From Small Seeds, Urban Farms Grow
Facebook founder and billionaire entrepreneur Mark Zuckerberg created Facebook using a $1,000 dollar loan from a friend. Today, the company is worth about $41 billion. Sometimes great things come from relatively small investments. Take, for example, Young Urban Farmers CSA, a Toronto-based social enterprise that just won a $1,000 microloan in a pitch competition run by the Young Social Entrepreneurs of Canada.
Young Urban Farmers CSA takes unused backyards in urban neighborhoods and develops them as community gardens. In exchange for donating land, homeowners receive a share of the harvest. Customers who do not donate land can buy into the company and receive fresh, local produce every week for the entirety of the growing season. Young Urban Farmers plans to use the $1,000 loan to build simple greenhouses that will boost the harvest’s yield by prolonging the growing season.
While Young Urban Farmers CSA lacks the massive financial potential of Facebook, the social enterprise is part of a growing movement that is combatting urban food insecurity and global environmental degradation. As more of the world’s population moves to cities and the earth’s energy resources are gradually (or, perhaps, precipitously) depleted, the need for urban sources of agricultural products is great. Approximately 50% of the world’s population currently resides in urban environments. It is estimated that by 2015, around 26 cities around the globe will have a population of at least 10 million, each requiring at least 6,000 tons of daily food imports. Urban farming contributes to health and food security by increasing the availability of fresh produce to people living in urban environments. The practice is also environmentally sustainable, as agricultural products cultivated within city limits require less energy to produce and transport. Urban agriculture also contributes to city-wide beautification and community building.
Cheryl Kollin, a social enterprise specialist who spent 17 years working at American Forests’ Urban Ecosystem Center, points out that perhaps the biggest obstacle practitioners of urban farming face is access to affordable land. “Urban land suitable for farming is expensive” Kollin writes, “and even when land is available it comes in smaller lot-sized parcels rather than in acres. Urban land is at such a premium that farmers have to get creative and grow more densely to make their business viable.” Young Urban Farmers CSA seems to have created a model by which to circumvent this obstacle – trading unused backyards for food.
Growing Power, an urban farming non-profit in Milwaukee, has achieved great success by converting millions of tons of food waste into compost to grow vegetables in its 14 greenhouses. The company is able to grow enough food to feed 10,000 local residents. “But even more impressive is Growing Power’s social return on investment,” observes Kollin. The non-profit’s projects include “engaging youth in work readiness, life skills, construction techniques, and writing skills; employing convicts for summer work; reducing crime in the neighborhood; and teaching adults from all over the world hands on urban farming.”
Will Allen, the CEO of Growing Power, believes that urban farms and community food centers can go a long way to combating the problematic rise of food deserts in American cities. “It’s my belief,” says Allen, who was named a “MacArthur Genius” by the John D and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, “that everybody, regardless of their economic means, should have access to the same healthy, safe, affordable food that’s grown naturally.” For more from Allen on urban farming, watch the video below:
This article originally appeared on Justmeans.com and is republished here with permission.
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