From Surviving to Thriving: Strategies for Urban Farm Success

Authors: Neith Little, Kim Rush Lynch, Dale Johnson, Nicole Cook, and Ginger Myers


This material is based upon work supported by USDA/NIFA under Award Number 2015-49200-24225

Northeast ERME and USDA logo

The logo for the UMD Extension Urban Ag program was designed by Trish Moore. The graphic design and layout of this guidebook was done by Susan Barnes.

Development of this guidebook included focus groups using methods reviewed by the University of Maryland, College Park, Institutional Review Board, approved under project number 1218631-1. We wish to express our profound gratitude to the farmers and growers that took the time to share their knowledge and experience.

We also wish to thank the following people for their input, advice, and constructive feedback: Sarah Everhart and Megan Todd, Agricultural Law Education Initiative; Mariya Strauss, Farm Alliance of Baltimore; Margaret Morgan-Hubbard, ECO City Farms; Maya Kosok, Hillen Homestead; Farmer Chippy, Plantation Park Heights Urban Farm; Farhad Ahmad Siddiqi, ECO City Farms; Denzel Mitchell, agriculturalist; Stephanie Freeman, Relish Market LLC; Kate Lee, DC Greens; Atiya Wells, Backyard Basecamp; Doug Adams, New Brooklyn Farms; Niraj Ray, Cultivate the City; Rebecca Bradley; Deb Smith, Refuge Garden and Filbert Street Garden; Dylan Moran, Civic Works, Gwen Kokes, Civic Works; Jordan Bethea; Mike Davis, Rockville, MD.; Anthony Nathe.



From Surviving to Thriving: Strategies for Urban Farmer Success is a product of the local, regional, and state Extension faculty of the University of Maryland College Park Extension Program and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore 1890 Extension Program. This book is intended to assist urban farmers, growers, and their advisers in managing risk and planning for the increased success and stability of their urban agriculture ventures.

The information in this guidebook is for educational use. The guidebook includes introductory information about some of the regulations relevant to urban agriculture. A reasonable effort was made to ensure the accuracy of the information in this guide. However, content and interpretation of laws and regulations are subject to change. The effect of future legislation and interpretation cannot be predicted. This guide is not intended as legal advice. Each person should consult the responsible local, state, and federal agencies and an attorney before using this information to engage in business activity.

Material for this guide was researched and written by Neith Little, Kim Rush Lynch, Dale Johnson, Nicole Cook, and Ginger Myers, Extension field faculty at University of Maryland Extension (UME). Graphic design and layout were done by Susan Barnes, UME Western Maryland Research and Education Center. The logo for the UMD Extension Urban Ag program was designed by Trish Moore, UME Baltimore County Office.

Mention, visual representation, or referred reference of product, service, manufacturer, or organization in this publication does not imply endorsement by the authors or any project partners. The exclusion does not imply a negative evaluation.

Neith Little
Editor Extension Agent, Urban Agriculture
University of Maryland Extension - Baltimore City Office
6615 Reisterstown Road Suite 201
Baltimore, MD 21215
410-856-1850 x123


Equal Educational Opportunity statement

The University of Maryland, College of Agriculture and Natural Resources programs are open to all and will not discriminate against anyone because of race, age, sex, color, sexual orientation, physical or mental disability, religion, ancestry, or national origin, marital status, genetic information, or political affiliation, or gender identity and expression.

Los programas del Colegio de Agricultura y Recursos Naturales de la Universidad de Maryland están abiertos a todos y no discriminará contra nadie debido a raza, edad, sexo, color, orientación sexual, discapacidad física o mental, religión, descendencia, origen nacional, estatus matrimonial, información genética, afiliación política, o identificación y expresión de género.

