The needs of commercial urban agriculture (CUA) operations in Florida have been relatively unknown, which led UF/IFAS researchers to dig deeper. A newly published study explains the most common challenges these farmers face and opportunities that could help them thrive.
An urban commercial farmer can be defined as a person in an urban area who is typically running a for-profit business on a smaller scale than traditional commercial farms and who sells directly to consumers, instead of through other channels like grocery stores.
Data reported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture focus on more traditional, rural farms, which leaves a blind spot for urban and other non-traditional farms. Previous research has focused on urban agriculture producers in regions much different than Florida, so researchers wanted to find updated information on Florida’s commercial urban agriculture.
“Agriculture is one of the top three industries in Florida, a state that is rapidly urbanizing,” said Catherine Campbell, UF/IFAS assistant professor who specializes in food systems and leads the research project. “This increase in urbanization has led to a steadily increasing interest in developing commercial urban agriculture as an important piece of the Florida agriculture puzzle.”
Supported by UF/IFAS SEEDIT research funding, researchers surveyed 53 farmers in major metropolitan areas across the state. The data captured information on future opportunities, barriers and needs.
Researchers found labor was the most common barrier for urban farmers. Access to capital and profitability came in second and third, respectively.
“These growers are newcomers in a space that does not have the deep roots and connections that rural agriculture has, so many of these farmers are struggling to find sources of information appropriate to their operations and support from farmers like them,” Campbell said.
The study also found that when they look to future opportunities, farm operators select value-added products as a top choice; for example, a product like a salsa made from the grower’s recent tomato harvest. Additionally, many operations incorporate agritourism — like farm tours, field days or educational events.
“This was not particularly surprising to us,” Campbell said. “Agritourism is attractive to CUA farms because they are able to take advantage of their proximity to their customers and potential farm visitors, and they are able to add agritourism to their operation without the up-front cost or added effort that adopting new crops requires. And selling value-added products like jams and pickled vegetables to farm visitors fits along with an agritourism model.”
Farmers identified other common opportunities. Those included growing new crops to meet consumer demand, offering online sales and delivering training and workshops. All of these opportunities allow CUAs to diversify their offerings to clientele and build on their existing community of customers.
Researchers plan to use these findings to develop resources and to provide additional support for urban farmers through Extension efforts.
“This research was an important first step in understanding Florida urban farmers and to identify opportunities to support them in the future,” she said. “We already have several resources in the works that we hope will provide urban farmers with the support they need to remain profitable and expand their customer base.”
“Urban agriculture is important to the state, its residents and the communities that thrive on the experiences and goods that urban farms provide,” said Damian Adams, UF/IFAS associate dean for research. “Urban farms are not just sources of good, local food. They reflect the character of the community and its ties to the land. These farms are important, and this research helps identify the challenges that urban farms face and helps keep them competitive – and keep them on the landscape – in a rapidly urbanizing and extremely competitive environment. This is important work that will have positive impacts on the lives and livelihoods of Floridians.”
For more information on urban farms and community food systems and resources to support them, visit programs.ifas.ufl.edu/urban-agriculture. The new study, “Commercial Urban Agriculture in Florida: Needs, Opportunities, and Barriers,” can be accessed at doi.org/10.21273/HORTTECH05038-22.