Home / Blog / Urban Farming: The Ultimate Guide (99 Surprising Facts)
In this article you will learn in-depth all the key aspects of urban farming.
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Urban farming is defined as a type of agriculture that is done within urban environments on small plots of land.
Features of urban farming include:
- crops are typically leafy greens, herbs, and other similar varieties
- yield is typically higher per unit area than traditional styles of agriculture
- close to end markets of consumption, involving little or no transport in the supply chain
Although urban farming has been practiced for thousands of years and can be traced back to before the common era, urban farms as currently defined have enjoyed growth in popularity in the especially the last decade (2010s).
Detroit is known for urban farming because the adaption of urban farming has been an effective tool for improving neighborhood quality, increasing social activism, and decreasing issues such as crime and urban land vacancy.
For more information on urban farming and Detroit, see this article "A Full Summary: Urban Farming in Detroit"
The Michigan urban farming initiative is an effort by the state of Michigan in the United States to promote urban farming projects and get the positive benefits that those projects bring.
From the miufi.org website":
"The Michigan Urban Farming Initiative is an all-volunteer 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that seeks to engage members of the community in sustainable agriculture.
We believe that challenges unique to urban communities like Detroit (e.g., vacant land, food security) present a unique opportunity for community-supported agriculture.
We hope to empower urban communities by using agriculture as a platform to promote education, sustainability, and community while simultaneously reducing socioeconomic disparity."
Although urban farming is still a growing movement, there are some sites that focus on urban farming and related topics.
Our favorite (we are biased!) is www.urbanvine.co.
Others to check out are Agritecture, Tree Hugger, and AgFunder News.
Urban Farming Guys (UFG) is a group based in Kansas City, Missouri in the United States that has been operating a urban farm in a disadvantaged inner city neighborhood for over 10 years.
Over the course of this time UFG has gained significant popularity and press coverage, and now has over 11,000 Facebook followers.
For more information, visit https://theurbanfarmingguys.com
Curtis Stone is a well known urban farming thought leader who has developed an urban farming system that allows him to earn over $100k from farming only 1/4 of an acre of land.
Curtis has a vast amount of content relating to his business and techniques for urban farming on his YouTube channel, where he has gained over 325,000 followers!
You can visit Curtis' YouTube channel here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC-BlDCX__nCLs_ZF9meYQbw
Chicago has seen growth in both commercial and social impact focused urban farms over the past 10 years.
On the social side, Chicago is home to organizations such as the Advocates for Urban Agriculture AUA, whose mission is to "empowers urban growers to foster thriving communities through sustainable agriculture and equitable food systems."
For more information, visit https://auachicago.org
On the commercial side, Chicago has also seen innovation with urban farming styles and techniques.
To learn more about urban farming projects in Chicago, visit this Food Tank article: https://foodtank.com/news/2015/01/ten-urban-agriculture-projects-in-chicago-worth-visiting/
Urban farming has flourished in Los Angeles in the past several years. One reason that this is the case is that the southern California weather is good for growing crops in any type of urban farm design.
For more information, visit:
The ability to turn urban farming into an actual business model is attractive to many people. How great would it be to have a sustainable career path that also gives you freedom and makes good money?
The key to profitable urban farming has to do with understanding the urban farming business model.
What is the cost of production?
What are the crop(s) you will be growing?
What is your go to market strategy?
Who are your customers?
Knowing these key questions, just like in any business, is the key to becoming a profitable urban farmer.
Urban farming thought leaders like Curtis Stone (https://profitableurbanfarming.com/) and others have provided a lot of material that discusses how to build a successful urban farming business model.
There are a couple different well known urban farming institutes of note. Below you will find a summary of the most well known urban farming institutes.
Urban Farming Institute (Boston): The urban farming institute in Boston was founded in 2011. Their self-stated mission is to "develop and promote urban farming as a commercial sector that creates green collar jobs for residents; and to engage urban communities in building a healthier and more locally based food system."
