I was stoked to hear today that one of my favorite towns, Ft. Collins, Colorado, will begin changing its zoning laws to accommodate urban farming. This news is just one of several urban farming items to come up on my radar this week. Entrepreneur recently profiled two very successful urban mushroom growers who sell both mushrooms and grow-it-yourself kits to Whole Foods. They run the operation from a 10,000 square foot warehouse in Oakland. The phenomenon of urban farming also has its own book now.
Here’s a free tip for urban farmers, especially the ones that farms sustainably. Since the vast majority of you will be growing food on land leased from a municipality, you will find that your new urban landlord has very little experience with the business of agriculture. They will offer you a highly marginalized piece of land, which probably has buried tires, glass, and chunks of concrete embedded in it. They will expect you to magically, profitably turn this land into a high-yield, biodynamic community resource and offer you a one-year lease to make your money back and your dreams come true.
If you are an urban farmer, a one-year lease is for suckers. By all means, discard the trash, enrich and rehabilitate the soil. Grow something delicious and make friends with the neighbors. But always be cognizant that your rehabilitative efforts constitute a transfer of wealth from your time and labor into the earth of your municipal landlord. Make this value known during the negotiation process. Insist that your business plan depends on a multi-year lease which will allow you to recoup the rehabilitative expenses you have made in year one. If you are an exceptionally good negotiator, you will be able to persuade the city that the improved soil quality that you leave behind at the conclusion of your term is equivalent to the same type of wealth transfer that would occur if you were to leave behind any other piece of infrastructure, like irrigation. Argue that this transfer of wealth justifies a handsome rent rebate.
Grab value where ever you can, and welcome to the agriculture industry.