Urban agriculture will truly emerge as one of this country’s most visible economic and cultural forces in 2015
Urban agriculture is expected to maintain strong growth in the United
States in 2015 as cities and states provide more incentives, more
start-up farmers enter the field, smaller operations improve their
profitability and consumer demand for locally grown food remains strong,
according to Seedstock.com. The growth outlook for land, production and jobs connected with urban farming was generated from Seedstock’s recent annual conference
at UCLA where more than 250 farmers, entrepreneurs, policy makers,
investors and others gathered to hear experts discuss current factors
driving robust local food systems in dozens of urban settings across the
“Urban agriculture will truly emerge as one of this country’s most
visible economic and cultural forces in 2015. We’ll see strong job
growth, continued innovation, more commercial-scale farming in cities
and greater production numbers of locally grown food,” said Robert Puro,
co-founder of Seedstock, the nation’s leading information, consulting
and networking company promoting innovation in urban and sustainable
agriculture. Direct to consumer local food sales via community supported
agriculture (CSA), farmers markets and farm stands increased from
approximately $600 million to $1.2 billion from 1997 to 2007. USDA
estimates that farm-level value of local food sales totaled about $4.8
billion in 2008 (1.7 percent of revenue from all farm production) and
are expected to continue double-digit growth into 2015 and beyond. The top five trends or changes for urban and sustainable agriculture in the U.S. in 2015, according to Seedstock, are:
More government incentives,
primarily through land-use policy changes, job training and economic
programs. For example, a new law in California authorizes tax breaks for
land-owners who lend their property to urban farmers. Cities across the
U.S. are approving similar policies to stimulate more commercial-scale
An increase in aggregation and distribution centers catering to
smaller farm operations. The U.S. Department of Agriculture set aside
millions of dollars in the last farm bill to support these efforts,
mostly through marketing assistance.
Demand for locally grown food will continue to increase among
consumers. Grocers, such as Whole Foods Market, have already placed
heavy emphasis on marketing locally grown produce. Locally sourced
meats, seafood and produce will remain the top trends in 2015 among the
nation’s chefs, according to a survey by the National Restaurant Association.
The rise of local food business incubators. Grocers and
restaurants won’t be the only buyers of locally grown produce. Consumers
already are looking to buy more regionally produced food products,
which is prompting more business start-ups. In 2015, Los Angeles will
open its first food production business incubator to provide
entrepreneurs a staging area to develop, market and scale their
fledgling food businesses.
More controlled-environment farms. Hydroponic and aquaponic
farming are increasing driven by a scarcity of affordable land in
urban areas, reductions in the costs of technology and local food
demand. The popularity of an indoor-ag
conference in Las Vegas, and government incentives to convert abandoned
buildings to farms are two indicators this industry is taking off.
Also, more rooftop gardens will appear in more urban areas.
“As start-up costs go down and consumer demand continues to climb,
the U.S. will continue to see many more people enter the field of urban,
sustainable farming,” Puro said. “You also can’t overlook the
significant societal change we’re witnessing – more and more young
people are abandoning the typical office job or changing their career
search to do something good for the environment. They are discovering
they can make a decent living by growing food in or near urban areas on
smaller plots.” Another key to continued growth in urban, sustainable farming is
education. Groups like Seedstock have become necessary to new farmers
who need resources and networking. As highlighted in one of Seedstock’s
recent articles, a variety of factors will determine whether an individual urban agriculture operation will be profitable. “Smaller farms can face greater financial risks because their
liabilities are not spread over as large an area as an industrial-scale
farm, or they don’t enjoy the same economies of scale when it comes to
purchasing supplies,” Puro said. “Those obstacles are beginning to fade
as technology improves, more small farms emerge and entrepreneurs figure
out the right business model. As a result, financing is becoming more
available and profits are being realized.” About Seedstock:
Seedstock is a social venture that fosters the development of robust
and sustainable local food systems through consulting services and the
use of a variety of tools, including the news and information blog
and live events. Seedstock works with government agencies,
municipalities and all private sector stakeholders to create a
sustainable food ecosystem of innovation, entrepreneurship and
A flexible photovoltaic fabric, which can even be used as yacht sails to
harvest the sun's rays, is finally ready after 10 years of development.
While traditional solar panels weigh between 16kg to 20kg per square meter, the cloth is just 2kg per sq m.