To date the institute has partnered with large groups such as the City of Boston and also utilizes special zoning rules in the city of Boston to allow for urban farms to operate. For more information, visit https://urbanfarminginstitute.org/about-us
Urban Farming Institute (Florida): The Florida based urban farming institute has had a large impact on southern Florida. The institute has built over 60 urban gardens & farms in schools in Southern Florida. For more information, visit http://ufi.us.org/
Will Allen is a former professional basketball player that founded the urban farming company Growing Power in Milwaukee, USA. The company was in operation from 1993 to 2017.
The eventual closure of Growing Power is a recent case study that shows the challenges of operating a large urban farming operation - by many accounts grants and donations provided by large corporations to support Growing Power were mismanaged and led to a financial collapse of the company.
For a full account of Growing Power and its rise and fall along with Will Allen and his perspective on these topics, visit this article from Civil Eats: https://civileats.com/2018/03/13/behind-the-rise-and-fall-of-growing-power/
Urban farming in Boston as referenced in earlier in this article is enjoying some recent success. One reason for this is that the government ordinances in Boston are favorable for urban farming operations.
Specifically "Article 89" in the city of Boston supports commercial urban farming within city limits. The city of Boston also provides:
- grant services
- microloan services
- land purchase programs
- training programs
- business planning services
- a list of commercial urban farms in the city of Boston:
- These farms include: Revision Farm Administration, Urban Farming Institute, Green City Growers (https://greencitygrowers.com/fenway-farms/), Eastie Farms, Hannah Farm, NUBIA, Oasis, Boston Medical Rooftop, and The Food Project
Urban farming jobs can be found in a couple key places. Although it may be surprising you can find urban farming jobs in the same places that you can find any other type of job.
1) These include sites like Indeed, LinkedIn, etc
2) Another way to find urban farming jobs is to look at the websites of urban farming advocacy groups or collectives that support urban farming. These organizations have a special interest in getting urban farming jobs filled. Here are some helpful links for just the city of Chicago alone:
Grants are essential to supporting the start-up costs of many urban farms. Also, urban farms are often social benefit projects and sometimes are not for-profit even, and as a result are prime targets for getting grants.
A a full post on getting grants for urban farming can be found here: https://www.urbanvine.co/blog/urban-farming-grants
There are many urban farming books that discuss different sub-topics of urban farming such as:
1) the history of urban farming
2) the social impact of urban farming
3) how to start a profitable urban farm
For a full breakdown of the top urban farming books, visit: https://www.urbanvine.co/blog/urban-farming-book
Vertical urban farming most often refers to vertical farms that are based in or near urban centers.
Specifically, vertical farming refers to the practice of growing "vertically" in a small area of space as opposed to growing in the more traditional horizontal field.
For a deeper summary of vertical farming, visit this article: https://www.urbanvine.co/blog/vertical-farming-companies
New York City urban farming has flourished, especially in the last several years. This growth of urban farms in NYC can be attributed to at least 3 factors:
1) Large population quantity
2) Large population density
3) Opportunity for inner-city social impact
For more information on urban farming in NYC, check out the articles below:
A quick and simple guide to urban farming in New York City: https://www.urbanvine.co/blog/urban-farming-new-york-city
17 urban farms in New York City: https://ny.curbed.com/maps/new-york-urban-gardening-city-farmers-brooklyn
Similar to some other cities around the word, the urban farming movement in Seattle has been supported by the local government. Specifically, Seattle Council Bill 116907 was enacted in 2011 to help enable urban farms.
Additionally, Seattle has employed a "food action plan", which has the goal of "laying out strategies to get more healthy food to more Seattle residents, expand opportunities to grow food in the City, strengthen our regional food economy, and reduce food-related waste."
To learn more about specific urban farming companies in Seattle visit the links below:
Indoor urban farming works by replacing all the necessary elements needed for growing that are present in an outdoor environment with other solutions.
For example, light, ventilation, and water are all naturally available outdoors but must be replaced "artificially" indoors.
This is accomplished by replacing sunlight with grow lights, replacing rain with irrigation or watering, and by replacing ventilation with fans or other similar solutions.
For more information on urban indoor growing, visit this article which covers the topic in depth: https://www.urbanvine.co/blog/indoor-growing
Now you should know a lot more about urban farming.
