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Urban Ag Conference Research

Hi, Folks!

I was asked to write up the research presentations at the Urban Ag
Conference in Philadelphia for inclusion in the City Farmer website.  It
will be completely hypertexted once it is added to the site, but I thought
folks on these lists might be interested in what was said, so I'm sending
out the "raw text" version!

Enjoy and if you have any questions, e-mail Sally McCabe of Philadelphia
Green/Pennsylvania Horticultural Society at <smccabe@pennhort.org>


Research Presented at the First North American Urban Agriculture Conference
Sponsored the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society 
On March 6, 2000 in Philadelphia, PA
by Dorene Pasekoff, Coordinator
St. John's United Church of Christ Organic Community Garden
Phoenixville, PA

"Urban Agriculture -- Is It For Real?," the first conference in North
America to examine Entrepreneurial Urban Agriculture (EUA), highlighted
professional research on urban agricultural businesses (both for-profit and
non-profit) and presented findings about the feasibility and critical
concerns of these ventures.  For those of you who were not able to attend
this conference, the following research summaries should provide a sense of
the possibilities in entrepreneurial urban agriculture. For more information
on these studies, contact Sally McCabe of Philadelphia Green/Pennsylvania
Horticultural Society at smccabe@pennhort.org.

Does city farming really offer new opportunities for inner cities in
America?  The following four studies attempted to answer this question:

1. "The Feasibility of Urban Agriculture with Recommendations for
Philadelphia" by Hope Wohl of Hope Wohl Associates of Philadelphia, PA

2. "Potential Involvement of Community Development Corporations in
Entrepreneurial Urban Agriculture" by Martin Bailkey of the University of
Wisconsin, Madison, WI.

3. "Urban Agriculture in Mexico City" by Pablo Torres Lima of the
Universidad Autonoma Metropolitana, Campsus Xochimilco in Mexico City, Mexico

4. "The Role of Land-Grant Universities in Urban Agriculture" by Jim Hanson,
University of Maryland, College of Agriculture.

"The Feasibility of Urban Agriculture with Recommendations for Philadelphia"
by Hope Wohl

Vacant lots in Philadelphia, PA have doubled since 1987 from 15,000 to
30,900.  While its non-profit community gardening and greening programs were
a success, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS) was constantly
fielding questions from neighborhood groups as to whether  for-profit urban
agriculture could succeed in Philadelphia.  Therefore, PHS hired Hope Wohl
to investigate the viability of entrepreneurial urban agriculture on the
East Coast.

In her study, Wohl defined urban agriculture as businesses that grow crops,
trees, flowers or aqua farming products either outside or in greenhouses
within densely developed areas.  While she found many non-profit ventures,
she narrowed her focus to for-profit businesses and developed 8 case studies
as feasible models for East Coast cities.

Within these 8 models, she grouped these enterprises into "very large",
"medium" and "very small", but all of these businesses had the following in

1. They all formed under unusual circumstances
2. They each grew incrementally
3. They all had a greenhouse component

The 8 models are listed below.  For more detail on any of these successful
urban agriculture businesses, contact Sally McCabe of Philadelphia
Green/Pennsylvania Horticultural Society at smccabe@pennhort.org.

1. Village Farms, Buffalo NY   Hydroponic tomatoes in an18-acre greenhouse;
the largest, most profitable business studied.  Sells through marketing
agreements with distributors and retailers.

2. Gooseberry Farms, Westport, MA  Largest hydroponic lettuce producer on
the East Coast in a 70,000 square foot greenhouse.  Sells direct to

3. Hartford Farms, Hartford, CT  Hydroponic lettuce in a 13,000 square foot
greenhouse.  Sells mostly to supermarkets with some local restaurant and
grocery stores.

4. Greensgrow Farm, Philadelphia, PA  Hydroponic lettuce, tomatoes, herbs
and field-grown flowers on a  acre outdoor farm with a 6,000 square foot
greenhouse.  Sells direct to high-end restaurants and is developing a
for-profit/non-profit hybrid organizational structure to research technical
models and crop experimentation.

5. Urban Oaks Organic Farm, New Britain, CT  Wide variety of produce on a
3-acre farm with a 40,000 square foot greenhouse.  Sells primarily to
high-end restaurants and farmstands, but also has a wholesale distributor,
trains community gardeners, a community kitchen and community greening

6. Sunnyside Nursery, West Grove, PA  Ornamental plants in an 8,000 square
foot greenhouse.  Sold directly to nurseries.  Founded in 1985, the owner
closed the business in 2000 to pursue other interests.

7. BioShelters, Inc, Amherst, MA  Tilapia fish and basil in a 40,000 square
foot aquaculture facility.  Produces over 1 million pounds of fish and
60,000 cases of basil per year.

8. Catalpa Ridge Farm/Sixth Street Community Center CSA, Wantage NJ  170
different varieties of vegetables and herbs on a one-acre farm sold through
a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) model with 100 shareholder/members
in and around New York City.

In short, select urban agricultural enterprises can be marginally
profitable, especially if key challenges, described later in this section,
are met. Most urban agricultural businesses are primarily driven by values,
goals and missions related to helping the urban community and residents in
the area where the business operates, rather than by a profit-driven bottom
line.  Theses businesses are producing significant value by addressing
serious community needs - namely economic development, local food security
and personal development for those individuals involved.  Reconciling a
social service perspective with a way of business focused on generating
profits, however, generates many challenges.

