Atlantic Cities

A Blueprint for a Profitable Urban Farm

A Blueprint for a Profitable Urban Farm
Reuters

For cities littered with vacant properties, urban agriculture has become the "why not?" option. The land is just sitting there, so it might as well be used for something. The urban farms and community gardens that have sprouted on some of these sites have become community projects and some have even turned into businesses. Most, though, are small-scale efforts. But they may not have to be. A new report [PDF] from the environmental nonprofit Global Green USA argues that even a modest plot of land could potentially become a job creator and profit maker.

Using Youngstown, Ohio, as its testing ground, the report assesses the feasibility of turning vacant residential land into a working farm. The analysis suggests that at least three to 10 acres of contiguous space would be needed to create a viable commercial farm. Working with the city, they identified a collection of 31 vacant plots totaling 5.5 acres in the city's Oak Hill neighborhood, all of which have been donated to the city's land bank.

Global Green USA projects that in that space a profitable farm could be built to support three full-time equivalent staff. Based on three different crop scenarios, the report suggests that revenues could top $160,000 and profits could be more than $10,000 per year. It's kind of like an abbreviated business plan for potential urban farmers in Youngstown, showing at least one way to turn this idea into actual jobs.

The organization has been working with Youngstown since 2009 to help develop a sustainable city plan and to turn the city into a model of recovery for other struggling Rust Belt cities.

The city has been losing population for the last 30 years, and its shrinkage has been compounded by a worsening economic situation. As jobs dried up and people left town, the city became home to large amounts of vacant property – 22,000 empty plots according to an official count. Like many other cities facing similar increases in vacant land, urban agriculture has been seen as an option for putting land back to use. It's also an official strategy. The city's 2010 plan emphasizes the importance of shrinking the city.

About 44 acres of formerly vacant land is now being farmed in Youngstown. Based on this report, an ambitious group of farmers could soon be adding another 5.5 acres to that total, as well as a few local jobs.

Photo credit: Rebecca Cook / Reuters

Nate Berg is a freelance reporter and a former staff writer for The Atlantic Cities. He lives in Los Angeles. All posts »

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