Whether you are someone who simply wants to know more about urban farming, someone who is trying to start their urban farm, or even an urban farming expert, we hope this article helped you find what you were looking for.
To learn even more about urban farming, check out the 99 urban farming "factoids" that are shared below.
Thanks for reading!
1. An average 10x20 urban farming plot in New York City can produce in between $500 and $700 worth of edible food in one season.
2. In the city of Cleveland, Ohio, if 80% of every vacant lot, 62% of commercial rooftop space, and 9% of every residential lot was used for urban farming, all of Cleveland's fresh produce needs could be met with produce grown within city limits.
3. Half of the vacant land in Detroit, Michigan is capable of producing enough fresh fruits and vegetables to meet 65% of vegetable demand as well as nearly half of non-tropical fruit demand within city limits.
4. If all of the vacant land in New York city was used for the urban farming of produce, over 150,000 people could be fed using urban grown fresh produce.
5. The city of Burlington, Vermont could meet nearly 110% of its annual fruit demand with locally grown fruits if it implemented a urban farming set up utilizing all available land and resources.
6. The average American city on average needs to dedicate just 10% of its city limit area to urban farming to produce the entire recommended vegetable intake of its population.
7. Peri-urban agriculture in Australia is responsible for one-fourth of the nations total agricultural output, yet only utilizes 3% of total Australian land used for agriculture.
8. Grow Calgary is Canada's largest community urban farm with over 20,000 volunteers. Their workforce is 100% Volunteer, 100% Chemical free, and 100% of their annual yield is donated to social agencies. Additionally, they are the location of Canada's 1st Urban Earthship & non commercial urban hemp crop
9. More on peri-urban agriculture: if peri-urban agricultural techniques were applied to all available land in the New York city metropolitan area, up to 89% of New York City's fresh fruit and fresh vegetable demand, excluding tropical fruits such as bananas and mangoes, could be provided locally.
10. Urban farming projects have been positively correlated in real-estate studies to increase the value of surrounding property within a 1,000 foot radius (The average length of a city block in Chicago is 660 feet, while the average length of a city block in New York City varying more, but in most cases less than 920 feet)
11. Urban farm and garden projects have been shown in published research to be positively correlated with higher owner occupancy and community socioeconomic diversity within a radius of approximately 1/3 mile.
12. The global vertical farming niche of the urban farming market will be worth 3.88 billion dollars in 2020, according to projections.
13. In 2015, the vertical urban farming market was valued at approximately 1.01 billion dollars. If 2020 projections hold at current levels. The vertical urban farming market will increase in size by 384% in 5 years, averaging over 30% growth per year.
14. The fastest growing niche in urban farming as referenced in the statistics above, is hydroponic vertical urban farming.
15. Commercial urban rooftop farming is often associated with high startup costs, with some research indicating that rooftop greenhouse urban farming infrastructure may be 2.8 times more expensive than traditional greenhouse infrastructure.
16. Large scale commercial hydroponic urban farms will sometimes sell fish products in addition to grown produce and herbs grown, such as tilapia or perch.
17. A 2012 study of commercial urban farmers revealed that among 370 operations the average annual revenue was approximately $54,000.
18. About 120 of the 370 urban farmers polled from the study above stated that the urban farm they operated was their sole source of income.
19. 81% of commercial aquaponic urban farming operations in the world are located in the United States.
20. The primary sub-categories of urban farming are classified as hydroponic and vertical farming, rooftop farming and rooftop greenhouse farming, edible walls and landscaping, peri-urban farming, and community garden / traditional garden urban farming.
21. The first recorded instances of urban farming date back over 3,000 years to ancient Egypt. In the 1400's, urban farming was incorporated into the construction plan for Machu Picchu.
22. In the United States, urban agriculture was first adapted on a large scale on vacant lots in Detroit Michigan in 1893, under the direction of its then mayor, Hazen Pingree (1840-1901)
23. Commercial rooftop urban farming is a relatively recent development: The first legally operated urban rooftop farm did not open in New York city until 2010, for example.
