Greens and graffiti removal, by bike

The next time you see a bike messenger, check the trailer — he might be delivering a cooler full of farm-fresh veggies to someone’s doorstep. Or, he might be hauling a bucket of cleaners to scrub graffiti off a local shop. 

Food deliveries and graffiti removal form an unlikely pairing at Urban Herbs, a new start-up serving South Minneapolis. Food is the focus, with graffiti removal as a side job. 

“It’s a green, clean city kind of idea,” said founder Jeremy Janssen. “I’ll do as much as I can without ever having to touch a vehicle.”

Janssen is targeting fresh food for his deliveries, such as community supported agriculture shares and food from co-ops. Delivery rates start at $5 for load weights under 50 pounds and trips under 5 miles.

“I really want to work with anyone growing in the cities,” he said. “Even a 10-by-10 plot in the backyard. I want to make locally grown food more accessible.” 

Janssen plans to create an online marketplace where he posts his farmers market locale of the day and fills orders for those vendors.

“I’ll be at the farmers market, and I’ll bring it on over to your house,” Janssen said. “I can bring food for as much as it would cost (the consumer), time-wise and gas-wise.” 

Janssen is a relatively young entrepreneur, with a semester left on a University of Minnesota degree in creative writing. He primarily writes nonfiction and poetry, and he wrote a 10-minute play that was performed at the university.

Accordingly, his business plan was written in four drafts. The “short draft” is 70 pages. 

“This [business] gets me out of my element,” Janssen said. “Every day is a new challenge.”

Graffiti removal is not a new challenge for Janssen, though. 

Janssen estimated he removed 300 or 400 graffiti tags in a month-and-a-half this summer as part of a “graffiti-busting” job for the Lyndale Neighborhood Association. He can recognize the style of four or five serial graffiti taggers who often walk for three or four blocks and tag every surface along the way.

Most of the tags are made by individuals, Janssen said, but gang-related graffiti appears as well. 

“The actual graffiti art, I don’t touch,” he said. 

One of Janssen’s favorite graffiti art tags appears on a garbage can behind the Alternative Bike & Board shop on Lyndale Avenue. The image shows two guys high-fiving, with the caption: “Be excellent to everyone.”

Janssen also appreciates a 10-foot Alpaca llama painted on a Lyndale neighborhood house.

Graffiti removal could become a bigger business for Janssen. He is bidding on a citywide graffiti-removal contract through the city of Minneapolis, using his bike as an extra selling point. 

“More labor, no gas,” he said. 

To keep Urban Herbs delivery costs low, Janssen is selling local advertising on the side of his trailers. 

The staff at Ecopolitan, a vegan restaurant and eco-health center at 2409 Lyndale Ave. S. have considered advertising on the trailers, and they recently hired Janssen to remove graffiti as well.

Tamar Snir, who provides operations support for Ecopolitan, said they were glad to meet a like-minded entrepreneur.

Janssen previously worked in construction and carpentry, and he built four bike trailers himself. They feature names like El Toro, Tall Boy and Fire Truck. To add character to the trailers, Janssen is covering them with the signatures of people he meets.

“My trailer is a blank canvas,” he said.

Janssen reused tires from children’s bikes that he found on Craigslist, and he hopes to build his next trailer out of bamboo.

“I hope to have 20 or so built by the end of the year,” he said.

The trailer loads get heavy, but once they’re rolling, they typically send Janssen traveling 13–16 mph.

“Once you get going, you get a little momentum behind you,” he said.