Career paths to consider in the evolving world of urban farming
If you are considering being part of the future of food with a new career opportunity, the options are exciting.
While starting your own farm will always be popular, we believe the industry will soon be vastly underserved in skilled labor. Farms are becoming attractive options for people in tech, media, marketing, business management, logistics, public relations, engineering, design, CAD, manufacturing, data, cloud computing and compliance.
In the continuing shift towards regenerative and hyperlocal food systems, we believe local networks of food producers with diverse backgrounds will serve markets uniquely, efficiently and reap the benefits via higher profit margins, community connection and social impact.
Within Our Community
Opportunities for adults with special needs are and will continue to be available. Controlled environments in larger cities have created jobs for those who need positions that thrive on repetition for the opportunity to shift misconceptions of their capabilities.
The therapeutic and tangible nature of food production and focused labor farms offer to provide opportunities to Veterans who are switching from service to civilian life. It has been proven that farming can be a great path after soldiers service. Because of the inherent structure and obstacles that need to be conquered no matter what the challenge, our Veterans have proven that they bring a resilient mindset that is required in farming.
Non-violent offenders coming back to society can learn skills in food production, preparation, and leadership while earning spots in a positive environment where success and self-improvement can be a gateway into a better life that also serves the community. The opportunity and necessity to rally people around food, especially in areas affected by food deserts with lack of fresh food and healthy resources. We need more outlets of reinsertion into society as people are released with a background that impedes those who have made mistakes. This is a workforce of 9 million according to The National Reentry Resource Center that can make a positive impact on the communities they return home to if resources in education and opportunities exist.
Construction & Maintenance
Service businesses that maintain small micro-farms in restaurants, bars, hotels, apartment complexes, HOA’s, give construction a new niche as urban farms make use of spaces in the nooks and unused spaces in cities that feed its residences locally grown food.
Agri-hoods that are developed or reintroduced into a neighborhood share common spaces and green areas are seeing a reintroduction of small garden plots, community gardens, and edible landscaping. People will always be gathering at home with shared meals as the reason to get together. There will be constructing, servicing, and workshop opportunities as these amenities are incorporated into housing developments built for a younger demographic coming into the housing market. The ability to be design and construct functional urban greenscapes will be attractive to city planners, NGO’s and charitable foundations.
Those in the tech world can join an industry primed for data collection and management. Sensor tech, automation, renewable energy, lighting, the list goes on. Blockchain will play a role in compliance, shipping, and nutrition all the way to the end-user. App development for farm management tools with the ability to plug into open API systems will solve production, logistical, and data issues that plague small business of today.
Remote and up to the minute mobile monitoring of systems will be accessible by farm management any time, anywhere. Customizable apps based on and designed with actual farms open-sourced input will be critical.
Mobile apps for blockchain, tracking from seed to client, the ability to scan Brix for freshness, and the market’s desire for more and more information opens an opportunity for app development to tie into on-farm sensor tech like Agrilyst.
HVAC, electrical, plumbing, and building sectors will develop specialists in urban ag in controlled vegetable, herb, and hemp production. Someone will invent, develop, manufacture, and sell the new specialty equipment for the grow operations we haven’t imagined yet.
Robotics are well on their way to finding their way in multi-acre greenhouses for QC, harvesting, IPM, & environmental testing. These early AI pioneers will help in bringing the cost, access, and durability to small farms whose owners grew up in tech and can work these technologies into their business plan.
Advancements will eventually put amazingly efficient lights into the hands of the farm start up. In addition to energy efficiencies, there are developments for smart sensors that allow for maximum yield.
When less than one percent of the population involved in farming, traditional lenders are not jumping at small farm startups. When VC’s step in, small farms lose a % of ownership right off the bat. Worse yet, if either traditional or non-traditional capital rounds pump money into ventures too early or without guiding the principles of good business management, we risk heavy funding losses throughout the industry. Our industry needs more frequent wins that allow investors to get the “hockey stick” returns VC’s consider wins.
Beyond financing and terms that flex with seasonality, the industry is ripe for the development of new forms of financing that can help build strong durable businesses by partnering with other industries and network alliances. Various forms of crowdsourcing are moving to pair the right investors with the right people creating a larger abundance of opportunities in agriculture. Ag, tech and smart capital are coming together to pave new roads in investment availability.
