Needs & Challenges

The urban farmers and gardeners interviewed for Five Borough Farm identified a number of challenges they face in obtaining key resources, including growing space, funding, labor, soil, compost, and construction materials.

Growing Space and Land Tenure

  • In a densely developed city with high land values, identifying available growing space has been extremely challenging, and was cited by interviewees as one of the most significant factors limiting the growth of urban agriculture.



Financial Resources

  • Most urban agriculture operations have limited financial resources that constrain their ability to grow food, offer programs, hire staff, and make improvements to their farm and garden.
  • Just over half of the farmers and gardeners reported having a balanced budget, with revenue coming from a combination of sales and grants.
  • The budgets also vary significantly from project to project—one institutional farmer had funding for infrastructure that totaled over $1 million dollars, while a community gardener relied on events that raised several hundred dollars.


  • More than half of the interviewees said that labor was one of their largest costs or challenges.
  • Community gardeners and farmers often struggle to pay staff and interns, while even some commercial farmers rely largely on volunteers for critical tasks.
  • Finding employees and volunteers with farming and other skills like carpentry was also cited as a challenge.


Soil and Compost

  • Soil is expensive to purchase and transport. A new 4-by-8-foot community garden bed requires approximately one cubic yard of clean soil—an amount that fills roughly nine milk crates.
  • Both erosion and agriculture draw nutrients from soil, which farmers and gardeners must replenish in order to continue growing crops.
  • Soil can be replenished in a number of ways, including the addition of compost and other soil amendments like fertilizers.



Materials and Physical Infrastructure

  • Farmers and gardeners might build any number of structures on-site to support their operations, such as:
  • sheds and coops to help protect tools, materials, and livestock from the elements and from theft,

    hoop houses and greenhouses that enclose vegetables, allowing farmers and gardeners to extend their growing season into the winter;

    compost bins and rainwater barrels to supplement their soil and water sources.

    site security and maintenance were important concerns for many farmers and gardeners.

Community Engagement and Networking

  • Overall, interviewees reported that their surrounding community members were very supportive. Yet they noted that sustaining this neighborhood connection and support was sometimes challenging, citing the importance of "getting the community at large involved in the work that we do."
  • The city's farmers and gardeners also work with one another to share resources, provide assistance, or advocate for stronger city policies to support their work. Several interviewees discussed wanting to strengthen their relationships with regional farmers, state agencies, and local businesses.

Involvement in Policy-Making

  • A number of interviewees wanted to be more connected to the City's policy-making process so that their voices can be included in policy decisions affecting their neighborhoods.
  • There was also a general desire among interviewees for city agencies to do more to support and help expand urban agriculture activities.
  • Several interviewees said that the perception that urban agriculture has not yet reached a significant scale influences government officials' willingness to support urban agriculture at a policy level.
  • Some farmers and gardeners felt that City officials did not sufficiently acknowledge the community organizing efforts related to urban agriculture, and as a result, failed to take advantage of farmers' and gardeners' expertise and networks to implement agency programs.

Race- and Class-based Disparities

  • A number of interviewees suggested that race- and class-based disparities exist within New York City's urban agriculture system, producing negative impacts for individuals, communities, and the system as a whole.
  • Interviewees cited inequities in access to philanthropic dollars, government grants, and in-kind assistance, as well as to information about these opportunities.