One of the things we’ve discussed in class over the past few years is all of the hurdles one must go through to start an ag company from scratch. Some of these hurdles include having money, finding a suitable plot of land, getting the right tools and machinery, learning to grow, finding costumers and finally, being profitable (or making ends meet). These obstacles are hard in and of themsevles, and even harder taken together. The degree of complexity can be striking, especially when you realize that many of the companies already out there were founded a long time ago, and inherited from generation to generation – many of which today include vast areas of expensive land, or enormous greenhouses that cost a fortune. There simply aren’t a whole lot of “upstart” farmers out there. At least not in Sweden.
But that being said, it does seem like things are changing. Both new and old generations are starting to realize the importance of food in our lives, and many cities are pushing for urban farms to establish. One of the best examples from around here, is the initiative by Gothenburg city called Stadsjord (homepage only in Swedish – sorry!). This project aims to redistribute land owned by Gothenburg to new farmers who want to grow crops or hold livestock on anything between 0 and several hectares (but it also includes subprojects dealing with other things food). Such an approach can be tempting if you’re intersted in giving your idea a go. If successful, this could grant you both knowledge and a following to continue your company on the same land, extending your lease, or perhaps even finding land in a better location, be it bought or leased.
Another, completely different approach is to ask your neighbours if you can use their gardens to grow food. This might sound crazy, but it’s exactly what some (by now) rather famous gardeners and farmers have done. Check out Curtis Stone – he’s one of them. This idea can be especially fruitful if you find yourself in a neighborhood where interested people pass by your garden on a daily basis – where a simple conversation can pave the way for new costumer relations.
If you’re more of a techie, and you don’t want to get your fingers too dirty (or dislike being outdoors working when it rains) you’d be happy to hear that things are progressing relatively quickly in the vertical farming domain too. Growing crops in old containers, warehouse buildings, or starting a microgreen farm in your closet/garage can be a great start if you want to get into this line of work instead. This may in fact be the best way to get going at all – just buy a book on growing microgreens, a few pots and seeds, or a whole urban farming kit from IKEA – unless you prefer to build stuff yourself, and give it a go. There are many guides out there, teaching people how hydroponic (using water and soluble nutrients instead of soil) growing methods work. And if you want some real inspiration, head over to MIT’s Media Lab OpenAg page – who with the help of Caleb Harper, is pushing for an open source urban farming revolution. While there, be sure to check out their “food computer” page. Or, if that doesn’t get your appetite going, perhaps you’d opt to go one step beyond hydroponics – and replace your (probably) synthetic fertilizers with fish poop instead. Aquaponics is a method whereby fish are grown together with plants in circular systems attempting to mimic natural ecosystems – where, in the ideal scenario, some plants feed the fish, the fish feeds the plants (with poop) and the plants feed the fish again.
All of these approaches start out small, and there’s a reason for that. Starting a big agricultural company today is hard – heck, even running one is hard. But the agricultural workforce is aging, and with each year passing, farms are either shutting down, or being bought up by other farmers, growing in size. Something needs to change to reverse this trend, giving people a chance to return to the land, and in the future, even moving back to the countryside. But getting there will probably mean starting out small, growing bit by bit until bigger areas can be leased or bought back from the majority of relatively large landowners. This needs to happen to keep the countryside alive. Who else will be growing our staples in the future? Big corporations? I’d prefer not.
What do you think?