Urban farming includes a wide array of food-producing projects and activities. And with the recent resurgence of farming in and around cities, people have been reconnecting to agriculture by growing food themselves and visiting farmer’s markets. This fast-growing phenomenon has the potential to nourish communities and create economic opportunities. Urban farming is popular for several reasons such as sustainability, affordability, health, and convenience.
Today urban agriculture exists in many forms including: community and backyard gardens; rooftop and balcony gardening; growing in vacant lots, parks the list goes on.
What is Urban Farming?
Urban farming is often confused with community gardening, homesteading or subsistence farming. Simply put urban farming focuses more in selling produce, produce grown as sold as opposed to being grown for personal consumption or sharing.
Urban farming can support the well-being of individuals and communities in many ways. From providing fresh produce to communities, creating a sense of community belonging, job creating and promoting health lifestyles.
Being a community enterprise, urban farming helps stimulate the local economy through job creation, income generation, and the growth of small businesses. More importantly, urban farming makes fresh food more affordable. It is fast becoming an important component of a city’s food system.
From the production, to the processing to distribution it brings together a variety of community benefits. The benefits vary according to the type of urban farming. This includes personal consumption, institutional, educational, for-profit, or nonprofit. Successful urban farming projects however require considerable planning and commitment.
Space and pollution can be major challenges for urban farmers but also motivates them to develop new farming strategies aided with technology. However, because they are closer to local restaurants and supermarkets, urban farmers can supply fresh produce faster and easier.
How to Get Started
Do your Research
Educate yourself on the best practices in urban farming. Check your local, state, and federal laws for permits.
Identify the Project and Define its Purpose
You will first need to identify your target customers, what to produce, how and where it will be distributed, and what the existing market is. These will be critical to the success of the business.
Engage the Community
Work with community members and friends to identify what is needed and is desired. Brainstorm and network.
Check out the Competition
Visit existing farms to learn what others are doing. How will your project be the same or differ? Ask other farmers to share lessons they have learned.
Plan how to be Profitable
Identify your customer and determine what you will produce. Will you be selling direct to consumers or to restaurants or to the local farmers market?
Establish the type, scale and method for the project: vertical farming of micro-greens, aquaponics, hydroponics, organic or natural? Before investing in structures start small and develop a market. Then, if you see the demand growing then expand.
What Types of Urban Farming are There?
More and more people are pursuing urban agriculture as a business venture. Focusing on niche markets, higher-margin products, and specialized services. Some urban farming enterprises are successfully negotiating the profit landscape.
Start-up expenses for an urban farm can vary widely depending on location because many of the components (such as land or utilities) are site-specific. Start-up expenses can be broken down into a few categories, location, site preparation and structures.
Structures include both infrastructure necessary for growing (such as high tunnels) and storage (such as a cooler). The type of structure you need will depend on location, types of crops grown, and the length of the growing season.
Also called edible landscaping, this includes mixing flowers and vegetables throughout the garden. This allows for flexible opportunities with a small startup capital. Your investments will mostly be investing in tools to grow vegetables either on freshly tilled soil or in containers.
You have wide repertoire of plants to work with from herbs, onions, garlic, to strawberries and even fruit trees.
Products and Services
Besides your urban farm, you can generate another revenue line in your business through providing seedlings and compost. With a growing market for environmentally friendly products and services, many are starting to look at waste in a new way.
Composting today is no longer a method of disposal in rural areas. It is fast becoming a common way to manage waste and produce a usable product- creating a viable business opportunity. Your customers could be landscaping companies as well as fellow urban farmers.
Hydroponics is the process of growing crops with nutrient-rich water kept in contact with the plant roots without using soil. This process is touted to significantly reduce the risk of wastage and pollution that can harm the produce and cause diseases, making it popular to health-conscious consumers.
A well-designed hydroponic system is characterized by less wastage of water and nutrients than soil-based farms. Both water and nutrients are fed directly to the root structure of the plants and recycled through the hydroponic system. This also eliminates the typical land and water pollution possibilities due to overland flow and runoff.
Mushrooms are relatively easy to cultivate. A profitable mushroom will depend on knowing which mushroom strain to cultivate and how to maximize your production. Growing mushrooms doesn’t require a full-time commitment.
You can still have a full-time job, and produce enough to become a steady supplier to other businesses. Mushroom farmers harvest an average of 25 pounds of produce per square foot every year. Prior to harvest, contact local restaurants and take orders from them for a quick sale.
Beekeeping can help you produce extra products for you, as well as having other indirect benefits like making your existing crops better pollinated. Having bees around your vegetable plants will dramatically increase your yield.
You will however need to do a thorough research before embarking in apiculture. You will need to consider the size of the bee colony, the health of the work force, weather conditions, the availability of nectar for the bees to collect will affect your bottom line.
Rooftop Tea Gardens
Finding the right amount of space is often a challenge in cities. Rooftop gardens provide a solution for those with an inclination towards trying their hand at urban farming but don’t have a plot of land to use. By starting a rooftop tea garden, you can grow a variety of aromatic and medicinal herbs and greens to sell directly to your customers.
Urban Chicken Farms
Backyard chicken keeping is an easy and popular way to get into urban farming without spending a lot of money or the need for a lot of space for gardening. Chickens require relatively little space for the number of eggs and meat they produce and are easy to care for. Therefore you can initially start by investing in a modest chicken house in your background and gradually grow in capacity.
Generally speaking, organic farming is a method of raising crops and livestock and has evolved into a niche of its own. A growing number of restaurants and supermarkets market specifically for organic produce.
These businesses rely on organic farmers to supply them with organically grown fruits and vegetables and organically raised, or free-roaming livestock. Organic farming is highly sought because they provide customers with safe, wholesome food from a toxin-free environment.
If you know your roses and lilies well and have a green thumb, perhaps you should look into growing flowers. There are ample avenues you can pursue from selling to florists (cut), for nurseries, direct to the public and others. Growing flowers can also dramatically increase the yield of your land.
If you live in a state where cannabis use is legal, you might take advantage of the available space and start your own small cannabis business. If you have a large backyard it can helps keep your investment low, while giving you a flexible space with which to work. You can also grow your business by building a small greenhouse.
Beyond selling simply farm produce, you can also venture into value-added products. By transforming the raw farm products into food, personal care, craft products and more. Value added products can help boost your income and expand the market season.
Deciding to get involved in creating new products generally calls for a long-term commitment in that it requires additional capital for infrastructure, compliance with food safety and labeling requirements, liability insurance, and marketing.
To start an urban farming business, you don’t necessarily need a background in urban farming. All you need is to educate yourself on the abundant resources on urban farming found online. Today there are many small businesses popping up across America focusing on urban farming. The demand is not only for green thumbs but also for people with sales, marketing and other skills in the value chain.
If you can reach large production capacity look towards a business to business farming model. This is a business method that farmers use when producing agricultural products to supply business clients. Businesses prefer to deal with farmers directly for the low cost and quality by getting produce directly from the source. Examples of business clients are grocery stores and restaurants that re-sell these products in their original or processed form to customers.
The key to profits is creating a niche for your business. While creating your business plan, be sure to include opportunities to get small business grants to help fund your new venture. For this reason, always look towards diversifying your revenue streams and build strong relationships with your customers.
Urban farming is all about making the most of the space you have. You can start off using your own garden to start growing food, and may eventually expand and start growing on other plots in your area.
Having an urban farming business can be particularly satisfying as you get to make your own contribution to making the world a better place as well.