Green Careers: Urban Farming
For Green Lifers seeking to align their career compass, we've dedicated this week to profiling different eco-professions. Yesterday we learned about environmental journalism. If you took our quiz on Monday and scored mostly b's, then read below to learn more about urban farming, your green career fit.
Green Careers: Urban Farming
Urban farmers grow, process, and distribute food in or around a city, allowing its residents easy access to fresh, seasonal produce. Some farmers raise animals, such as chickens or fish. Often found on rooftops, patios, formerly vacant lots, and even indoors, urban farms can play a crucial role in improving food access and food security in underserved neighborhoods with few grocery stores. Farms also add greenery to stark cityscapes; reduce harmful runoff; and help counteract "urban heat islands" — metropolitan areas that, due to human activity, are significantly warmer than nearby rural communities. Community farms can provide income and build job skills for disadvantaged, at-risk youth.
An urban farmer’s day usually begins early in the morning and could include feeding animals, delivering food to restaurants and caterers, selling food at farmers’ markets, bookkeeping, marketing to potential clients — and of course, watering seedlings, fertilizing, weeding, planting, and harvesting. Some urban farmers are involved in local food justice advocacy and policy, which might involve planning and participating in meetings.
Interested in trying your hand at horticulture? The American Community Gardening Association offers great pointers on starting your own urban agriculture project. PolicyLink also has an extensive list of tips, including ways to maximize revenue. The list also suggests that urban farmers budget about a dollar per square foot of garden, although a number of funding resources exist.
If you’re seriously considering foregoing an office cubicle for a dirt plot, Sandy Farber, the University of the District of Columbia’s Master Gardener Program Coordinator, recommends saving up and paring spending so that you can live with less. And because nature is ultimately boss, farming can be financially unstable, says Pasadena-based urban farmer Jules Dervaes. A hard frost or drawn-out drought can devastate harvests. Dervaes adds that, as with any new venture, you’ll most likely lose money, at least the first three years. Despite the challenges, urban farmers find producing their own food deeply fulfilling and empowering.
For those who want to build their skills before taking the plunge, BK Farmyards in Brooklyn, New York offers an Urban Farm Training Program to help fledgling farmers develop a diverse set of skills, ranging from technical to business to interpersonal. The program, which apprentices can complete as an eight-month full session or six-month summer session, couples formal instruction with hands-on work. For 20 hours a week, an apprentice can expect to participate in a variety of activities, including farm work and training rotations in direct marketing and farm management.
Apprentices will be selected based on their commitment, enthusiasm, desire to learn, and work ethic. Upon completing the program, they'll receive a Certificate in Urban Farming. Applications are due March 30.
Urban Adamah, a Jewish community farm in Berkeley, California, offers three-month fellowships throughout the year. The fellowships integrate organic farming, direct social justice work, and progressive Jewish living and learning. They also train fellows in sustainable urban agriculture, community building, and leadership development. Like BK Farmyard's program, the Urban Adamah fellowship combines formal instruction with hands-on work and community service. Fellows spend one day a week interning at local schools and community-based social justice organizations, all located within biking distance from the residence.
This year’s summer session lasts from June 9 to August 30, while the fall session lasts from September 8 to November 22. Applications are accepted on a rolling basis. Urban Adamah will review the next round of summer applications on April 1. They'll start reviewing fall applications on April 10.
Melissa Pandika is an editorial intern at Sierra and a graduate journalism student at Stanford University. Her interests include environmental health and justice, urban environmental issues, and conservation biology. She has a soft spot for cetaceans.