For someone new to urban farming, finding a useable, affordable plot to work can be a daunting task. To formulate an effective plan to acquire land for urban farming, you need to answer some basic questions. If you know where you are going, you stand a better chance you have of getting there. It is wise to remember that getting a hold of some good soil is just one of the many factors for success. We will cover other factors like farming systems and developing revenue channels in future posts.
Urban Farm Produce: Keep It or Sell It?
The first question you need to answer is whether you will be farming strictly for your consumption or for some combination of selling and keeping some of your produce. Proper farming techniques can produce an astounding amount of food on tiny plots, including modest back yards. So for the balance of this article, we’re going to assume that the reader is looking to get access to land that they can farm to grow product destined for some sales channel. Veteran urban farmers have demonstrated that generating a healthy income stream is possible from just a quarter of an acre. So, we will focus on acquiring plots of at least this size or larger.
Hardcore City versus Smaller, More Relaxed City
Where you live will affect how easy it is to find land, how much it will cost, and what you will be allowed to do with it. Although there are exceptions, larger cities tend to be a good deal more bureaucratic. Also, the quantity of useable land will almost certainly be less. If you live in larger urban areas, you will likely need to make alliances with influential people to get specific permissions or to get help with zoning issues. Again, this isn’t always the case, but it a good rule of thumb.
If you live in a smaller city that still has larger, undeveloped tracts of land available, your path could be somewhat easier. Some urban farming experts have stated that they got their start from asking around to their immediate circle of friends and their friends. Once they got their start and showed a modicum of success, expansion became easier. They were able to demonstrate that they had a plan and were responsible for managing their business.
Own Or Lease Urban Farming Land?
It is not necessary to own your own land to begin an urban farm. Starting an urban farm is often much easier if you don’t own the properties you farm at the beginning. Some beginning urban farmers get their start by either leasing the land or by making a deal to provide the landowners with a weekly supply of fresh seasonal produce. Once they get established and refine their systems, they can expand by leasing more land or buying a plot. And it isn’t a requirement to work with private owners either.
Most cities have public land available that allows agriculture. Each town has a different set of regulations, so the process you have to go through will be particular to your situation. Also, different cities have different views on urban agriculture. Some cities view urban farming as a boon to society, while others regard it at best a nuisance. And this is before you get into any regulations regarding self-sufficient activities (off-grid setups.)
Have Realistic Urban Farming Goals
Almost every successful urban farmer advises the beginner to start small. It is easier to scale up from a small successful operation than it is to start over from a failed, more extensive operation. Sound farm systems scale well, but it is easier to learn system implementation on 50-1000 square feet than it is an acre. You must learn how to test systems and adapt and change if a change is needed. Keeping records is crucial if you want to scale. By starting with a small parcel of land, you can form habits that transfer over to larger farms.
This article is a broad overview that doesn’t begin to dig into the details of what it takes to get useable land for an urban farm. Over time, we’re going to flesh out other pieces of how you can build and scale urban farms. For now, use these topics as starting points for further research.
OK, time to get started.