A new flexible solar “cloth” could soon be coming to a roof near you.The Solar Cloth Company is seeking investors to help its lightweight
photovoltaic material that can be used on any surface – or even as sails on
a yacht – to harvest the sun’s rays.
While traditional solar panels weigh between 16kg to 20kg per square metre,
this cloth is just 2kg per sq m. The material can be draped over car parks and will bond to the
contours of “wavy, beautiful architecture”, said SCC’s founder, Perry
Carroll, who has been working on the technology since 2004. So far, it has attracted £557,000 from 82 investors on the crowdfunding
platform Crowdcube, for a 10pc stake.
The solar sail will be on the market next year, but the cloth also has some
surprising niche applications.
“I made a pair of solar underpants for a Japanese businessman,” says Mr
Carroll. “He gave them to his boss with the note, 'I told you the sun shone
out of my backside’.”
There are 800m square meters of lightweight roofing in the UK, plus thousands
of car parks that could be fitted cloth roofs.
“We could power the National Grid three times over,” Mr Carroll claimed.
He has signed contracts with 15 local authorities, four UK transport hubs,
and two major retailers, generating a revenue pipeline of £65m.
Christopher O'Neal has mastered many parts of landscaping and
greenhouse work — plant cultivation and pesticide application, among six
others — though it's unlikely he'll put those skills to use outside the
walls of Louisiana's prison in Angola. So he tends to greenhouse plants
that will be sold at the prison's rodeos and trains short-timers for
honest work on the outside.
Of the 30 students and 11 mentors,
most are in for life or "tall numbers." Those who will get out can make a
new career or resume an old one with more licenses and updated
information; those staying find a positive way to spend their time.
has taught me a side of myself I didn't know I had," said O'Neal, 40,
who was convicted at 17 of killing an 8-year-old boy and at 34 of
killing his ex-girlfriend's husband. He's been at Angola since 2008 and
is getting help with appeals, hoping for a reversal, though the courts
so far have not viewed his case favorably. "Guilty as sin," Judge Harmon Drew wrote in an April 2009 opinion for the state's 2nd Circuit Court of Appeal.
Only about a quarter of the inmates getting their certifications are in programs aimed at helping them re-enter society.
thing about a life sentence is you've got to find something to do — to
pass the time, to help others go out and find jobs, and look forward to
getting out ourselves," said James Burns, convicted of stabbing and
running over his wife and, like O'Neal, serving life for second-degree
murder. He has two licenses and is working on a third.
horticulture program here, started in 2002, has 7 acres at a prison that
covers more land area than Manhattan, said Marcus Barnardez, who works
at Angola full-time as an assistant professor of horticulture at Baton
Rouge Community College. It's modeled after a program started in 1995 at
the Louisiana Women's Correctional Institution in St. Gabriel.
Each inmate has a 50-by-75-foot plot to grow whatever he wants, and a larger plot where he must grow specific crops.
little scope for their skills in the rest of the prison. For example,
few could spray pesticides on the 600 to 800 acres of row crops grown to
feed inmates at Angola and other prisons, Barnardez said. Most are not
trusties — inmates given special privileges for good behavior — and must
stay in the prison yard, he said.
The mentors earn big money for
prison inmates: 50 to 75 cents an hour. Field hands, by comparison,
sweat for 2 to 20 cents an hour.
Some of the mentors are convicted killers, though there's an unspoken rule: No talking about the past. "A
lot of them have matured and moved on in their lives. We all make
mistakes, some just worse than others," said Timothy "Bo" Blackwell, who
served a year for running a meth lab.
More than 90 inmates have
earned about 250 certifications from the Louisiana Department of
Agriculture and Forestry over the past five years, said Barnardez.
said the few who have moved into society have done well, often earning
supervisory jobs and running crews for landscaping companies.
they're out, they must check in weekly with the court and meet twice
weekly with other former inmates and counselors, said Michael Costello,
47, who earned four licenses. In the meetings, he said, "you try to be a
light to others."
Costello had his own landscaping business
before going to prison for theft. While serving his 18-month sentence,
he lined up a job with the brother of another inmate in the horticulture
program. Blackwell, 36, also had a short search — his family owns
a Folsom nursery. He earned four licenses in a year, completing work on
a fifth after his release . "I'd wanted them for years," he said. "I just was too lazy to go do 'em."