Megan Burley is well aware of the passion that farmers share in their desire to bolster their communities and earn a respectable living. But here’s the rub for the farm business management educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Erie County: Business management leads preferences when it comes farming workshop topics – but few have the time or inclination to sit through a workshop.
Burley hopes that will change next week, when she and the Massachusetts Avenue Project host a daylong workshop entitled, “Cultivate Buffalo: Creating a profitable urban farm market garden.” The workshop, which runs from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 1, in the Market Arcade, will include presentations by the SUNY Buffalo State Small Business Development Center; a marketing roundtable that includes a restaurateur, Burley (a farm market expert) and two small farmers; and panels focused on water and soil issues.
A tour of the 2-acre Groundwork Market Garden on the East Side will cap off the event. Cost is $25 to $35; register at erie.cce.cornell.edu.
“When I have a workshop, I want the urban, suburban and rural farmers all in the same room because I think they have a lot of the same challenges when it comes to wildlife, labor, marketing,” Burley said. "They’re facing the same things but looking at things differently.”
Several urban farms have struggled with costs versus revenues, Burley said. The workshop is designed to help address that.
While they haven’t gone through the organic certification process, farms in the city also tend to use organic practices, she said.
“They’re farming to get people interested in growing their own vegetables,” Burley said. “They’re farming for a need, or getting socially disadvantaged people to understand how to grow local produce. So a lot of their focus isn’t on the margins they’re making. Some have become nonprofits for the sake of mission, which often involves social justice. It’s a great thing, and a very needed thing, but in order for some of these urban farms to survive, the margins have to be there. Without a margin, there is no mission.”
An affordable water supply is one of the major challenges in the city, Burley said. Water hydrants are available for community gardens but not urban farms. Urban farm advocates are working with the city on legislation to try to address that.
Rich, affordable soil also can be a challenge. Many urban farmers have had to truck in soil from outside the city and use composting to help create a more robust growing surface.
“There’s a need for that (social mission),” she said, “but in order for them to survive they’ve got to figure out an interesting way to make money. If you want to increase profitability you need to increase yield and the high tunnel or hoop house is one way. You should be able to have lettuces in December. Grant money is available for that.”
Twitter: @BNrefresh, @ScottBScanlon