Urban Agriculture: A Sustainable Business Model

By Alex Ageno | Urban Agriculture, Urban Farming
As urban agriculture gains recognition among cities and individuals, both are recognizing the ample benefits that urban agriculture can bring. From environmental to personal, urban agriculture also has the prosperity to provide economic benefits. Indeed, urban agriculture is not just a way to live a healthier lifestyle –  it’s a sustainable business model. Urban agriculture can be applied to numerous businesses, and once applied, it can help a business create opportunities for sustainability, while at the same time providing economic benefits.

CityFarm is an urban farming business in Chicago. Image via BuildingGreen.com.

Economic Benefits That Arise From Local Food Systems

Supplying local food through urban agriculture is an effective way to foster community engagement, and the demand for local food is increasing due to the positive perception of local food among the population. In particular, local food is a market because the increased demand for local food means that consumers, business owners, and urban gardeners can all take advantage of these opportunities.

  • In general, plenty of businesses that grow local food have already sprung up.  These businesses aim to provide local food to numerous businesses.
  • As the demand for local food increases, there will be a need for increased labor. Hiring more people will help satisfy the demand for labor and also create a more lucrative business. It will also help foster an increased emphasis on local food within a community, which means that the market will only gain strength as it gets bigger.
  • Local food helps impact the economy through “import substitution“. Basically, this concept reinforces the notion that buying products in the local area will only help support it further. Sales that are made through local farmers’ markets will accumulate, and these accumulated sales will further spread to other businesses in the same area. As a result, the additional income used by the neighboring businesses will help these companies gain advantages in productivity and sales.
  • Farmers’ markets may also foster “the spillover effect”. In other words, a farmer’s market may make consumers well aware of commerce areas that were previously unknown to them. Since many consumers may frequent these markets, they will want to spend more time in the surrounding area. As the surrounding area may contain plenty of other local businesses, it will help those businesses as well.
  • For farmers themselves, the benefits are many. Farmers tend to make more money through direct marketing and selling their products directly to consumers, rather than more traditional methods. In fact, farmers can get almost all of their investment back.
In addition to its multitude of benefits, an important advantage of using local food as a resource is its positive effects on the travel aspect of the food supply chain. Most fresh food is delivered to super markets via travel, and sometimes the food has to be shipped long distances in order to deliver the food. Companies that take advantage of local food resources can help cut down costs needed to ship the food, and simultaneously reduce harmful emission into the air.

Governor, a Farm-to-Table Restaurant in New York. Image via Serious Eats New York.

Farm-To Table Restaurants: A New Trend In Local Food

Local produce is a feature that adds appeal to numerous forms of business, including restaurants. This means that restaurants can take this business opportunity in order to supply the population with restaurant food that incorporates local produce into their food. As a matter of fact, the potential for locally grown food is only getting bigger. The National Restaurant Association has declared that locally grown or sourced food is the top restaurant trend in a 2014 report. In addition, the same report noted that 22% believe local sourcing will be “the hottest menu trend” in ten years.
Many restaurants that use locally grown foods as their main ingredients are sometimes considered part of a specialized movement, known as the “Farm to-Table” movement. This movement simply promotes locally grown foods for use in a variety of businesses, including restaurants. Many of these restaurants are great examples to follow if one were to start their own “Farm to-table” restaurant. Epicurious.com ranked 10 restaurants that they thought were the best “farm to-table” restaurants, including: Manresa, Woodfire Grill, Vignola Cinque Terre, and Poppy Hill Tuscan Cafe.

The 20,000 square foot rooftop garden at Whole Foods Market in Brooklyn, New York.

Rooftop Gardens & Grocery Stores

Rooftop gardens are famously known to provide food, cooling, and numerous other benefits for buildings and owners.  New developments however, aim to turn rooftop gardens into a business model as well, especially for the food market. Grocery stores that aim to use rooftop gardens for food sources could be an emerging trend for the food industry. With rooftop gardens, grocery stores can help sell organic food, reap urban agricultural benefits, and prove that sustainability has market value.

As of right now, this type of sustainable business model has been implemented by Whole Foods Market, a supermarket chain with stores in the US, Canada, and the UK. In 2013, Whole Foods Market opened a whole new store in Lynnfield, MA with a rooftop greenhouse, which provides organic food for customers. Around 17,000 square feet, this greenhouse will reduce the reliance on outside resources, reducing transportation costs and chemical emissions. In addition, it has the ability to bring the concept of organic food to more people, and hopefully foster increased interest and support among the entire population. The greenhouse will also reduce the need for energy costs, due to insulation. The rooftop garden also counts as a green roof, which are roofs that provide environmental and economic benefits through their sustainable design. This aspect is also appealing to future implementers, due to its cost savings. Provided that implementation of the rooftop garden is aimed to maximize sustainable benefits, they have additional benefits aside from business. With rooftop gardens, grocery stores can also implement green roofs in order to cut down on costs used to pay for energy and water resources.

About The Author

Alex Ageno earned his degree in Urban Planning in 2013 from Arizona State University. Alex's interests in Urban Planning include Urban Design, Sustainability, Form Based Codes, Zoning, and Environmental Planning. He resides in Arizona.