there… There were 

  • rasberries
  • blueberries
  • strawberries

There was a strawberry patch that would produce, years over and years, open field with strawberries… part of our food source

(This guy sounds like Matt Damon – this is Jackie here thinking…)

We tilled everything, probably an acre… we grew everything… I remember eating snap beans off a plant

  • snap beans
  • making pickles
  • growing cucumbers

So it’s really woven into the fabric of who I am… I think  in that generation, I think there’s a lot of people, who had a similar experience as compared to the hyper-consumerism we have today….

My mom and I argue all the time, it’s just a label… but I’m like Mom the food in the store today is just not what we had when we were growing up…

we are all experience now… innovations from their side …. exponential amount of food and take that give it to a chemist who’s gonna say break down corn and make 17 different types of product …. industrial standpoint …. that is what it is …. a lot of people create this them vs us, but my view really is, that’s what motivates them …

 …. From a competing standpoint, I think it’s important to compete! 

Let’s compete!

Yes, there is a premium that can be charged for it, that premium does help, it helps the small farmer … more crucial for pound for pound self space to really compete against those types of producers! 

It seems like you have done a ton of research! I wasn’t even really sure if you were organic when I asked you…

Oh YES! I have emerged myself, this is my life… anything that affects… I have done hoards of research across the board

FarmWorks is to say if the end goal is this we have to walk it forward, this step, this step, this step, I know it seems very vague, but in my brain there’s all these cogs that have to go into this particular machine… as you said in the beginning 

We have to protect our planet! 

It isn’t a stretch to say that nature is considerable smarter then we are!

I take a tomato, inside that tomato is an abundance of seed, and that creates more tomato plants and that creates more seeds, in a very short period of time …. and the the sun keeps shining  …. this amazing perpetual motion… and so it’s our role to shepard nature, one of the results that are beneficial …

The difference between the is Industrial method is really beating and whipping into submission, whereas the …

organic guy there’s a lot more heart!

You can almost taste that! It really comes through, they say, that’s why it tastes so much better. Because we are not beating it into submission.

Is that how you learned how to grow organically?

basically…. not really… to me… little tidbits here and there… just kind of go that route… I’ve always been drawn to complex systems…  my brain can wrap around …  moving parts … and create something like that

It’s the flowers vs fleas analogies

If you want to get rid of fleas your best bet is to invade the space with flowers that fleas down’t like and they’ll go away.. and that’s nature’s defense against that… 

There’s all these steps and various things you can do… that nature has already figured it out… you don’t have to get fungicides etc… nature has had the answer with 3 billion years. if not more….

FarmWorks SYSTEM

This System

Component 1 = Soil

That you have put together. The first being soil is the most important component. It’s the foundation of everything.

…. thrive in the soil … everything they require … soil web … is an intricate network chemicals and combinations … which make this plant thrive … what we call that in the world of technology, that’s probably something people can relate to… nano-technology… create nano-tech …. when you look at microbes …

That’s how you get these things to grow… that’s why ORGANIC IS vastly superior … not even a close second!

COOL, I’ve always felt it should be that way, I don’t understand why organic cost more? It seems like, I’ve always believed we just need to support it and invest in it and it will come out ahead. It has too doesn’t it?

Creating Our Own Soil

FarmWorks creates it’s own soil. We literally just got this property here, and it’s like my own laboratory here! We make our own soil, we call it gold dust

WE have a 2000 square foot shop that we work out of, and then we have an acre and half strictly committed, to soil and that makes my customers very happy!

Because you don’t really need to have a green thumb when you put that soil in there, so we have very good feed back coming from it

from the extent that I want to talk about it, there’s a lot of info about how to make soil, so what we did was create our own recipe. We do all of our own composting, from various materials! When you live in rural michigan there is an abundance of compost materials you’lll never run out of it! 

We cook our own compost

every good gardener knows that you’re making teas etc. Various things like that it,s very good for your plants, they like that it’s like steroids fro your plants  the natureal way, and so we just bag everything up, by the yard per say. Every FarmWorks project or system

  • peat mosses
  • structural
  • where the nutrients
  • every good gardener knows that making your teas
  • it’s like steroids in a natural way

so we just bag everything up, by the yard per say. Every FarmWorks project or system comes complete, so basically your just ready to plug and play… 

idk, maybe Michigan is different in Montana, but a lot of people I talk to to, the dirt is the biggest challenge where to come up with that good dirt, we have that challenge every year where to come up with fresh dirt to replenish our beds or build new beds….

That’s good to know, that might be a supply chain there… In Michigan trees everywhere… lots of space there’s tons and tons of trees, and every single fall there’s a whole new batch of sticks… to cook up…

We have mostly pine forests, we don’t et a lot of leaves, for us the thing we use the most are the grass clippings…

The pine needles once they go brown… cook them up as well. most people thing...