The American urban farm comes in many guises but come it does. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 800 million people worldwide practice urban agriculture. That accounts for between 15 to 20 percent of the world’s food supply. As urban ag continues to build momentum across all 50 states, the influence and scope of the urban farm is growing. Most of us think of less than a couple of acres when we think urban farm, yet urban farms are getting bigger. And some are getting really big.
In 2016, at the height of the California drought, Julian Cantando and Clayton Garland envisioned a more sustainable farming model than traditional soil-based agriculture, which has always thrived in California.
“Last year was the seventh year of the drought, the lake was down, and the threat of not having water was real, at least for other farmers who aren’t on a well. It was kind of a bleak situation,” Cantando says.
He and Garland were classmates in the Horticulture Program at Santa Barbara City College and often discussed going into business together.
Access to sufficient appropriate capital remains one of the greatest keys to success for indoor agriculture entrepreneurs. In a survey conducted of indoor agriculture industry participants, Newbean Capital found that 53% of respondents stated their biggest business challenge was finding enough funding to operate or expand their farm. In addition, 74% of respondents were currently seeking external capital for their farm.
When discussing funding options for expansion, it is important to make the distinction between debt-based funding and equity-based funding. Debt-based funding is a loan. You either pay it back in installments, or when the loan comes due. Equity funding, on the other hand, is funding that gives investors shares in your company. Typically, with equity funding, an investor does not expect repayment until the business is sold or another investor buys their stake in the business.
Farmers need to be good at a little bit of everything—from growing and marketing to strategic planning. Chaz Shelton of Merchant’s Garden in Tucson, Arizona, approaches farming from a slightly different angle. He earned his MBA at Indiana University-Bloomington and is using that broad business knowledge to manage his hydroponic and aquaponics operation with co-founder Bill Shriver.
Shelton’s interest in farming began more out of an interest in public health. While working with the Philadelphia Department of Public Health in Pennsylvania several years ago, he often saw how poor eating led to adverse health outcomes. He solidified his idea that instead of shipping food from faraway farms into urban environments, he could bring farming into the city.
That led three years ago to the formation of Merchant’s Garden, an urban farming enterprise whose mission, according to the company website, is to “make fresh food accessible and affordable to everyone using the science of aquaponics and hydroponics.” The farm was started with the help of investors and the business accelerator organization Startup Tucson. It launched just as Shelton was finishing up his MBA.
Farming Supermarket Rooftops and a Storied Ball Park, a City Farming Operation Increases Access to Local FoodApril 17, 2018 | Charli Engelhorn
Since its inception in 2008, Green City Growers (GCG), a Certified B Corporation that installs and maintains vegetable gardens and farms within the greater Boston area, has assisted in the production of more than 175,000 pounds of organic produce, donated more than 12,000 pounds of fruits and vegetables, and engaged more than 7,500 people through their efforts.
“The mission is to grow food in unused spaces and provide people access to fresh produce,” says Jessie Banhazl, CEO and co-founder of GCG. “Having that mission as the core of our trajectory has led us into so many different spaces, which has been really fun and interesting and made us realize that there are so many possibilities for this kind of work.”