Myth 1: Urban farmers are landscapers.
Myth 1 Debunked: In general, urban farmers care very little about how their site looks. Instead, urban farmers care about how their site produces, and what their produce looks like. Landscape design is a major taught at the university and is completely different than agricultural food production. When you look at a popular farm or gardening magazine, it is akin to looking at a women’s magazine, like Cosmopolitan. Just like those women are airbrushed and have make-up artists, the farms know months in advance of the photoshoot and tidy up accordingly, even going so far as hiring temps to weed before the photoshoot. With all that being said, this is not a free pass to have a shoddy looking farm. However, urban farms should not be put under a microscope any more so than any other place in the city.
Myth 2: Urban farmers are the ultimate recyclers.
Myth 2 Debunked: The truth is urban farmers are maybe just slightly better at recycling than your average recycler. In general, urban farmers don’t want all of your random sized plant containers that you’ve bought from 10 different nurseries over the course of three years. Rather UF value uniformity and will do whatever they can in order to have the same size container, the same size tray, the same size heat mat, the same size shelf, etc. An exception can be made for big brown cardboard boxes (refrigerator, 60 inch TV, sofa), especially if the tape and packing stickers have been removed.
Myth 3: Urban farms can be brought up to productivity and beautified in one season.
Myth 3 Debunked: The truth of the matter is an urban farm’s life is a construction project during the first few years. It takes that amount of time to get nutrient depleted, biologically dead soils to be agriculturally productive. Just as the city wouldn’t harass Medical Mart about a tall patch of grass in a section of the construction site, the urban farm should be awarded the same luxury its first couple of seasons. I’ve included the pictures of rocks in the Soils section to illustrate just how bad our soils are and to infer the amount of work it is to get these soils up and running. Considering a farmer’s job is to grow and sell food, the UF should do everything in their power to increase their soil’s health. Everything else should be considered secondary.
Myth 4: Anyone can be an urban farmer.
Myth 4 Debunked: This notion was particularly popular around 2008-2012 when every organization was writing grants for urban farming. Urban farming had been marketed as a way for ex-convicts, drug addicts, the uneducated, and the disenfranchised to become productive members of society. The truth of the matter is some of the smartest and most physically fit people still have difficulty making urban ag work. A non-exhaustive laundry list of skill sets should include small engine/machinery, basic chemistry, social media guru-level, some carpentry, physically fit (ag comes with lots of 50 pound bags), marketing, knowledge of plants, and materials acquisition.
Myth 5: Because you grow it, you can sell it.
Myth 5 Debunked: The classic rationale behind this thought process doesn’t work. It goes like this, “the retail value of food sold in Northeast Ohio per year is $8B.” So, if urban farmers can get just one percent of that value, then that’s $8M per year in local farmers’ pockets. Unfortunately, the distribution system set-up for urban farmers is not that robust. In addition, most urban farmers are horrible salespeople. The education system always emphasizes production (how to grow), but rarely emphasizes distribution (how to sell). Quite frankly, many of the folks attracted to urban farming just aren’t people-persons. They toil in the soil by themselves for hours and can often be described as shy. Being shy and sales are like oil and water. The two don’t mix. The most difficult part of urban farming isn’t the farming. It’s the selling.
Urban Farmer Myths Debunked: There are many preconceived misconceptions about urban farmers and their ilk. In this section, we discuss some of the most common.