Top 2024 Farm Trend: The Buck Starts Here

The question, “Where does your food come from?” was once an abstract intellectual concern. The pandemic turned it into a question of survival. Suddenly, food security became everyone’s issue. Urban farming, once either the provenance of hipsters, or a subversive act, entered the mainstream. People suddenly found themselves with the time and motivation to start growing their own food.

They dug, planted, weeded, watered, harvested. Not only did they learn how to work physically, some also experienced something that surprised them. They liked how growing their own food made them feel. It gave them a sense of self-reliance and control, especially for those who never had much, or were never encouraged to think they ever could. Coming as it did, the pandemic freed people to try things they wouldn’t otherwise have thought of, and to take risks they never would before.

Those who had not been able to figure out how to make the economic system work for them were presented with an alternative – self-employment. By growing food and providing it to their neighbors, they found pride in doing something that had tangible value to their communities. They experienced how time, labor and resources could be turned into economic value in the marketplace.

Passions have always run high for the therapeutic and restorative benefits of urban farming. These efforts positioned farms as a social service that depended on outside financial support from government programs and foundations. This built a food aid industry which provided nonprofit jobs but did nothing to build a local farming industry capable of producing a reliable supply of commercial-grade food.

What all communities have in common is that they all have people who need to pay their bills. Now some people can pay some of theirs by being farmers. After years of struggling to get a seat at the table, urban farmers come to it now, not with “the ask” but with an asset: a bankable skill they can use to achieve both food security and financial security. They aren’t charity cases anymore. They are players in neighborhood-based food supply chains.

They are also role models. “You can’t be what you can’t see” has been one of the reasons for the farming profession’s decline. These new farmers are showing what is possible and practical, and spreading the idea that there is nothing more empowering than having money in your pocket you earned yourself. By making farming visible in their communities, they make it obvious where food comes from. how it is produced, what real food is, why it is better, and why it costs what it does.

What’s taking shape now in Atlanta is different than what’s happening in Oakland, Calgary and Saskatoon. The common lesson to be learned everywhere is that food is not free. If it is, it means whoever produced it is not getting paid for their labor and inputs, or it is subsidized. We work with those who are changing the landscape by practicing a different type of urban farming. One that is driven as much by profit as purpose. One that’s focused as much on cash flow as compost. One that is grassroots-based, and also uses the advantages of the established food system when it makes sense. One that opens up farming to a lot more people who would not otherwise think it was an option for them. One that is a career path in an industry in dire need of new talent, energy and innovation. If this is something you want to be a part of, let’s get to work.

Ad hoc farming operations sprung up all over cities during a time of crisis. Now there is an opportunity to change food security into financial security and create long-term community wealth.