Kill your lawn, grow food, start an urban farm. This is the new mantra of farmers in cities across the country. These farmers are redefining how (and where) we grow our food. As arable land is is growing more scarce and drought conditions restrict water use, the need to be more innovative and efficient is becoming more of a necessity than ever. Looking to get your own urban farm started?
Make a Plan
Creating an urban farm from the ground up requires a large initial investment of time, resources and hard work. Developing a plan will help to layout your vision and goals for what you are aiming to do with your farm. Ask yourself the following questions:
- What is it that you are trying to achieve?
- Why are you starting an urban farm?
- Who are you serving?
- How long do you see yourself doing this for?
- Are you doing this for personal use or profit?
The answers to these questions will help to develop the broader picture. You can assess how much space you may need, how many workers that it will require and the resources you will need to reach your goal.
Obtaining land may be as simple as converting your backyard into your growing space. If you want to keep your home and garden life separate, look for plots of land that are available for sale or rent in your city. Location is key when considering where you will put your roots down. There are some things to consider before investing in land. Look at the site’s security, the amount of sunlight, access to water, the history of the soil and the distance you have to travel to get there.
A quarter of an acre is a good size of land to start your work. If you work efficiently, a quarter of an acre can produce a plentiful amount of food. There are zoning laws in some states that prohibit land use within city limits for agricultural use but they tend to not be enforced unless an issue arises. As long as you have permission to use the land and water where you wish to start your farm, there should be little to stop you from moving forward. If it is in your plan to have chickens, bees, or goats, you will have to check your city ordinances to avoid any legal trouble down the road.
Before you begin to get your hands too dirty, assess the soil where you want grow your farm. Do your soil research before purchasing or signing a lease agreement. Find out if there is too much clay, high acidity or if heavy amounts of chemicals have been used on the soil. If you have access to the history of the plot of land, it may be as simple as contacting the previous owners to ask these questions. You can also send out soil samples to have them lab tested to learn more about the soil. This is a crucial step if you intend to become organically certified.
In the event that the soil is not prime for planting due to various reasons, don’t worry. You can build raised beds or grow hydroponically in a greenhouse on the land. Beware, this can be more labor and resource intensive. However, it will give you the comfort of knowing that you are providing a hospitable environment for your future garden.
The More You Know, The Better Your Grow
Take a tour of other gardens and urban farms in the area to see what has been successful for them. Learn how many days you have in a growing season, how to best utilize greenhouses, and what to plant and when. If you are looking to make a profit, explore what niches need to be filled in the local market. If the university or college near you offers horticulture or permaculture programs, enlist the students of those programs to come and apply their knowledge to help support your efforts. Take advantage of the programs in place that can help to get you started and lean on your community to help you get up and farming.