Urban Farming Categories: Subsistence Farming, Recreational Farming and Entrepreneurial Farming

Which category do you fall under?

by Thomas J. Fox
Urban Farm magazine's new book, Urban Farming.

Excerpt from Urban Farming by Thomas J. Fox with permission from its publisher, Hobby Farm Press, an imprint of BowTie Press. Purchase Urban Farming here.

Urban farming categories typically fall into three categories: subsistence, recreational and entrepreneurial. These are not inviolable categories. The dependence of subsistence farmers on their homegrown food may vary with the season or economic climate, while social or community concerns may figure prominently in the motivations of entrepreneurial farmers. Recreational farmers might earn a decent income from their pet projects, and so on. Having a general idea of which category you fall into is helpful for planning.

Take crop choice. A recreational farmer might choose crops that are unreliable or simply unusual, whereas a subsistence farmer can’t take a chance on not eating and would do better by planting fail-safe crops. Entrepreneurial farmers can weigh the risk of failure against the possibility of higher profits for crops that are hard to find.

Subsistence farmer: Grows to make a living, choosing crops or livestock to meet his or her own food needs or high-value items that can be sold profitably to others, whether food, flowers or other products. Most of the world’s estimated 800-million urban farmers fall into this category. Examples might include a mother growing corn and sweet potatoes at a scrap yard in Kampala, Uganda; or a Philippine couple on the outskirts of Manila growing jasmine flowers to weave into garlands.

Recreational farmer: Grows out of interest rather than necessity, although the recreational farmer may subsist on what’s grown by choice, not because he or she has to. The primary audience is the farmer, so the choices of crop are abundant. Recreational farmers are also people farming out of sustainability concerns or local-food interest; their motivations may not be recreational in terms of entertainment value, but they are not at risk of starving if they do not grow food to eat or sell. Most urban farms in the United States, traditional French kitchen gardens (potagers) and community gardens would fall into the recreational farmer category.

Entrepreneurial farmer: Motivated primarily by making profits. Driven by the market, the entrepreneurial farmer is likely to choose high-value, perishable items, such as gourmet greens or other specialty produce, fresh flowers or live aqua-cultured fish. Although the capital inputs required to produce those items may be higher in the city, the reduction in transportation, refrigeration, and storage costs help make them more competitive with imported goods. In this way, the entrepreneurial farmers and subsistence farmers who market their goods are very similar in terms of motivation (to make a living), but very different in scale, with entrepreneurial farmers likely to have larger farms and formal business plans. Entrepreneurial farmers are almost certainly the smallest category of farmer internationally, as well as in the United States, but may hold the largest potential impact because of a capacity for growth and innovation.

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