Business Consulting and Education
Since the days farming grew out of the Crescent Valley, knowledge has been passed on. Farmers have gained, lost, and relearned how to bring crops to full harvest. As technology progresses, we can apply the same connections, capabilities, and leverage to agricultural education. People who have the skills, knowledge, and storytelling abilities to break down complex seasonal and plant variety changes into absorbable bites of actionable information. From books to niche down online courses we can learn from a farmer in Washington State to Maine in a single day from our own home on our time.
To teach while being a one-person production company is an expensive investment. The time to develop a curriculum outline alone can be significant. While most anything can be shot with a smartphone, people appreciate and gravitate toward quality production.. If we are going to listen to an instructor over the length of a course, nobody wants to listen to hours of bad audio. The interface itself needs to be easy to navigate, easy to pay, and can handle the requirements of the teacher and the student. These platforms are not inexpensive.
Farmers seeking out education are having to decide how to allocate education budgets. Do they go to a conference, buy a $100 course, or a $3000 course, or invest $20 on a book? This is a new realm in farming, so the understanding of what goes into a higher priced program vs. one that was developed, shot, minimally edited, and released in a week is skewed. There are things not being taught in traditional schools, and the pace of our market continues to pull away from lethargic institutions mired in regulation and misinterpretation of what we need now. Farm business owners are searching for answers they have on marketing as it is today, not in 1997.
Buyers of agricultural goods search, make decisions and purchase all of their goods on a tech backbone. If small farms are having difficulty selling their goods at the prices needed to justify the effort and investment of farming, it is in part due to not meeting our clients on their terms. If we wall ourselves off to what the market desires, somebody else will get to them and further divide the harvest.
There is no doubt that right now we desperately need agricultural ambassadors representing the needs of small ag from city councils to the White House. There are too many frustrating stories of city ordinances not keeping pace with urban ag as it reclaims urban sprawl. City limits encoaching rural homesteads pit farmers against municipal agents as interpretations and variances take time, resources, and finances from small business owners.
Labeling and certifications are grossly misunderstood by the buying public and forces farmers to pay to play as non-farmers litigate food laws. We need level headed farmers with the skills to convey to policymakers fact from fiction while turning standard practices into better workflows. Far too often we see these policy rifts force farmers to take sides between soil and soilless farmers.
Like anything else in life, there is no blanket answer. It will take every growing discipline, every opportunity of distribution, and every scale of operation to feed a picky society. There is more than enough room for everyone at the table if we support each other through policy changes rather than in fighting for black and white answers.
Scientific facts, buyer’s psychology, local food’s cultural influence all can be deployed as people can relate agricultural story too inquisitive government, business, and individuals wondering how their decisions about food can positively spur daily habit changes for better food, sustainability, and economies.
Marketing, Public Relations, and Mass Media
Small and medium farms are adding layers to their marketing efforts. Facebook and Instagram have given small business a platform and tools to reach their clients where their attention is focused. Smartphones make it easy to capture, edit, and broadcast from anywhere in real time keeping their clients personalized news feed up to date with on-farm activity.
What is coming into play is independent social media managers and production companies doing three things we have seen that could help small ag.
One, independent contractors specializing in small ag and helping many farms afford better media managers through plans that flex with a farms size and seasonal needs. By helping a number of farms, packages can be tailored. Batch photo sessions, branding strategy sessions, market breakdowns, scheduling posts, cross-posting, copy and headline strategies, targeting ads, crowdfunding campaigns, market breakdown, and general platform maintenance.
Two, one off specific campaigns for larger projects. These announcements could be for grand openings, event preparation, product launches, rebranding, video production for cornerstone ads, and any large investment in evergreen content that requires higher production value.
Three, one-time consulting sessions and social media makeovers for people who want to start off well or up their game through training.
Savvy farmers understand the importance of navigating press, interviews, and sponsorship opportunities. With YouTube and social media personalities gaining traction there will be obvious signs that someone has received guidance. Public Relations specialists can help farmers in the spotlight recognize all of the opportunities and responsibilities their new role may hold. There are certain etiquette details that are simply not taught anywhere else. Farmers attracting sponsors, raising capital, and who want to become or offered brand ambassadorships may want to receive guidance as they become entrusted to speak for an industry.
Partnerships with journalists, editors, videographers, photographers, podcasters, bloggers, and influences can be a win-win for both sides. Being a trusted go-to resource in a farmer’s city and region can help your farm’s exposure and help the rest of small ag if that farmer is level headed, honest, and keeps the local food system as a whole in mind. The media often lacks credible reliable resources in small ag as no one is generally appointed spokesman of a farm and the owners often default into the position. Turning a feel-good piece into a relationship can be very mutually beneficial to both parties.