Key Issues for Successful, For-Profit Urban Agricultural Businesses

 Business Planning: Develop a solid business plan and corresponding
marketing strategy before ANYTHING else!  Know what your goals are upfront:
Is it food production? Profit?  Local employment?  Figure out ways to
develop strong customer relationships - they will tide your business over
the inevitable rough spots.

 Management:  To be successful, a manager/owner must have both
entrepreneurial and agricultural skills with a strong commitment to the

 Finances:  Adequate (to lavish!) capital is a necessity!  Patient
investors motivated by interest in the venture, rather than the potential
for financial gain should be cultivated.  Cities and/or other supporting
organizations should be encouraged to develop a pool of private and public
funds for start-up grants, working capital and expansion loans.

 City Support:  Cities can support the growth of entrepreneurial urban
agriculture through funding, tax concessions, assistance in securing land,
simplifying the bureaucracy to establish a business and discounting utilities.

 Societal Concerns:  Potential customers often worry that produce grown in
urban areas contains toxins; greenhouses, organic methods, and hydroponics
can often overcome such fears.  Security and vandalism is not usually a
problem, but by offering neighborhood access to the business and hiring from
the community when possible, it can often be eliminated entirely.

"Potential Involvement of Community Development Corporations in
Entrepreneurial Urban Agriculture" by Martin Bailkey

Community Development Corporations (CDCs) are non-profit organizations that
function within a specific area, often in distressed inner cities where
vacant land is abundant.  Although they are best known for their work in
affordable housing, CDCs direct and fund a variety of activities to improve
life in local neighborhoods.  

Since entrepreneurial urban agriculture (EUA) is an end in itself as food
production and is a means to several other ends commonly funded by CDCs such
as training in employment skills, blight reduction, and job creation, it
seems logical that CDCs would encourage EUA development.

Unfortunately, many CDCs are overworked and underfunded and therefore leery
to join an unproven activity such as EUA.  Other obstacles to this
potentially rich partnership include:

 Self-perception that the local CDC doesn't have the agricultural expertise
to successfully launch an EUA.
 Low economic return on limited CDC resources 
 Lack of successful EUA models so EUAs are considered "risky ventures"
 Lack of expertise in handling urban land contamination issues
 Better housing, jobs and construction needs are more pressing

Partnering a local EUA project with a local CDC can further the goals of the
CDC to improve local food security, open space and youth jobs and give the
EUA entrepreneur badly needed access to government officials and funders.
For such a partnership to happen, EUA advocates need to convince CDCs of the

 EUA can be a revenue-producer
 CDC micro-enterprise skills can be taught in EUAs
 Link EUA projects with current CDC food security projects involving

"Urban Agriculture in Mexico City" by Pablo Torres Lima

Urban agriculture in Mexico City allows residents to reverse environmental
degradation due to urbanization, reduce waste and pollution, maintain
biodiversity, raise both local and outside employment levels, give their
families the benefits of both urban life and agriculture and to produce the
freshest possible produce and meat products.

While most urban agriculture in Mexico City takes place on small, family-run
plots with the products being sold to neighbors or at local markets, 80% of
the entire nopal cactus leaf industry (used for salads), at a net value of
$57 million, takes place within the boundaries of Mexico City.  

Unlike in the United States, much of Mexico City's waste is used to feed
backyard livestock such as cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, chicken and turkeys.
Enough livestock is raised inside Mexico City for researchers such as Lima
to consider developing markets for the family-raised livestock and livestock
products to be marketed throughout Mexico itself and perhaps even

Mexico City believes that its vibrant urban agriculture is an asset both to
the city as a whole by its positive environmental effects (especially waste
reduction and biodiversity maintenance) and to its family farmers by
providing fresh food and employment.

"The Role of Land-Grant Universities in Urban Agriculture" by Jim Hanson

While traditional farmers are declining, the number of part-time or "sunset"
farmers, usually in urban areas, is rising fast.  To fulfill its traditional
role of supporting agriculture through research and extension services,
land-grant universities must develop appropriate support services for this
new breed of farmer. Fortunately, most of those services fall into the four
categories which land-grant universities currently provide, with the
following "urban agriculture" additions:

 Research:  New research for soil remediation and nutrient management in
the urban environment must be developed.  However, current research on pest
control, varietial evaluations and greenhouse techniques can be easily
adapted to either rural or urban agriculture.

 Marketing:  Urban agriculture succeeds when high-value, rather than
commodity crops, are produced.  Therefore, extension guidance and
development of farmers' markets, direct sales, e-commerce and new crop
development is critical for urban agriculture to succeed (and can only help
rural farmers as well!).

 Farm Management:  Agricultural business plan development, farm
record-keeping, enterprise analysis and other farm business services
currently offered to commodity farmers can and must be adapted so that
"sunset" farmers can successfully take their agriculture from "hobby" to
working, profitable business.

 Community and Social Issues:  Traditional nutritional improvement studies
are relevant to both urban and rural growers.  However, land-grant
universities must now expand their community and economic development
activities to urban, as well as rural areas, if agriculture as food
production continue in the United States.

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