Table of contents


  • Does any of this sound familiar
  • What is urban agriculture?
  • What is the definition of “urban agriculture”?
  • What is the definition of “urban”?
  • What does urban agriculture look like?
  • Literature cited   
  • What does success look like for you? Setting goals for your urban farm

Chapter 1: Urban production systems

Production systems

  • Ground-based outdoor urban farming
  • Hydroponic or aquaponic urban farms
  • Rooftop farms
  • Landscaping and nurseries
  • Urban livestock
  • Mushroom production (fungiculture)

Production topics to learn more about

  • Urban soils and growing media
  • Soil contamination assessment and risk management
  • Soil maps
  • Nutrient management
  • Crop rotations and crop planning
  • Season extension
  • Pest management: weeds, diseases, insects, and more!
  • Pest management strategies
  • Water management
  • Harvest, post-harvest storage, and food safety

Literature cited

Chapter 2: Economic assessment and risk management

  • What is profit?
  • What about not-for-profits?
  • Setting profit goals
  • Setting income goals
  • Calculating expenses
  • Variable/Operating expenses
  • Fixed/Overhead expenses
  • Depreciation
  • Calculating the profit
  • What is enterprise profit?

Using an income statement to calculate and project profit

  • Historical versus projected income statements
  • Example farm income statement
  • Calculating profit for taxes
  • How to improve farm profits?

What is cash flow?

  • Cash flow periods
  • Income & expenses versus inflow & outflows
  • Example farm cash flow
  • Editable blank income statement and cash flow spreadsheets
  • Usefulness cash flow
  • Solving cash flow problems
  • Recordkeeping
  • Recording financial transactions
  • Which computer accounting program should I use?
  • What accounting period should be used?

Additional resources and literature cited

Chapter 3: Marketing challenges and opportunities

  • Urban advantages

Moving from producer to marketer—do what you enjoy

  • Marketing Basics

1. Define your product

  • What are you selling
  • Differentiating what you sell
  • Crops with the most potential
  • Customers and the competition

2. Price

  • Where to begin
  • Resources for pricing

3. Place

  • Direct marketing alternatives
  • Non-direct marketing alternatives
  • Value-added processing for urban farmers
  • Which markets fit your operation?

4. Promotion

  • Creating a brand through your story
  • Building your brand
  • Marketing collateral
  • Digital marketing tools

Additional resources and literature cited

Chapter 4: Managing legal risks to grow your urban farm


  • Action Items

Land access, zoning, and permitting

  • Land acquisition and access
  • Types of property rights
  • City-supported land access programs
  • Land use regulations and zoning
  • Building codes
  • Other hyper-local building standards
  • Water access and usage laws
  • Those pesky nuisance claims

Production, handling, and distribution

  • Food safety
  • Federal food safety laws
  • State food safety laws
  • Food safety certifications
  • Food safety laws for processed “cottage,” or value-added foods
  • Resources for food safety laws
  • Contracts
  • Marketing laws and social media

Taxes and related legal issues

  • Choice of business entity structure
  • Income taxes for for-profit businesses
  • Taxes for not-for-profit organizations
  • Property tax incentives for urban agriculture


  • How does insurance work
  • Mandatory insurance
  • Business liability protection
  • Commercial auto insurance
  • Property casualty protection
  • Crop insurance

Bonus reading

  • What’s federalism got to do with it?
  • Urban farming in the 2018 Farm Bill
  • Tips on how to work with regulators and permitters
  • What if I want to change a law?

Additional resources and literature cited

Chapter 5:The human element: rights and responsibilities, safety and stress

Physical health and safety
Mental health and stress management
Health insurance
Employees and volunteers

  • Hiring and retention

Customers, protecting their safety and your liability
Neighbor and community engagement

  • Neighbor relations, because you can’t not
  • Community engagement, if you want to do something about food deserts

Transition planning
Additional resources and literature cited

  • Introduction

  • Chapter 1: Urban production systems

  • Chapter 2: Economic assessment and risk management

  • Chapter 3: Marketing challenges and opportunities

  • Chapter 4: Managing legal risks to grow your urban farm

  • Chapter 5: The human element: rights and responsibilities, safety, and stress