Funding an Office
of Urban Agriculture
(C) Copyright: City Farmer 1995
People are often surprised to learn that someone gets paid full-time for doing something as unusual and pleasurable as running City Farmer. Others assume that we are a government department and address their letters to "The Minister of Urban Agriculture".
City Farmer is both a registered charity and non-profit society and must fund-raise to pay its bills. One of the secrets of keeping our office going for almost 20 years is keeping overhead costs to a minimum.
For the first 12 years our 250 square foot office cost us $50. per month due to the kindness of the building owner. When you add on the cost of one business phone line and a tiny utilities bill, you are up and running for less than $1500. a year. Our Demonstration Garden, a ten minute drive from the office, sits on City property which we use in exchange for maintaining a beautiful landscape.
Wages is another important expenditure item. For many years we received short-term Federal Government grants to administer job training projects which were environmental in nature. For over ten years we were able to offer gardening classes, start a large community garden, a rooftop garden, a school garden and a horticulture therapy garden with just two to three trainees working up to six months at a time. The remainder of the year was spent producing literature describing the projects just completed, with funds coming from the private sector and charitable foundations.
The nature of most granting systems means that we have to be creative and find new projects every couple of years. Each new project adds to our goal "to promote urban agriculture".
For the past five years we have delivered compost education programs, the core funding coming from municipal government sources.
Regardless of what our major focus is for any given year, we make time to research and promote the wide variety of subjects that make up urban agriculture.
Some advice for staying afloat:
- Keep your overhead low.
- Keep your organization small and don't expand just because you have a good year.
- Pay your bills, keep a close eye on your accounts and always put some money away in savings for those times when grants aren't coming in. Then you can still pay your bills while hunting for new sources of funding.
- Pay good wages to a well chosen staff. Our ads for employees say "Must love gardening, must love working with people." At present we have one full-time and two part-time staff and a handful of workshop leaders who work now and again.
- Develop a good name by completing successful projects.
- Be creative and find new projects to capture the public's imagination.
- Take advantage of the free publicity the media can offer you. They will deliver your message and at the same time help the public and funders become aware of your good name.