Agricultural reporting may open up as dedicated television channels, radio, podcast networks, magazines, and regions heavy with small ag activities have an appetite for both local food and stories about the farms feeding their area.
Larger farms or food networks may have a budget to being on a dedicated marketing person to help with all of the above areas. People working on their own farm, growing up with an agricultural background, and have interests in storytelling arts and visuals may be able to pay for themselves in these positions as they increase market awareness and drive sales.
Food, Beverage, and Hospitality
Where can we even begin? The reason we are all here. To feed another human is one of life’s greatest gifts. To grow, prepare, host, share, and toast at a dinner table with your favorite appreciative people is hardwired into our brains. To be in service to humanity, animals, the land, and elements holds a responsibility to those things and to be able to continue to do so. All of the hope, luck, and wishing in the world will not build a smart business designed to serve your marketplace.
With cultures colliding on the web and in-person people are trying new foods at the highest rate in history. Shared cultures, traditions, and meals fuel reasons to farm, cook, provide and purchase those goods. Protecting the farm, the farmer, and the people who fund these endeavors means exploring avenues to push established limits to new farm fusions.
Beyond the food, incentives to develop and specialize in new markets means producers can enjoy higher revenues serving niche clientele. Ready to eat meals, ethnic delicacies, craft and small-batch specialty foods, infused spirits, raw ingredients, heritage breeds served and delivered to evolving markets predicated on customer buying trends serve the market on their preferences.
Experienced based food events with transparency served by the makers command premium prices that anchor buyers to independent farm brands. Convenience in food preparation and the client interface when ordering and paying make your farm a part of someone’s routine. You can serve better quality food that takes care of health, taste, and time constraints that are real pain points to modern consumers who value knowing their personal farmer as a part of their buying decision.
When building a food hub that covers premium products and services, bread and butter routine purchases to get through the week, commodity sales to restaurants and distributors, and passion projects that serve a community function we all have room to blur the lines. We can add layers to services to enhance the food and the transaction. We can build a solid foundation built on perfected business management and scalability through improved operational systems and smart tech integration.
We have endless examples of the streaming of elevated dining and food culture. Craft beer and cocktails deepen the culinary array of where perfect ingredients can be served. Seasonal menus developed with collaborations by chefs, mixologists, and their go-to farmers offer each destination exclusive edible art. This excitement builds when those chef’s mixologists, and farmers support and build each other up socially and with gratitude for the experience of bringing creation to life together. This buzz is repeated and amplified by those who get to sit down, enjoy, share,and pay for the experience.
If you tune your radar to these avenues you find that there is no end to the possibilities contributing to culinary arts provide. Where some people stop looking is where others decide to do it themselves and lead an industry to fill a void.
Is farming a physical and mental labor of love? You can bet on that. Workers in offices don’t go into the office to find that deer ate all the HDMI cables overnight. Administrators do not loose accounts because of excessive rain and heat. The CEO never climbs on top of a skyscraper to patch a roof before a nor’easter. But you can bet your ass that farm workers, managers, and owners do this stuff all the time on the farm.
Farm labor and management is going through a renaissance of infused skills inserting life experiences from other industries as farmers embrace technology and business solutions to questions nobody’s has asked before.
The farmers we see struggle before pivoting into the right market never blame the public for their mis-steps. They dig through the pain of missing the mark until they see the light of a new crop, client, or scale of production. Life has a way of reshaping our big eyed goals. Your inner network can calibrate your reactions to these life lessons in a good or bad way. Do they see an abundance or are they shadow boxing every little obstacle only to manifest a new one the next minute?
The change we want to see looks at examples of education, collaboration, and fusing of talents. We look to technology not just to reduce labor, but to create efficiencies and streamline to add the right people to our farm. People that fill gaps in skill. We need dreamers, planners, workers, and a sales force that can provide while keeping company culture positive.
With so many people interested in having their own farm, standouts will certainly lead a new charge and these leaders will need a skilled labor force. The supporting vendors in logistics, food hubs, and tech to service these farms will help in the creativity of small production as scale drives implementation costs down for the average farmer budget.
In Ag, building or working for a company with great culture can be very rewarding. As our industry grows, we can expect more available medical coverage and financial services as people move beyond viewing small farms as a quaint family business and start seeing it for the disruptive powerhouses they can be.
Co-Founder & Business Coach, Urban Farm Academy