Lance Kraai (pictured above) operates the 3-acre New City Farm on Grand Rapids’ northeast side and believes urban farms are best suited to drive social change rather than profits. Photo by Katy Batdorff.
“You can read books on urban agriculture, and it’s like, ‘You can make $100,000 on an acre.’ I’m a little skeptical of that in West Michigan,” he said.
By John Wiegand
Increasing property values, notoriously thin margins — a common thread most conventional, organic and urban farmers share — and a lack of high-end buyers stifled what many thought to be a hot market.
That’s not to say urban farmers haven’t found a niche in West Michigan over the past five years. Instead of driving dollars to the bottom line, urban farmers have switched their models to focus on community revitalization, public health and youth welfare.
“Urban farming isn’t just about producing food,” said Levi Gardner, founder and director at Grand Rapids-based Urban Roots Farm LLC, a four-year-old farm that operates a half-acre of land located at 1316 Madison Ave. SE. “People normally say you’re producing a product for market but it’s about education, community revitalization, and public health. I think that’s one of the things that needs to be delineated. … It’s more about creating community and livelihoods around agriculture.”
However, even with the shift in focus, challenges remain for the small-scale growers. To maintain their staff and programs, many urban farmers rely on grant funding. They also struggle with zoning regulations and city officials who don’t understand the benefits of opening up municipal land to be farmed.