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June 10, 2009

Urban farming: the new dot com?

In September a new event called Agriculture 2.0 will introduce a select group of alternative agriculture entrepreneurs to investors. SPIN-Farming LLC, together with NewSeed Advisors will co-host Agriculture 2.0 in New York.

Roxanne Christensen, co-author of the SPIN-Farming online learning series, says a wave of innovators is developing profitable models for sustainable alternatives to industrial agriculture. These new entrepreneurs are developing breakthrough technologies, approaches and business models that, she says, "can help create a post-industrial food system that is less resource intensive, more locally-based, and easier to monitor and control".

When I first wrote about SPIN-Farming here last July, I was intrigued by the idea of a franchise-ready sustainable farming system that could be deployed quickly and on a wide scale. (That is the concept behind SPIN Farming; it stands for S-mall P-lot IN-tensive).

SPIN's growing techniques are not, in themselves, a breakthrough. What's novel is the way a SPIN farm business is run. SPIN provides everything you'd expect from a good franchise: a business plan, marketing advice, and a detailed day-to-day workflow. In standardizing the system and creating a reproducible process, it doesn't sound all that different from McDonalds.

There are a host of reasons why urban farming is more complicated, once you start, than opening a hamburger restaurant. Among these: Skewed planning laws, competition for land from developers, insecure water supplies, pollution management, and the sheer number of diffferent actors involved even in a simple food system. But the "just start a business" approach will inject a new dynamic into the range of experiments multiplying all over the world.

Areas represented at Agriculture 2.0 will include controlled climate growing systems, building integrated agriculture, urban agriculture, closed loop irrigation and waste processing systems, mobile food processing, aquaculture, and appropriately-scaled marketing and distribution systems.

According to Janine Yorio of NewSeed Advisors, the conference will take a sector which has been viewed as marginal, dispel that notion, and expose its potential to the mainstream financial community. “We want to shine the light on the sustainable agriculture sector and demonstrate to investors that there are real economics and commercial prospects here,” Yorio says.

Registration for Agriculture 2.0 opens on June 29. For more conference information visit NewSeed Advisors.

If, like me, you're trying hard to cut down on air travel, but want to know more about this development, you can always see Paula Sobie, co-founder of City Harvest and now also a SPIN farming trainer, speak at the Foodprint conference in The Hague on 26 June.

Posted by John Thackara at June 10, 2009 11:25 AM


this is excellent food for thought (ha!)
I would be interested to read examples of places changing the skewed planning laws and how people have approached competition for land from developers.

In Halifax, Canada a product design professor at NSCAD is organizing an international design competition for low-carbon, sexy urban chicken pens. He hopes this will bring awareness to urban farming, create business opportunities for people wanting to produce the things and act as an advocacy tool to change our skewed planning laws that do not allow poultry .. I am excited because it also uses the approach of attracting the masses to 'shiny things' to gain support of those who may not understand the importance of farming - yet.

Posted by: R at June 10, 2009 09:39 PM

I've been stealing shoots and cuttings from municipal parcs etc. Is that an example of reversed urban farming? Or just theft?

Posted by: kristi at June 11, 2009 02:16 PM

In Mozambique, only 20% of women have influence on their own economical life, but 65-70% of the people in agriculture are women. Then one has to look at the control women have over their own destiny. Agriculture here is slow (good), and local (good), urban (good), almost organic (good, can not afford fertilizers), but quite gender discriminating. Will urban farming address this? Do we have gender breakdown about urban farming? Is it a 'hidden' economy (http://sharonastyk.com/) that is dominantly women driven? Is this one way for addressing gender balance in food production? Sorry for the ramblings, but I find it very interesting here to see how the fishing industry is supported from outside (masculine guys coming over to help out with the boats and marketing), and less is directed at agriculture other than the industrial one (owned by foreign firms).

Posted by: dori at June 11, 2009 02:53 PM

I would love to make it to this conference. hyperlocavore.com a free yard sharing community is very much an Ag 2.0 operation!

Posted by: Liz M owner hyperlocavore at July 14, 2009 06:54 AM

I wanted to update you on conference developments: eight 'best of breed' sustainable agriculture innovators were chosen to present at the conference - from a manure-to-energy producer in Skagit Valley, Washington, to a sustainable fish farmer in China. Also, Sky Vegetables, a rooftop farming company, will present. You can see conference developments at http://newseedadvisors.com

Posted by: Mark at August 28, 2009 10:50 PM

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