“What you see depends on how your view the world. To most people, this is just dirt. To a farmer, it’s potential.” ~ Doe Zantamata
Is at all possible for a small plot, serviced by just one person, to deliver an actual living wage? Or even a nice tidy profit?
My Great Grandmother Florence tried to. When her husband left the family, she was left to support her family of five with a small farm. Florence sold her produce to the local townspeople, but life was tough. She lived in the Outback, in a tin shack. She also supplemented the farm income with a laundry service. And when she moved to the city, my Aunt remembers visiting Granny, picking and eating vegetables she grew in her small, Victoria Park home to supplement her pension. You can read more about Florence here.
But let’s face it. It’s not 1924. Almost a century later, so much has changed.
Indeed, I have many more opportunities than Florence. The late co-founder of Permaculture, Bill Mollinson’s words…
“We are surrounded by insurmountable opportunities.”
…have been echoing in my head all month.
Yet the most obvious way to make money from an urban farm is selling produce, right?
I tried to find examples of solo farmers making a living off urban plots.
But I had a few parameters. First, it had to be free market income. I excluded any enterprise that was government subsidized, grant funded or not-for-profit. I excluded any farms that used “community volunteers” or other kinds of free labor like interns or WWOOF’ers.
Lastly, the farm had to be their only source of income. Selling grown produce. No courses, books or workshops.
Frankly, I couldn’t find a credible example. To be fair, perhaps such urban farmers aren’t blogging, especially not about their income.
But, Canadian Curtis Stone (not to be mistaken for the Aussie chef of the same name) AKA The Urban Farmer is the clear leader in this urban farming field. Yes, he sells courses and writes books, but he also suggests a six figure revenue on 1/3 of an acre is possible using his methods.
Which is excellent news. Because why grow lawn when you can grow produce, feed yourself and earn an income in the process? At the very least, I hope people will rethink the opportunity cost of their lawn, land, and even their own waste.
Otherwise, there are plenty of people supplementing their urban farming projects with consulting, publications, products (seeds, garden tools etc), brand sponsorship and even courses and workshops.
While the critics of urban farming point out that they don’t make money, the reality is that more than half of commercial, rural farmers in the U.S. supplement their farm income with a second job too.
So it appears farming is a risky enterprise. Even for the “professionals” who have been doing it for generations.
The reasons why urban farms don’t make money are as many and varied as why most other businesses fail. A farm is a business like any other.
Certainly, urban farming can make a contribution to our food supply and the pockets of those willing and able to give it a go.
So I believe the answer to the question posed in the title is “Of course Urban Farms can produce an income!” But, it takes study, experimentation, planning, persistence and work.
We need more urban farms! But without a sustainable income to entice people away from their day jobs, it is not likely to happen. So in the meantime, it is up to the most inventive, creative and proactive members of the urban farming community to lead the way and share their stories.
And they are out there.
Soon, I hope to join them.
But what about you? Do you make an income from your Urban Farm? Or do you buy products or services from a local farmer? I’d love to hear from you!