Cityscape Farms – The Evolution of a New Agricultural Model

Cityscape Farms, a greenhouse based urban farming initiative, promotes their mission with the slogan, “An idea whose time has come.” Whether it’s San Francisco’s new aggressive regional food policy or the famous organic garden on the White House lawn, the local food movement—specifically the urban local food movement—is garnering increasing media attention and validity. Yet, for Cityscape founder and CEO Mike Yohay, executing the launch of their pilot program has proven that where eco-entrepreneurship intersects with urban farming, there’s new ground to break.

mike yBased in San Francisco, Cityscape Farms is a young company, currently in the initial stages of implementation. One could amend their slogan to read, “An idea in the making.” Yohay, a graduate of Dominican University’s Green MBA program, may be the next poster boy for the hipster meets locavore movement. Born in Brooklyn to a family of backyard farmers, his commitment to urban gardening evolved, paradoxically, when he left the city. When living in the Midwest, studying art and computer science, he observed industrial agriculture to be “massive and inefficient” and a stark contrast to the low-impact farming he participated in years later, in Costa Rica. There, he was impressed with the emphasis on recycling wastewater and its role in creating a self-sustaining food community.

The confluences of these experiences solidified Yohay’s vision. He has embraced, “the creative environment inherent in agriculture and horticulture,” and wants to seed cities with greenhouses, which he equates to “installations with a critical use.”

Yohay and his team have spent the last year researching every aspect of the Cityscape Farms project, from their target audience to the planned greenhouse design. They’re committed to hydroponic farming, a soil-less growing process in which minerals are dissolved in water where produce roots and then grows. For decades, hydroponics was the focus of the DIY crowd, though TV viewers may recognize hydroponic farming from Showtimes’s Weeds (season two). Increasingly, it’s celebrated not only for high crop yields, but also for its successful application in non-conventional settings.

In explaining hydroponics, Yohay grows animated: “At a time when 70% of the world’s fresh water is used for agriculture, more people should be paying attention to water. We need to care deeply about it – it’s a resource we are drastically mismanaging, one which we have a huge chance to reshape.”

Once Cityscape Farms has their pilot up and running, they face the challenge of advertising their produce in a market saturated with food labeling ambiguities. As our friends at TreeHugger remind us, hydroponic is not necessarily organic. Yohay asserts that their produce will be pesticide free, that in greenhouses, “By using fans and cross ventilation we can keep the air moving at such a pace that it is difficult for pests to settle on the plants.” Still, he recognizes that organic certification is, “the holy grail” for many consumers and is in conversation with certifiers in both California and Oregon.

The Cityscape model is similar to Gotham Greens and both aim to “close a loop in the food economy,” and highlight the insane amount of food imports (Did you know California imports as many strawberries as it exports?” Yohay asks).

What distinguishes Cityscape Farms, Yohay asserts, is their involvement in a community with “a specific ethos, slow food, sustainable food, and interaction between health and food,” The Cityscape team is vying for a role in San Francisco’s new policy and find it validating to see local government recognizing agriculture’s role in timely issues from the state of the economy to health care as they plan their launch.

The impact Cityscape Farms offers is still unknown but they identify with the food justice movement and want to embrace it with business acumen. As they scout lots, Yohay is pouring over maps of food distribution and access. He is focused on low-income neighborhoods and underutilized land, hoping to create green jobs as they grow.

Cityscape Farms isn’t claiming to revolutionize agriculture. Yohay’s goal is to “be part of a robust agricultural model with diverse options.” Let’s hope they find enough support to reap the fruits of their labor…

Whether you live in a quasi-food desert or across the street from a farmers market, we want to hear from you.

Where do you buy your produce? How do you exercise your food preferences?

Tori conducts research and writes on environmental issues, with a special focus on food justice. Her professional experience in the civic sector and academic background in social and economic development ground her work and belief in a sustainable food system as an achievable human right. Tori is based in Bogota, Colombia where she is pursuing a bilingual, international career in environmental policy.