One of the critical hurdles that farmers in urban areas face is access to affordable land for growing food. The concept of a multi-locational or decentralized farm is an elegant solution to growing food in diverse urban and suburban settings. It seems that more and more farms are using the multi-locational model. We found quite a few successful operations in Canada in particular.
Green City Acres in Kelowna, British Columbia, has coordinated access to six different residential lawns for a total of 4 acres for growing food. The deal is pretty simple and a win-win proposition for all parties involved. Green City Acres sends their workers to the six different garden plots to plant, tend, and harvest crops. The food is sold to the local community, and the landowners who lease out their land receive a weekly box of produce. The growing process doesn’t use any pesticides or chemical fertilizers, and they minimize transport all in the name of using less fuel during production and distribution. The Green City Acres website explains that in 2012 they grew 50,000 pounds of food without owning any land, using only organic methods and just 80 liters (21 gallons) of gasoline. A pretty impressive feat by any standards.
In Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Wally Satzewich and Gail Vandersteen operate Wally’s Urban Market Garden, a multi-locational urban farm originally dispersed over 25 residential backyard plots ranging in size from 500 to 3,000 sq. ft. The plots are rented from homeowners, and, in total, Wally’s covers just half an acre which is quite small by farm standards. With over 20 years of farming experience, Wally and Gail once had both rural acreage and smaller urban plots, but over time they found that their smaller urban plots were more profitable.
Wally’s now offers training courses on what they call multi-locational sub-acre farming (meaning that the farm in total is less than an acre in size). Their program is called SPIN, which stands for S-mall P-lot IN-tensive. As Wally explains, “We are producing 10-15 different crops and sell thousands of bunches of radishes and green onions and thousands of bags of salad greens and carrots each season. Our volumes are low compared to conventional farming, but we sell high-quality organic products at very high-end prices.”
Yummy Yards is a Vancouver, British Columbia-based multi-locational farm that uses the CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) model to sell their produce. They grow their food on five residential plots and do all their transportation via bicycle to minimize fuel usage.
Back in the United States, Five Seeds Urban Farm is a hybrid, operating in the urban core of Balitmore and on nearby rural farmland. Operated by the Mitchell family (mom, dad, and five kids), the operation began in 2008 in their urban backyard and quickly spread to six vacant lots across the street. They now operate in vacant lots and private backyards all over the city as well as a larger tract of rural land 25 miles north of the city. Five Seeds sells their produce locally at farmers’ markets, in restaurants, and through a CSA.
Multi-locational farming is an exciting trend in urban farming. It allows farmers access to more land without big overhead and brings farming to the backyards of everyday residents who then have access to very local, very fresh food. The additional savings of fuel when farmers aim to minimize petroleum-based inputs and transportation is yet another achievement that we applaud.
Sustainable America aims to increase food availability by 50% by 2035. Included in the goal is tripling the amount of food produced through alternative farming methods like this. We’re also working to reduce oil usage by 50% in that same time period. These innovative agri-preneurs are helping to lead the way toward a more sustainable future.