Reconciling economic viability and socio-ecological aspirations in London urban microfarms

Marina Chang, Kevin Morel

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    Few scholars have investigated the economic viability of urban farms in industrialized countries. This study focused on urban community microfarms—small-scale organic market gardens committed to social work activities—in London. Our objective was to investigate the extent to which economic viability was (i) possible for urban microfarms in London and (ii) compatible with the other social and ecological aspirations of microfarmers. The simulation model MERLIN was adapted to London, based on 10 case studies. We analyzed the likelihood of viability—that is, the percentage of economically viable simulations (out of 1000 simulations)—of 192 different strategic scenarios of microfarms. Based on the modeling outputs, a collective workshop was organized with 11 urban farmers to discuss the possibility of reconciling socio-ecological aspirations and economic viability in an urban context. This is the first time that modeling and discussions with stakeholders are combined to explore the viability of urban agriculture. Our novel study shows that urban microfarms can be viable and that viability can be increased by focusing on short-cycle and high added-value leaf vegetables grown in high tunnels and sold at high prices to restaurants. Such strategies can lead urban farmers to make trade-offs with their socio-ecological aspirations. Costs can be decreased by taking advantage of community resources such as volunteer labor or agreements with local councils to rent land at a low rate. Social work (training, hosting community events) is a key condition to access these resources but entails more complex farm management.
    Original languageEnglish
    Article number9
    JournalAgronomy for Sustainable Development
    Issue number1
    Early online date1 Feb 2018
    Publication statusPublished - Feb 2018


    • Agroecology
    • Sustainability
    • Urban agriculture
    • Organic farming
    • Trade-offs


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