24. In 1919, at the request of President Woodrow Wilson, urban farming became an extremely popular means of producing foods that could no longer be imported from Europe. These war-time trade restrictions resulted in the planting of over 5 million small urban farming plots.
25. During the great depression, over $1 million dollars worth of produce was grown on urban farming plots ($15.7 million adjusted for inflation in 2016).
26. The earliest large scale urban rooftop greenhouses were built in New York City in 2011. Similar projects increased exponentially in the following years.
27. According to a urban agriculture study from the University of Cardiff, urban farming projects on rooftops can reduce environmental temperature increase by up to 20.3 degrees Fahrenheit / 11.3 degrees Celsius.
28. Vertical farming in urban spaces such as apartments or small outdoor balconies can generate 10x more fresh produce by volume then the same area used via conventional farming techniques.
29. If 50% of the applicable urban rooftop area in Tokyo was adapted for urban farming space and/ or urban gardening space, the average annual temperature within city limits would decrease by .11-.84 degrees Celsius / .2 - 1.6 degrees Fahrenheit.
30. If the above temperature decrease occurred in Tokyo, over 100 million yen (approximately $1 million USD) less would be spent per year on cooling.
31. Singapore is one of the world leaders in urban farming and agricultural policy. The republic of Singapore is home to over 5 million people but has a size of only 715 square kilometers.
32. Urban roofs covered with greens can absorb up to 87% of solar radiation compared to a standard roof.
33. Research from UC Davis suggests that the average urban garden used to cultivate food will produce approximately $200-400 worth of produce per year.
34. The average conventionally grown item of produce travels over 1500 miles (2400 km) in transport distance from farm to consumption, according to research from Iowa State University. The majority of urban farmed produce will travel less than 1% of this distance.
35. Research from the same study found that, compared to urban and local agricultural practices, conventional agriculture, in terms of transportation costs, can have up to 1700% more fuel and carbon dioxide emissions.
36. A 40 x 50 meter plot of rooftop with simply uncut grass has the potential to absorb over 2000 kg of pollutants that are often present in urban centers.
37. One square meter of green agricultural rooftop space in a city can offset the annual carbon emissions of one automobile, according to green roof studies.
38. There is evidence that urban agriculture can decrease noise pollution within urban areas.
39. There is a proven link between the amount of noise pollution urban residential real estate is exposed to and the value of the property.
40. One inner-city agriculture study has demonstrated that urban residents who cultivate city farming projects consume 40% more fresh produce then the average citizen.
41. The same study participants were 350% more likely to consume the daily fresh fruits and vegetables in quantities at or above 5 servings per day.
42. Local agriculture research completed in 2005 from the University of Waterloo found that if the city of Waterloo switched entirely to production and consumption of produce cultivated via urban farming methods, the town would prevent the emission of over 50,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere.
43. According the same study, this amount of carbon emission prevention would be equivalent to the cumulative carbon emissions of 16,191 automobiles.
44. Waterloo, Ontario has an area of approximately 24 square miles and a population of 100,000 residents roughly. Los Angeles has approximately 3.8 million residents (38x the size of Waterloo) and an area of 503 square miles (21x the area of Waterloo). Using the area as a proxy, if Los Angeles also adapted local agricultural practices to the maximum potential of its area, at least 1 million metric tons of CO^2 emissions could be avoided.
45. 1 Million metric tons of Carbon Dioxide emissions would be roughly equivalent to the greenhouse gas emission collectively caused by 323,800 cars. Therefore, we can expect a total adaptation of urban agriculture within the Los Angeles city limits (based off data from Waterloo, Ontario and using urban area in square miles as a proxy) to eliminate the emissions produced by approximately 323,800 vehicles per year.
46. The elimination of nearly half a million cars worth of greenhouse gas emissions is an excellent start. Unfortunately, there are over 250,000,000 registered 2-axel vehicles in the United States, meaning 323,800 vehicles is approximately .12% of the total amount of 2-axel vehicles in the United States.
47. Fresh produce items grown in urban rooftop greenhouses require supplemental carbon dioxide to be grown effectively. One common method of producing this supplemental CO2 is, ironically, the burning of fossil fuels.
