Did you know that every year, the US Department of Agriculture sends millions of dollars to rural farmers?
It’s not just the countryside that’s benefitting from this funding these days, though. Increasingly, the USDA offers financial assistance to urban farming as well. In fact, in 2016, the USDA funded a dozen urban farms, the highest number yet, according to a Business Insider interview with Val Dolicini, the administrator for the USDA Farm Services Agency.
And Dolcini expects that the USDA will devote even more money to urban farms on rooftops, in greenhouses, and in warehouses this year.
The USDA Microloans program offers funding up to $50,000 every year for farmers, many of whom are urban farmers. Established in 2013, the program has awarded 23,000 loans worth $518 million to farms in California, Connecticut, and Massachusetts so far.
That’s the story behind the funding for Square Roots, created by Kimbal Musk (Elon’s brother) and Tobias Peggs, who are the first urban farmers to receive microloans in New York.
Musk and Peggs created a space for vertical urban farming out of climate-controlled, LED-lit shipping containers. Their microloans will cover the cost of seeds and operating expenses.
Square Roots will also function as a think tank and experiment for young entrepreneurs interested in developing their business skills in the realm of urban farming. Each mini-farm in the 10 steel, 320-square-foot shipping containers will be run by a Millennial entrepreneur.
In addition to receiving microloans themselves, Peggs and Musk worked with the USDA to streamline the loan process so that other urban farmers can benefit from it in the future.
“We’ve done a lot of work in the Obama administration to open doors wider to urban farmers,” said Dolcini. “The Square Roots farmers represent the tip of the iceberg into our foray into regional foods and giving folks greater access to the USDA.”
There are other government-based resources for urban farmers available as well. The USDA has released The Urban Agriculture Toolkit, a collection of funding statistics and information resources for those interested in starting urban gardens in their own cities. The Toolkit covers common operational elements and issues that arise for the modern urban farmer and how these issues can be resolved. It also notes resources available from federal, state, and local partners.
There’s also the Know Your Farmer program, originally created by the Obama administration to encourage consumers to buy local and be aware of the processing and marketing of the produce they consume.
As urban gardens continue to pop up across the country and thrive, the USDA is dedicated to supporting these endeavors so we have easier access to clean, green, local produce—and all the good that entails.