Urban Backyard Farming for Profit

These four urban farming business plans show how you can start a gardening business in your backyard and earn a profit on a half acre or less. Learn which customers to target, the most profitable vegetables to grow, and how to design the most efficient planting system.

| October/November 2016

In this excerpt from The Urban Farmer, courtesy of New Society Publishers, Curtis Stone offers an innovative approach to urban backyard farming for profit — one that doesn’t require starting with acres of land in the country. In these urban farming business plans, which are based on his own experience and which have been refined over years, Stone outlines how you can start a gardening business while still working a 9-to-5 job, and increase your commitment and profits over time.

All the urban farming business plan models I’m proposing are designed to be scalable. You can start as a part-time farmer in your own backyard (Model 1), and then, after you gain some experience and feel comfortable quitting your day job to pursue farming full-time, you can scale up to 1⁄10 acre (Model 2) or 1⁄4 acre (Model 3). From there, you can continue to scale up as you see fit.

A quarter acre of land or less is the right amount to start with if you don’t have any previous experience in farming. I want to reiterate the lesson I should have learned after my first year: Don’t take on too much! Start small and grow slowly. On 1⁄4 acre, you have the potential to make $50,000 from the land itself, but if you incorporate some greenhouse or indoor microgreens, you could considerably increase that number — all by selling vegetables. This will all depend on your market streams. Understanding your market will be the key to your success in urban backyard farming.

Start a Gardening Business

Start-up costs. In order to spend less money as you start your gardening business, you’ll need to spend more time looking for deals on your major investments. If you can give yourself six months prior to starting, like I did, that should be enough time to build the infrastructure you need, prep some land, and look for the best deals on good used equipment. Using websites such as Craigslist, I found a lot of great deals, but I sometimes had to drive for hours to pick an item up. It was all worth it, though. I purchased a BCS tiller with three implements for $1,000, and I bought my first walk-in cooler for $1,000. If I had bought both of those items new, I would have spent $8,000 more. Be sure to shop around. Also, use Craigslist or other websites to post what you’re looking for — I found my BCS because of a post I published. The $7,000 I spent in my first season covered all of my major investments as well as seeds, tools, irrigation equipment, and fertilizer.

Revenue sources. To achieve ambitious revenue from 1⁄4 acre or less, you’ll need access to high-end restaurants and good farmers markets. Specialize in the crops that give you the highest return on the smallest amount of land in the least amount of turnover time. Your trade-off will be less diversity in crop selection. I wouldn’t consider operating a community-supported agriculture (CSA) program at first, as they’re best suited to 1⁄2 acre or more (Model 4).

The advantage of selling vegetables to restaurant markets is that you can grow large quantities of vegetables that have high margins. For example, I grow a lot of baby root vegetables, such as radishes, because some of my customers will go through 100 bunches per week. I grow them almost exclusively for restaurants. I can sell up to 200 pounds per week to all of my clients, but there’s no way I could sell that much at a market, or even in a CSA program; I’m lucky to sell 20 bunches on a good market day.

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