48. Depending on the type of produce being grown in a greenhouse, the amount of supplemental carbon dioxide required may be over 3 times normal atmospheric concentrations.
49. Certain methods of introducing supplemental Carbon dioxide into greenhouses produce non-ideal byproducts that can have adverse effects on the plant health. To give one example, many types of furnaces that can be used for carbon dioxide supplementation in greenhouses also introduce elevated levels of ethylene into the greenhouse atmosphere, accelerating aging and decreasing the freshness of produce being grown.
50. By the year 2050, approximately 80% of the world's population is projected to live in urban or suburban areas. Additionally, between 2015 and 2050, the world population is projected to grow by over 3 billion people.
51. The ability to produce crops year-round has impressive implications on the output of food from indoor farming operations. On average, crops farmed in vertical farming indoor in urban areas will yield 400%-600% of traditional seasonal agricultural yield.
52. For some crops such as strawberries, vertical farming year round production can result in as much as a 3000% increase in growing efficiency compared to traditional outdoor growing techniques and practices.
53. There is a proven correlation from research conducted by the NIH in 2008 between the cultivation of urban farming projects the willingness to try new fruits and vegetables in unfamiliar or foreign cuisine.
54. Data from the same study suggests that urban gardeners are less likely to eat unhealthy foods such as candy.
55. The typical 5-10 day transportation process for fresh produce from farm to consumer can result in significant weight loss, culminating in a 30-50% reduction of nutrient quantity. Locally sourced and grown fresh produce does not have this transport delay, and can maintain the 30-50% of nutrients that would otherwise be lost before consumption.
56. In many countries over 30% of fresh produce harvested is wasted due to spoilage and infestation exacerbated by extended supply chains.
57. One prominent study suggests that one 30 story building covering one city block (approximately 5 acre area) devoted entirely to indoor vertical farming could produce the same food output as 2400 acres of traditional farming, assuming optimal produce types are grown for the given conditions.
58. "Dwarf" versions of crops are often incorporated into urban agriculture plans, due to their diminished size but traditionally non compromised nutritional content compared to larger versions.
59. The lack of predictability of weather has dire consequences for traditional, rural, outdoor farmed foodstuffs. According to a piece written by Michael Pollan in the New York Times in 2009, certain rainfall deviations gradually occurring over the next decade in India could cause the traditional agricultural output of the sub-continent to be reduced by 30%.
60. Another statistic on weather risk for non-urban farming style agriculture: large cataclysmic weather events have historically incurred massive losses in traditional agriculture. Just 3 major floods in the United States in 1993, 2007, and 2008 resulted in over $1 billion dollars in cumulative lost crops. Urban farming is generally less susceptible to extreme weather due to its often protected nature.
61. From a community enrichment perspective, urban agriculture has a significant return on investment: there is evidence that $1 invested into an urban vegetable growing project can yield up to $6 dollars of vegetable output in lifetime value.
62. Increased urban agriculture and green roof space has been linked to decreased rates of asthma in the surrounding urban population.
63. According to the New York Times, lead contamination is one common source of urban farming soil contamination. Best practices can nearly completely eradicate likelihood of soil contamination.
64. In response to 2002 food shortages, over 30,000 acres of urban garden space meant for local agricultural production was installed in Havana, Cuba.
65. The food production generated by this urban farming installment was estimated to be above 3,000,000 of fresh produce.
66. In the last decade, over 90% of Havana's produce has been grown within the greater Havana metropolitan area.
67. Over a quarter million Cuban's are employed by Havana's massive urban agriculture economy. With a population of 2.1 million inhabitants in 2012, the urban agriculture sector emplyes over over 12% of the city's estimated population.
68. Vertical farming is a popular form of urban farming for some of the world's largest cities due to high land costs. Land costs in areas such Manhattan and London can exceed $2,000 per square foot and $6,000 per square meter.
69. There is evidence that pre-cursors to the now exploding vertical urban farming concepts were built in Armenia in the 1950's
70. Articles on advanced vertical farming techniques have cited a 2000% increase in food production efficiency per unit area.
