San Francisco Department of Environment partnered with a team of MBA students at Presidio Graduate School’s Sustainable Management program to develop studies on the viability of Commercial Urban Agriculture in the San Francisco bay area. The following highlights conclusions from the Executive Summary: 

Urban farmers in San Francisco face unique operating challenges, resulting in limited commercial success to date. These challenges include significant operating costs, space limitations, highly varied microclimates, and stiff competition from other Bay Area farms and large industrial producers. Because of this, it isn’t possible to simply apply successful models of urban agriculture from other regions and expect comparable results.

However, the most successful urban agriculture ventures tend to share some common characteristics that can be instructive for entrepreneurs in the San Francisco market, despite variations in physical constraints and cost structures. These characteristics include partnerships with community members, investors and buyers; varied agricultural products and revenue streams; a focus on higher-margin products and distribution methods, including specialty produce, value-added goods and services and direct sales channels; and supplementary income through the offering of educational services, production supplies, or technologies to other interested urban farmers. The most successful urban agriculture ventures have a clearly delineated business strategy, including a well-defined target market and differentiated value proposition that enable them to compete as a premium priced product. Based on this analysis, key strategies for urban farmers in San Francisco include:

  • Maximizing space and optimizing crop mix based on margins and highest yield options.
  • Careful business and agricultural planning, while allowing for flexibility to meet market demands and trends.
  • Identifying diverse funding sources for startup capital, including crowdfunding and slow money.
  • Engaging in marketing and branding to build the reputation of the farm.
  • Efficient use of all resources, including financial and human capital.

Click here to read the full report.

Photo: Matthew McVickar