According to MIT’s Mission 2014: Feeding the World, 50 million people in the U.S. wonder where their next meal will come from.
Meanwhile, a 2010 report by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs Population Division reveals that for the first time in human history, more people now live in cities rather than the countryside.
So the question is, “How will we feed all these people with the limited agricultural resources most urban environments currently offer?”
Perhaps urban agriculture is an answer.
“Urban agriculture can be defined shortly as the growing of plants and the raising of animals within and around cities,” states the Resource Centres on Urban Agriculture and Food Security Foundation website.
“The most striking feature of urban agriculture, which distinguishes it from rural agriculture, is that it is integrated into the urban economic and ecological system,” the Foundation says.
From their urban farm in Colorado Springs, Colo., Herbert and Lindsey Aparicio are two people experimenting with the concept of urban agriculture.
For the past three years, the Aparicios have raised goats and chickens as well as a large organic garden on their acre and a half urban homestead.
They are driven not by daunting statistics, but because farming is their passion.
Known as “The Goat Cheese Lady,” Lindsey teaches her students how to make cheese, bread, soap and lotion, while Herbert builds chicken coops and shows people how to raise chickens.
First time pupils to Lindsey’s cheese classes get a hands-on urban farming experience.
As shown in the following video clip, students not only share in a sense of community while preparing a meal from scratch, they also learn how to milk goats.
The Aparicios aren’t the only ones interested in living a more rural lifestyle in the city, as evidenced by the Colorado State University Extension Service’s recent hiring of an Urban Agriculture Education Coordinator.
Blake Angelo sees it as his job to ensure those interested in stepping into the urban farming realm do so with their eyes open.
His Metro Denver Building Urban Farmers Program is designed to help beginning farmers understand some of the challenges farmers face.
“I run an eight-week program here taught by local urban farmers with the explicit purpose of helping.” Angelo explains. “This year we have 28 students developing a business plan for an urban farm. We walk through all the levels, from strategic business planning, to marketing to branding, some pricing and we talk a lot about risk management.”
Depending on a farmer’s experience, the classes range in price from $75 to $200 for all eight sessions.
Angelo emphasizes the challenges associated with urban farming and says that teaching people how to be good business owners is essential.
“It may seem like it’s easy to get into, but it’s really difficult to succeed,” Angelo says of business risks associated with urban farming. “And so we’ve found that our number one best asset is to help educate people about the business structures that they can have in place that limit their risk.”
A critical factor to urban farming is knowledge and understanding of local city laws and zoning requirements as they pertain to animal husbandry.
For example, Colorado Springs regulations allow residents to keep up to 10 hens, but no roosters. And the Aparicios’ four goats are in line with city zoning laws because the Aparicio urban farm property size is larger than 37,000 square feet.
The Aparicios agree that farming is a business and that they face many of the same obstacles as other small business owners. A big challenge is figuring out how to make a profit from the farm.
“As long as you tease out every kind of income source from your farm that you can and figure out how to make money out of these little pieces of your farm, I think it’s profitable,” says Lindsey. “But there are some criteria that have to be in that picture as well. You have to have a house payment that’s small. You have to have no debt.”
The Aparicio farm produces multiple income streams. Lindsey’s beginning goat cheese classes are $85 per person and Herbert’s chicken raising classes are $25 per person. Lindsey’s advanced cheese-making classes, soap and lotion-making classes, and bread-making classes range in price from $60 to $85 per person.
Understanding the income potential of an urban farm is important, as starting one can be costly.
The price of a female goat, or doe, can range anywhere from $200 to $600. Goats require two to four pounds of feed, typically alfalfa, per day. They also need shelter, usually in the form of a shed or small barn, and a fenced pen so they can exercise outside. Space requirements for a non-dwarf goats include 15 to 20 square feet of space per animal inside and 20-30 square feet per goat outside.
And for those wanting to raise chickens, purchase prices vary from $5 to $25 per bird. Each chicken requires a quarter pound of feed per day, as well as space in the coop and in the run. Typically a chicken requires four square feet of space inside and eight square feet of space per bird outside.
Herbert designs his chicken coops in accordance with Colorado Springs, Colo., regulations and requirements. His coop prices range from $400 to $1200 and up, depending on how many chickens are housed and whether the coop has an attached outside run.
Even with all these income streams, the Aparicios are still working to refine their urban farming business model.
In the following sound clip, Lindsey Aparicio, Blake Angelo and Herbert Aparicio talk about some of the financial challenges urban farmers face.
Even though the financial challenges associated with urban farming can be discouraging, the Aparicios agree that the sense of community they’ve noticed surrounding their venture is encouraging.
“Farmers have always been a community, even though they may be separated by hundreds and hundreds of acres,” Herbert explains.
“They still come together when it’s harvest time, when there’s an emergency. When somebody’s crop dies, everybody would pitch in with new seedlings,” he says.
Herbert says that sentiment still continues today and is felt in the urban farming community as well.
“That has always been a very rewarding part of this for me because I do see it,” Herbert continues. “Even though it’s on a much smaller scale, there are people who are like-minded who wouldn’t mind coming and giving you a couple hours worth of labor in order to get that garden going or to put a roof on a shed.”
Lindsey’s encouraged not only by the sense of camaraderie she feels, but by the opportunity to educate her neighbors.
“We’ll be creating a much more sustainable lifestyle for people and educating people that they don’t have to have a grass yard,” Lindsey highlights. “Why don’t you take all of your grass yard out and plant a bunch of food in it? Whether you’re going to eat it or you want to give it to me for my goats, either way it’s going to be much more beneficial for the neighborhood and for the world for you to have a garden instead of a big grass lawn.”