71. Evidence in Europe shows that conventional farming practices often have detrimental effects on natural wildlife ecosystems, and the need for increasing amounts of arable land will further promote potential extinction of endangered species.
72. To give one example from the research above, native populations of wood mouse can have been shown to decrease by 80% in size as a direct result of clearing land for traditional agricultural use.
73. Urban and peri-urban farms provide foodstuffs for about 700 million people today (approximately 10% of the world population) in some capacity.
74. 20% of all undernourished people in the world (approximately 800 million people total, depending on most figures) reside in urban areas.
75. Non-profit organizations and inner-city food shelters are able to support, on average, less than 10% of these urban undernourished people adequately and completely, leaving over 185 million people in need across the world.
76. In the United States, 50 million Americans are food-insecure. In Europe, this number is approximately 30 million people.
77. Initial startup costs for an urban farming project, not applying to special vertical farming or greenhouse operations, is approximately 1$ / sq ft, not including the cost of the property.
78. China, despite having more than 1/5 of the world's current population, has less than 8% of the world's arable farmland. Factors such as these make China and other densely populated Asian cities ideal markets for urban farming expansion.
79. Shanghai is one of China's centers for urban agricultural production. Over 60% of its vegetables are farmed locally and the urban farming sector accounts for nearly 1 million local jobs.
80. Heavy metal pollution is one of the most damaging types of pollution in China. Evidence suggests that urban agriculture helps reduce the risks associated with heavy metal pollutants in urban air.
81. Air pollution has ruined nearly 20% of China's farmland, responsible for producing approximately 10 million tons of crops and fresh produce per year. There is, however, ample area within Chinese urban centers to make up for this loss with new urban agriculture installments.
82. According to the FAO, urban agriculture can generate one job for every 100 square meters of farm space.
83. Urban farming can also help facilitate the breeding of animal sources of food, most commonly fish and poultry.
84. There is a proven link between the cultivation of urban farming and agriculture and increased levels of mental health.
85. The concept of stackable shipping containers for vertical farming with LED lights was first pioneered by Freight Farms, a local-grown agriculture company based out of Boston, MA.
86. Developing optimal output for an urban farming project, depending on the size of the project, can require in between 2-5 years. Factors such as determining optimal crops for plots of land may not be definitively known at the outset of the project and may require several growing cycles to perfect.
87. 25,000 square feet of urban farming, using a vertical farming technique, can produce 100% more heads of lettuce with 1% of the water required in a traditional cultivation setting.
88. Purple is one of the most commonly used types of LED lighting for use in vertical farms in urban centers.
89. Many of the worlds largest cities still have much higher levels of urban agriculture potential compared to current levels of adaption. London, for example, has a population of approximately 8.5 million people, but less than .05% are employed by commercial urban farming enterprises.
90. There is evidence that the development of urban farming near schools could have indirect positive impacts on education outcomes for students.
91. In the city of Detroit, MI, there are over 1300 registered community gardens used for growing inner-city food, primarily fresh produce and herbs.
92. In extremely dense urban areas of the world such as Mumbai, India (one of the most densely populated cities in the world), there are still forms of urban farming that exist. Promising methods used in these particularly space-limited areas can still net up to 10 lbs of edible produce daily for around 300 days per year.
93. Peri-urban agricultural development is particularly advanced in urban areas in China. Before these practices began, over 70% of vegetables to urban centers like Beijing were imported.
94. Sky Greens Farms, the world's first commercial vertical farming operation opened in 2012 in Singapore.
95. There are methods for taking the by-products of vertical farming operations and generating bio-gas which can be burned to create electricity. The bio-gas will generally contain predominantly methane, in concentrations of at least 65%.
96. The most common form of vertical farming in practice today is CEA, also known as controlled-environment agriculture. All aspects from temperature to light exposure to growing atmosphere are all carefully controlled.
97. The term "vertical farming" originated from scientist and inventor Gilbert Ellis Bailey in his 1915 book titled Vertical Farming.
98. The first modern concepts of what is now known as vertical farming were developed starting in 1999 at Columbia University.
99. The first commercial scale vertical farm, called Plantagon, was built not in the United States, but in Sweden.
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