No matter how great the idea, making a business from an urban garden is no easy task. Just ask Mike Yohay, founder of San Francisco-based Cityscape Farms, which provides urban greenhouse systems for agricultural production with low water use.
The company has set out to utilize existing rooftops and lots in dense urban areas and convert them to urban farms that use aquaponics and greenhouse systems. “By growing fresh food within just a few miles of where it will be eaten, we will have healthier, better tasting produce and make our cities cleaner and more self-sufficient,” is Yohay’s elevator pitch.
After two years and following considerable press interest in the company, Yohay and team are now in the midst of launching a franchising system through Cityscape Farms.
“We appreciate your interest in bringing Cityscape Farms to your city or town. We are planning to introduce a franchise model in the near future that will allow our technology and business model to be shared,” writes Cityscape. “We ask for your patience while we develop this and suggest that you reconnect with us in 3 – 6 months.”
One of the key tools Cityscape Farms features in its urban farming planning is a system for growing food that has no soil, known as aquaponics. Aquaponics is a method combining aquaculture (fish cultivation) with hydroponics. This system uses natural fertilizer from filtered fish effluent, creating a closed-loop, pesticide-free organic system:
Cityscape Farms offers a program to owners of commercial rooftops to monetize their roof by leasing it to Cityscape Farms. A Cityscape team of architects and engineers will develop “site-specific greenhouse systems that are consistent with local building codes and zoning laws. We address every liability concern to assure a safe, structurally sound installation that will earn you income that didn’t exist before.”
Important benefits for this type of agricultural system include helping the environment and the local food economy. The systems that are used created their own nutrients for plant growth and require less water (see chart).
On the Cityscape Farms website, Yohay cites two influences in the development of Cityscape Farms:
“Attending college in Iowa, where I witnessed topsoil depletion and environmental pollution from large-scale corn, soy, and livestock agribusiness. The second was living in La Amistad rainforest in Costa Rica, where for a year I managed an eco-lodge and participated in low impact organic farming that supported our local community.”
As of this writing, we were unable to learn how well franchising efforts are going for Cityscape Farms, receiving only an automated email. We hope to soon see rooftops in the business of producing sustainably grown food. The idea is timely, logical, and potentially good for many.
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