Small Farm, Real Profit

This inspiring half-acre urban farm in Oregon is proving that size doesn’t matter when it comes to profitability.

| October/November 2017

You don’t need a large space to be productive or to make a decent, sustainable living as a farmer. Across the United States, from urban rooftops to rural holdings, farmers are proving you can grow on a small scale just about anywhere with decent soil, water, and people.

Cully Neighborhood Farm is an encouraging example. This successful urban farm operates on 1/2 acre in Portland, Oregon, and markets its mixed vegetables through a CSA program whose members purchase a share of vegetables. Friends Michael Tevlin and Matt Gordon started Cully in 2010 on an urban lot attached to a church property.

After attending church council meetings and talking to the church leadership, Michael wrote up a proposal for a lease. The agreement allows Cully to operate on the land as long as the workers deliver some produce to the church’s food pantry, help the church’s school cultivate a portion of the land as a garden for the students, and generally maintain the site. In the first year, they farmed only 1/4 acre and sold produce at a small farmers market. In their second year, Michael and Matt helped start a garden-education program for the church’s schoolchildren; the Cully Young Farmers Project was funded by a grant from the East Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District. After two seasons, Michael moved to California, but Matt has continued the farm, slowly growing into the space and experimenting with various markets.

Education wasn’t part of the friends’ initial vision, but it fit well with the site and their desire to give back to their community. The project dovetails nicely with their original intent to have a small urban farm close to where they live, and to demonstrate a productive use of vacant land in a neighborhood with many large lots and yards.

What follows is a snapshot of Cully Neighborhood Farm’s 2016 and 2017 seasons — and here’s a sample budget (PDF) of the 2016 growing season. Perhaps it will motivate gardeners with bigger aspirations to start growing for their communities; show overwhelmed farmers that scaling down is an option; and encourage people who are already engaged in small-scale farming to keep up the great work.

Cully Neighborhood Farm: The Basics

One corner of the property is the children’s garden, which is run separately but supported by the farm. Students use the children’s garden for most programming, but all the participants take a full farm tour at some point during the season. Each class visits the garden about once a week during spring and fall.

11/11/2017 10:43:19 PM

The Bluehouse Greenhouse farm in N. Portland has a similar business plan. It looks like it's under 1/2 acre, seems to thrive amongst the brand new apartment buildings and rapid urbanization of inner N. Portland.

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