Can Urban Farms Turn Their Popularity into Profitability?

Can Urban Farms Turn Their Popularity into Profitability?

Cambria Bold
Jun 23, 2010

In the last several years, urban farms have sprung up all over the country, offering consumers a fresh and local alternative to large scale industrial food production methods. Found in the most unlikeliest of places—empty lots, old asphalt playing fields, rooftops— many of the country's urban farms stand upon the principle that healthy, affordable food should be a basic human right (a right that stores like Whole Foods, with its relatively high prices and affluent customers, does not necessarily support). But despite the increased media attention and growing popularity, most urban farms haven't yet found a way to thrive in the market economy. Is there a future for them?

The problem is that most city farms still rely heavily on volunteer labor and grant funding. According to a recent piece in the Earth Island Journal, this is a definite problem because these farms "are unlikely to fulfill their aspirations and make a meaningful dent in the problem of food insecurity if they are forever running on the treadmill of foundation funding."

One farm that has successfully turned a profit while making local, organic produce available to its nearby residents is Greensgrow, an urban farm started in 1998 to serve a low-income neighborhood in north Philadelphia. The organization has a one-acre plot of raised beds and greenhouses on the site of a former steel-galvanizing factory. It sells vegetables, herbs, honey, and seedlings produced on-site, along with produce, breads, meats, and cheeses from local producers, and also makes biodiesel from waste oil produced by the restaurants that buy its vegetables.

Greensgrow co-founder Mary Seton Corboy says this diversification partly explains why her organization is financially self-sufficient, while many other urban farms are not. In 2009, Greensgrow had an earned income of $825,000 from CSAs, farm stand sales, restaurant sales, and nursery sales. Their profit of $85,000 was then invested in community programs, including workshops, tour visits, and plant giveaways.

For more on this, read the full article at Earth Island Journal.


(Image: BIC United Nations Office)

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