When urban agriculture collaborates with rural agriculture

The experience of GROOF partners in coaching professional urban agriculture projects reveals that, although these projects have multiplied in recent years, the definition of a viable economic model remains complex for some projects, as the activities of education and resale of the project's own productions sometimes prove to be unprofitable. Among the existing solutions to improve the economic viability of such projects, the diversification of income sources based on peri-urban or rural agriculture is a good alternative. Discover below, four urban agriculture projects with rooftop greenhouses that have managed to innovate and multiply partnerships with peri-urban or rural farmers to consolidate their economic model. A collaborative motivation that is beneficial for urban agriculture and more broadly, useful for addressing the resilience challenges of cities of the future.

The PAKT project in Antwerp started in 2017 on a 2,000 m² roof. The desire to raise awareness about sustainable food and the desire to set up a food belt around the city of Antwerp was, and still is, central to the project. To achieve this, PAKT decided to focus on two activities: 1) renting out 1,500 m2 of rooftop cultivation space to citizens, in the form of annual subscriptions (80 subscribers). 2) collaboration with professional peri-urban market gardeners, who are members of the PAKT cooperative. Their products are distributed via three methods: an e-shop for restaurants, weekly sales at a stand provided by PAKT at the bottom of the building, and distribution of food baskets for subscribers. Over the years, the project has grown and multiplied its partnerships to five actual partners. The revenue generated by this activity represented in 2019 nearly two-thirds of PAKT's turnover. 


These projects, currently followed by GROOF, have created partnerships with peri-urban farmers in response to the Covid-19 crisis. As these projects offer many events, they have been directly impacted by the crisis. To compensate for this important loss of income, they both decided to diversify their offer by proposing collection points, food baskets, delivery services, ... with food products whose production is outside their projects. 

This new service took place during the first containment for the Entrepote. It allowed to take care of the different fees/fixed charges for this period (March 2020 - May 2020). Despite the success of this new service, they have decided not to repeat this strategy during the second lockdown for logistical and financial reasons. However, they plan to offer this service in the future by subcontracting with a specialized company, making their premises available. 

For the Open Farm in Saint-Denis, the complementary products offered in a new farm counter (apples, pears, etc.) have been a great success. The implementation of this new activity was facilitated by the space available on the farm, the possibility of storage in a cold room and the long-standing links with other farms in the region. In the future, these services will be maintained and diversified, in addition to market gardening and hydroponic production in the 360 m2 rooftop greenhouse currently under construction.


Finally, to complete our case analysis, we wanted to introduce you to a pioneering project that has been underway for 10 years now: LUFA Farms. This organization created the world's first commercial rooftop greenhouse in Montreal in 2011 and currently operates 12,000 m2 in three urban greenhouses. However, it is for reasons of economic profitability that LUFA started to distribute, in addition to its rooftop productions, products from peri-urban farmers in the open (seasonal fruits and vegetables), local butchers, cheese makers and bakers. The distribution is done through their different stores, their website and collection points. The evolution of this business model and the specialization in logistics has allowed LUFA to increase its turnover in a few years. Today, LUFA farms generate 75% to 85% of their sales volume through this short-distance distribution activity.


Urban-rural partnerships, a vector of success for urban agriculture projects?

Beyond the economic benefits for companies of this diversification of the business model, we see in these urban-rural partnerships vital interests for the territory. These collaborations allow for the recreation of links between rural and urban communities, meetings and learning. Communities, which at times, despite similar concerns, try to avoid each other as the contexts may be different.

Of course, this type of collaboration is not a miracle solution to all problems, and it cannot be applied systematically in all contexts.

But this collaborative approach between urban and peri-urban producers brings with it a win-win dynamic of exchanges that will allow for a better understanding of each other, and a city-countryside reconnection, indispensable ingredients to ensure the viability of systems feeding cities.

As we have seen, some urban farms act as real "hubs" for centralizing products from the surrounding area.  Why not encourage their multiplication in the heart of our cities to accelerate this reconnection?


Is this type of purchase-resale developed in your projects? Would it be relevant? Do not hesitate to tell us about it!

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