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COMMENTARY

Running a small business is hard, and an important OKC enterprise announced Monday it will be shutting down, much to the dismay of many, including us at NonDoc.

Urban Agrarian, a local food retailer and distributor in the OKC Farmer’s Market District, will be closing, owner Matthew Burch posted Monday on Facebook. Burch started the business in his garage in 2008, and it eventually grew to be the city’s premier provider of Oklahoma-grown produce and Oklahoma-produced foodstuffs. (In November of last year, Burch posted a tour of the store on YouTube; see video above.)

“I am going to begin the process today of closing down Urban Agrarian,” Burch wrote to open his lengthy letter. “Despite 2016 being our best year in sales to date we had a bad fall season and are facing some serious equipment failures that will prevent us from being able to do our job. Over the past nine years I’ve enjoyed very much serving you all and working to solve the problem of local food access in our city.”

As The Oklahoman’s Food Dude (Dave Cathey) noted in his write-up of the Urban Agrarian announcement, Burch was a bit hard on himself in his letter, but he ultimately ended it with an interesting examination of a food problem facing OKC:

The business I built is pretty complex but so is the problem we aimed to solve. Why can’t you find any locally grown produce on store shelves? Why don’t you see more farm names being trumpeted on restaurant menus? What would it take to make farming edible foods a more reliable occupation? I’ve found answers to many of the problems but there aren’t easy ways to fix them. I took my shot and worked as hard as I could to succeed. This business was born of equal parts activism and entrepreneurship. They say that you learn more from failure than success so I am going to take my lumps and learn my lessons. I regret not being able to accomplish my goals and move forward with this business but won’t allow that to eat at me or fill me with regret. I tried and tried big. I stayed in the arena for almost a decade doing work that I believed in. To anyone that comes after us it is certainly possible to reshape the food system. Look me up if you think I can help.

Hoping the void is filled

My personal experiences with Urban Agrarian were limited but always positive. I’m no snooty foodie, but I did fundamentally enjoy buying local produce from an organization committed to addressing the social challenges Burch outlined above.

To that end, I certainly hope another entrepreneur attempts to fill the void and commercial space that Urban Agrarian leaves behind.

Until such a time, I suggest OKC residents remember to visit the Piñata Store for fresh fruit and vegetables. It stands just across the street in the Farmer’s Market District.

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William W. Savage III holds a journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma. He covered two sessions of the Oklahoma Legislature for eCapitol.net before working in health care for six years. He is a nationally certified Mental Health First Aid instructor.