Here's a little post on one of the ways a modern suburban/urban residential environment can be converted from a black hole of productivity/wealth into the opposite through the entrepreneurial reclamation of unused/misused space (vacant lots, yards, etc.).
Our collective food supply is one of the most centralized, and vulnerable, systems on our (now mostly urban) planet. Not only is the production accomplished by a tiny minority of the population (less than 3% in the US) and reliant on a small number of generic crops (particularly corn), the resources necessary to produce it -- from arable land to energy to water -- are in short supply. This implies that the following factors will cause a shift from centralized to decentralized local farming:
- Hard disruptions. Shortage. For example, global demand drains domestic markets of available supplies (we've seen this recently). Pandemic, pestilence, severe energy shock, etc.
- Soft disruptions. Affordability. Availability. Transportation becomes increasingly expensive. Prices gyrate upwards. Minor disruptions from tainted supplies to terrorism to brown outs.
- Income generation. A need to generate extra income due to depleted opportunity and income (the income of the average person in the US hasn't seen any growth since 1974 and globalization may put the remainder at risk).
Rent a Farmer
The a return to local agriculture within suburban and urban environments won't be a redux of amateur gardening nor will it be done on local traditional farms (mostly, long since paved over). Instead it will feature high tech, intense, and energy efficient efforts on clusters of small plots. In short, it will buffer families from the risk of soft and hard disruptions as well as provide an opportunity for income generation. In fact, we are already seeing signs of resilience entrepreneurs in this space. One example is SPIN (small plot intensive) farming, a company that has optimized/packaged techniques for suburban/urban farmers. Elements include:
- The aggregation of plots near demand. SPIN farmers cut deals with the owners of suburban yards and/or unused spaces to put together viable acreage for farming. Local landowners are paid in kind (produce).
- Intensive utilization of plots. Optimization of plots to generate the highest possible yields depending climate, sun, and rainfall. Low energy methods are preferable since they maximize profitability. There is also an ability to leverage local utilities for water and electricity without any infrastructure expense.
- High value products. A focus on products that cost the most and are the most valuable to local buyers (restaurants and farmers markets). Freshness premiums and fuel cost ratios are important variables.
NOTE: Does a SPIN-like approach work?
Early indications are that it works. An interesting study done by Urban Partners for the city of Philadelphia indicates that a fully ramped up effort can generate upwards of $120,000 a year in sales and $60,000 in net income.
How it Will Accelerate
Factors that will accelerate local farming include (in addition to the acceleration of effort due to negative pressure, like those listed above):
- Open source tinkering networks. Everything from the optimization of crop layouts to low cost DIY farming equipment.
- Clustering. Shared equipment, insight, etc. While some of this can be achieved via online connections, local physical connections improve productivity.
- Community support and demand. Relaxation of zoning/community regulations against yard conversions, support for a farmer's market, etc.