FOR BRANT NEWS
Last week, I asked you to consider a different residential development, one where residential units surround a complex of farms.
The concept is similar to that of the “golf course” model, where houses are built around an 18-hole golf course and a community lifestyle revolves around the resulting green space and activities that occur there.
The varied concepts that revolve around “urban agriculture” raise many issues for urban planners, developers and the permanent residents who flank urban farmland. Let’s explore some of them here.
In his book, The Urban Food Revolution, author Peter Ladner points out that there is magic in an urban farm that is half acre in size, from the point of view of profitability.
Enter “SPIN” farming, acronym for Small Plot Intensive Farming. It is specifically tailored to the high end of urban farming where land is free, no capital investment is required, the productivity of the small farm is labour intensive and the plots provide high value.
Wally Satzewich is the originator of SPIN farming. He borrows land from 25 residential land owners in Saskatoon.
Sometimes he pays nominal rent, usually in the form of produce, not cash. Each garden plot ranges in size from 500 to 3,000 square feet.
Satzewich claims that he generates over $50,000 in cash from his efforts annually, minus costs, which are nominal. That’s not a bad living for nine months of work per year.
He points out that if he increases his land base above a half acre, he adds incrementally to his costs as the need for expensive power equipment has to be factored in.
With a total of half an acre, he is able to manage vegetable production manually. To support his growing operation he purchased a used van, a used rototiller and an old pop cooler.
Satzewich sells his produce at local farmers’ markets and through a community-supported agriculture program in his neighbourhood.
Wally is the first to say that there is nothing new in what he is doing. He is just organizing himself differently from most other farmers. As he puts it, “There are two things all SPIN farmers have in common – markets to support them and an entrepreneurial spirit.”
Details can be found at www.spinfarming.com.
Developers, urban planners and landowners create a community when they incorporate urban farming into a residential plan.
Local real estate values are enhanced – putting money in the pocket of homeowners – and the local activity centre becomes the focus of civic engagement and socializing. Friends are made, local people have access to great quality food for much of the year and every resident, young and old, is entitled to an education in food production.
For farmers, the concept offers access to a ready market of consumers.
Urban farmers are members of the community, not outcasts. Like the local barber, butcher, milk store operator and banker, the local farmer is a part of the community. Local farms provide jobs for students during summer and protect the local open and green space.
For public officials, urban farming provides additional commercial activity, protects open land without use of public funds, and provides an alternative development model.
Finally, replacing food sources in “the country” with local food can take a lot of pressure off of the tension that exists between the “save the farmland” people and the “we need more urban housing” groups.
In short, the concept of urban farming, when explored in its broadest terms, provides a new model for living in cities that will shake our world as we know it, in a good way.
I invite developers, planners, architects and anyone who enjoys eating to contact me with their own ideas of how we can embrace the growing interest in urban agriculture.
I would be pleased to publish the best ideas in future columns.
Go to www.markcullen.com and connect with me through “ask Mark” on my home page.