A How To Guide for Starting Your Own Profitable Urban Farm

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Russell, Peyton
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Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering

Since 1905, the Department of Agricultural Engineering, now the Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering (ABE), has been a leader in providing engineering solutions to agricultural problems in the United States and the world. The department’s original mission was to mechanize agriculture. That mission has evolved to encompass a global view of the entire food production system–the wise management of natural resources in the production, processing, storage, handling, and use of food fiber and other biological products.

In 1905 Agricultural Engineering was recognized as a subdivision of the Department of Agronomy, and in 1907 it was recognized as a unique department. It was renamed the Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering in 1990. The department merged with the Department of Industrial Education and Technology in 2004.

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  • Department of Agricultural Engineering (1907–1990)

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Urban agriculture has long been practiced for both subsistence farming and to provide fresh produce to sell at the market. A synthesis of these two purposes of urban farming may help reduce the number of food deserts in US cities by providing fresh produce to low-income families. Many community gardens have made fresh, locally sourced food available, but may not be setup as a sustainable for-profit business. The purpose of this research project was to determine if a small-scale urban farm could grow enough vegetables to sell at consumer markets in order to offset the cost of donating fresh produce to low-income families at no extra cost. The impact of this strategy was determined by the number of servings of vegetable the farm could provide to the community for free. In order to determine this, an urban farm in Chicago was modeled for start-up and recurring costs, as well as potential seasonal yield of vegetables. Linear programming was used to constrain the model and determine the trade-off between profitability and servings donated to the community. It was determined that an urban farm can remain both profitable and charitable, however the exact growing mix of vegetables will impact both metrics.