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What must an urban farmer do to create an urban agriculture? An editorial for the Farmers’ Lab 5 Nov

Urban farmers have the task in front of them to pioneer a new way of producing and consuming food in the city. Here are 6 key things an urban farmer can do in their enterprises as they establish these new patterns of behaviour. There may be many more, but here is a set of 6 suggestions.

1. Farmers need to take care of water. This means not only conserving it (even if you get it for “free” from the municipality) but also using it responsibly. Technology should be employed to harvest, store and use water optimally. The life of water is tied up with the life of the ecosystem. Even in the urban jungle, this matters, and it matters a lot. Farmers need to understand how to use, manipulate, and responsibly conserve nature and its services. This is an integral part of the profitability of the farm, and a driver of its production.

2. Production: Farmers need to find the production method that works best for them and creates the right kind of value for the products and customers their farm serves. Production must be intensive and responsible, as urban farms are small and affect communities directly. This means the farm needs to engage with the community, and this would include harvesting food waste and other waste for food; producing in responsible and highly intensive ways; designing the farm to conserve and enhance natural resources and productivity; energy should be used responsibly, and the farm needs to be designed to use available energy, from sun to other sources, productively. Farmers should also understand how to use labour and work, and how these can be optimally used not only for production, but also for future sustainability. Farmers have an interest in upskilling their farmworkers, particularly in biological technologies. This is to ensure farmworker contribute to enhanced food safety standards (sand product and customer value), but it will also equip the farmworkers to be the next generation of farmers.

3. Technology should be intensively studied, adapted and implemented on the farm. This includes biological technologies like worm and compost systems, but also energy, water, and waste systems, and transportation. It also includes the social arrangements around work and the maintenance and interaction with all equipment. Farmers need to be highly able and proficient.

4. The genetics of the food. Farmers need to have knowledge and some control over the genetic resources they use. They should know and understand different seeds, breeds and their hybrids. They should understand the forces that control say genetically modified organisms. They should know why we have these and where the trends that control their use and production will take us.

5. The product: A farmer should be able to design their product to some extent, if not completely. A farmer should understand that it is the product that creates the specific market it will sell to, and that the product can be designed, really in infinite ways. The life cycle of food products should also be well understood, and also how value is created in these long, global, highly regulated and manipulated supply and value chains.

6. The enterprise. Farmers would benefit from thinking about their farms as enterprises that connect the ecosystem of production with the ecosystem of the community. The way the two interact is important. Technology, labour and work, ecosystem services, sales, input harvesting and all operations need to be streamlined and work effectively. This is the final challenge of the urban agricultural entrepreneur: the integration of multiple systems for social benefit.

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