Is There an Urban Agriculture Bubble?
Betting the Farm
Story By David Lepeska
Volume 2, Issue 40.
2013 NEXT CITY
Complete 15 page story costs $1.99.
But such heroism doesn’t come cheap. Growing Power spends about $3.2 million a year, according to tax filings from 2010, the most recent year for which reports are publicly available. That year, the organization took in $1.2 million in revenue and $2.4 million from grants and donor funding, which means that two-thirds of its annual budget came from philanthropy and public support.
In other words, the country’s most prominent urban farm can’t put the proverbial food on the table. It’s a situation that doesn’t bother the farmer-in-chief. “I’m not going to say we’re ever going to walk away from trying to get grants and funding,” Allen said in an interview later that morning in a Growing Power greenhouse. “Farmers get tax breaks, tax credits, subsidies. So when people say this isn’t totally self-sustaining, what does that mean? No business is totally self-sustaining.”
The federal government certainly isn’t shy about helping Big Agriculture. The 2008 Farm Bill included $75 billion in subsidies, and 2011 USDA subsidies to Illinois farms alone totaled more than $1 billion. Further, a recent New York Times study found that U.S. cities, counties and states give businesses about $80 billion in subsidies and incentives each year.
The problem is that revolutions are generally not bankrolled by the powers-that-be. “If we are going to foster a revolution in the methods of American agriculture, we must pioneer ways to make small-scale farming economically viable,” Allen writes in his book, The Good Food Revolution, published in May. “The honest truth is that with urban agriculture, we are not there yet.”