Nomadic farming — farms that move from location to location — is interesting. Let’s explore it a bit.
If you are wondering what a nomadic farm looks like, here’s a gallery of photos for a nomadic farm called Riverpark. It’s located on an empty building lot at Alexandria Center in New York City.
As you can see from the photos, the entire farm consists of vegetables planted in stacked milk crates.
How to Build a Nomadic Farming Container
The open source wisdom on the topic suggests that the ubiquitous milk crate is the best container to use. These crates are inexpensive, lightweight, easily moved (they have handles), stackable, and allow drainage/aeration.
They are also easy to converted into a planter by simply lining them with landscape fabric ($10 of fabric + sewing can convert 24 crates into planters) or (in a pinch) a plastic bag with holes. As an added feature, most nomadic farms add a second, empty crate below the planted one to raise the bed and make it more accessible.
The containers can then be moved from location to location safely, in a shipping container with shelves.
Why Go Nomadic?
The big question we’ve got to answer here is why go nomadic at all? It’s clearly expensive, particularly in its use of fossil fuels, to move these farms. They also require more water and watering them can create drainage problems due to run-off.
Despite this, nomadic farms appear to be valuable today because location matters.
Nomadic farms can move right into the center of a city, typically by renting one of the numerous vacant lots (made vacant due to stalled construction, etc.). Once there, they are able to take advantage of the premium pricing paid for ‘just picked’ produce by numerous nearby restaurants and residents.
Further, the proximity of the farm allows deep relationships to develop, in that the customers can actually talk to the farmer and see the plants being grown. This cements customer loyalty. So, while this may work today, will it work as things get more turbulent?
Are Nomadic Farms Resilient?
Is a farm that can be moved useful for our transition to resilience? I think they can play a role. Here’s how:
- They could provide the ability to “pop-up farming” on leased land located in prime locations near to town centers (which allows them to take advantage of the relationships). This type of zoned property is currently too expensive for farmers to purchase, but it may be inexpensive to lease short-term. Over time, when the housing/commercial market completely capitulates due to economic distress, the land could then be purchased outright.
- Nomadic farms can be moved under cover to avoid extreme weather — something we are going to see increase with each passing year due to climate change. While it may not be practical to operate completely in a nomadic way, it may also be useful to keep a high value portion of a standard farm nomadic, just in case.
- They could be configured to provide advanced services such as heirloom crops/aquaponics expertise travelling around in shipping containers. Think bee keepers, traveling to the location that pays them the most to stay a couple of growing seasons. Another use is as a farming classroom. Dropping in on a high school football field to provide the students with life skills they can actually use.
Hope this sparked some ideas.
Your reluctantly-nomadic analyst,