Established in 2013, USDA Microloans is a program that provides funding to urban farmers. Since its founding, the program has awarded 23,000 loans, giving a total of $518 million to farms in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and California.
Last year, nine farmers in New York participating in a vertical farming accelerator program called Square Roots became the first to receive microloans in the state. Square Roots was found by Tobias Peggs and Elon Musk’s brother Kimbal Musk. Participating farmers cultivate crops inside LED-lit, climate-controlled shipping containers.
“Urban farmers are not looking to form 10,000 acres in Missouri, but perhaps in an indoor container on a parking lot next to an old factory,” said Val Dolicini, the administrator for the USDA Farm Services Agency.
While the average size of a farm in the U.S. is about 435 acres, urban farmers are working on a much smaller scale, which is why they these microloans are geared towards them.
In the spring of 2014, the number of people who tended a garden within the last 12 months amounted to 113.5 million in the United States. However, one can imagine that few of these gardeners or farmers were city-dwellers. With these new USDA initiatives, it is becoming much easier for agricultural enthusiasts to get the resources they need in non-rural areas.
“The funding process made it impossible, or certainly extremely difficult, to compete if you were an urban farmer,” said Peggs. “‘Question 1: how big is your field?’ is hard to answer if you don’t have one.”
In 2016, the USDA published the “Urban Agriculture Toolkit,” which includes advice about how to start a rooftop farm and how to apply for loans. While the majority of USDA grants and loans will still go towards funding rural farms, the agency is taking steps to give urban farmers a leg up.