Urban Farming for Property Tax Breaks

It has been interesting to read on the initiative that the State of California has been pushing forward regarding regarding farms in urban areas.  Property owners are being provided incentives to turn their blighted/greyfield sites into urban farms.  In return, the property owners are taxed at the same rate as irrigated farmland ($11,000/acre), much much lower than what they would be if a vacated building was sitting on the property.

The benefits are double sided.  Not only does the property owner get a large tax break; communities are able to turn a blighted property into a green space in the city that has the ability to provide hundreds of pounds of produce to local residents and restaurants.  Once the property owner is ready to redevelop the site, they are then taxed at typical municipal rates.

The requirements for a property owner are:

  • City or County must have a minimum of 250,000 residents
  • Property must be 0.1 to 3 acres in size
  • No dwellings on site
  • The property must be used as a farm for a minimum of 5 years to qualify for the tax break

I could see property owners being hesitant to go forth with this endeavor due to the 5 year minimum.  Real estate property markets are continually changing, and locking a site in a dense urban area could be difficult from an investment point of view.  There are likely many sites though that will not feasibly see development occur in the short term; this is where property owners could be very calculated, saving money on property taxes while looking to benefit the local community.

Read more about it at SFGate

Pizitz Food Hall Opens in Birmingham

Five months ago I discussed the highly anticipated Pizitz Food Hall at The Pizitz development in Birmingham, Alabama.  The mixed-use development is anchored by a progressive food hall that brings forth many new international concepts that are new to consumers in Alabama such as Korean, Jewish, and Ethiopian.

The Pizitz Food Hall has been having a soft opening over the past week, but the most intriguing concept for myself is Reveal Kitchen.  Reveal is a restaurant incubator space created in partnership between the developer Bayer Properties and REV Birmingham.  Tropicaleo was chosen as the first entrant to Reveal Kitchen and will be dishing out authentic Puerto Rican food.  Reveal Kitchen will have a new tenant every four-to-six months which will allow local culinary entrepreneurs who don’t have a high amount of capital to try and test new concepts.  If they are successful during their stay at Reveal, they can try to grab a permanent spot at Pizitz Food Hall, or lease a retail storefront nearby.

It will be interesting to monitor the Reveal Kitchen space over the next few years and see the success of the incubated companies.


Reveal Kitchen at Pizitz Food Hall – Image credited to AL.com


Food Hall Demographic Analysis

I’ve always wondered what the demographic conditions needed to setup a food hall.  There is of course no exact science to where Food Halls locate, although we do know the majority are in urban areas where they have a high density mix of customers throughout the day.  But do they prefer more affluent and older neighborhoods, or neighborhoods that are more young and upcoming?

I set to find this out.

I first plotted 33 of the United States most popular food halls on BatchGeo using their addresses and zipcodes.  I tried to get a good mix of food halls from across the U.S.  Disclaimer: I predominantly left out the big chain food halls such as Eataly since they are an entity all to their own.  I also left out highly tourist driven food markets such as Pike Place in Seattle.

Food Hall Data Points

Then using demographic data from ESRI (on a zipcode level basis), I was able to determine a basic understanding of the neighborhoods demographic characteristics that each Food Hall is located in.  It led me to a few basic conclusions for all 33 Food Halls:

  • The median household income is $47,000 USD
  • The average age is 35 years old
  • Population density is a median of 9,508 residents per square mile
  • 17 of the food halls were in downtown urban locations, while the other 16 were either on fringe downtown, semi-industrial, or suburban locations

What I found most interesting is that 70% of the food halls are located in areas that have lower median household income than that over their County, and usually of adjoining zipcode areas.  Many of the time it is because the downtown setting.  Many American cities downtown’s still feature extremely low incomes in comparison to their suburbs.

If you extract the food halls that are outside of the downtown core, the fact still remains true.  75% (12 of 16) of food halls still had lower median household incomes than their County that they reside in.  This includes some very low income areas for food halls such as The Source in Denver ($31,000), Mercado La Poloma in Los Angeles ($20,000), and The Cigar Factory in Charleston ($25,000).  All three of these food halls are on the downtown fringe of their respective city.

This displays that there really is not one type of food hall, and not one single indicator of why food halls locate where they do.  High incomes in the local neighborhood is not the deciding factor, and neither is a highly dense urban location.  The conclusion is that there are several types of food halls, and I will be attempting to create food hall typologies based out of this aggregation of data.

Access to Healthy Food in L.A.

A great article from CityLab on one company that is attempting to bring healthy, locally made food to economically disadvantaged neighborhoods in the Los Angeles metro.  Many neighborhoods are food deserts where residents do not have access to fresh produce.  This causes them to make unhealthy choices for their families, whether it is purchasing ready-made food from a convenience store, or a meal from McDonalds or Taco Bell.  Interesting concept and business model that will hopefully make it financially feasible for the owners over the long term.  If successful, this model could be applied across many major cities in North America that have struggled with providing basic staples to their lower-income families.

Have a read on the CityLab website.

A Fast-Casual Chain Brings Healthy Meals to L.A.’s Food Deserts

Food Hall vs. Food Court

What is a food hall?  That is the question I have debated with myself and my colleagues for the past year.  With the increase of “food halls” within a North American context over the past several years, it feels that any entity that provides a meal in a fast-food environment can be titled a food hall.  Oxford Dictionary defines a food hall as “a large section of a department store, where food is sold”.  Well, that would remove the majority of food halls in North America if we employ that definition.

This blog has profiled food halls such as Ponce City Market in Atalanta, Grand Central Market in LA, and the recently opened Pine Street Market in Portland.  All of these food halls have a similar theme, they support locally owned businesses and chefs, and do not cater to national or international chains.  They also have businesses within the hall that not only provide ready made food, but culinary products and wares to take home.

So when CrossIron Mills, a nearly 1.2 million SF outlet shopping mall near Calgary International Airport announced that their new $60 million dollar, 1,4000 seat food court was a “food hall”; what gives?  Has the food hall name been reduced to a point that any collection of food outlets constitutes a food hall?  Even if its primary anchors are a Subway or A&W?  Food Hall is a sexier name than a Food Court in today’s marketing spin.


CrossIron Mills Food Hall  Entrance – Imaged credited to 660News

Is it time to establish a definition for a Food Hall or is it too late?

Aeroponics Farms Could be the Next Big Thing in Urban Farming

Last week I talked about urban farming in Chicago and the big strides that many entrepreneurs in the city are taking to ensure locally produced produce is available to residents and restaurants.  Here in Vancouver, Harvest Urban Farms is on the cutting edge of urban farming with the creation of an “aeroponics” farm just outside of the downtown core.

Aeroponics is a type of farming where plants are grown in an indoor mist environment that requires little to no soil.  An Aeroponics environment allows vegetables and herbs to grow at a much faster rate than typical urban farming, which ultimately allows a greater amount of produce to be harvested and distributed.

Off of the Harvest Urban Farms website:

We are a team of farmers growing fresh produce in a warehouse in Strathcona.

We grow using aeroponics and sustainable, organic practices.

We sell to restaurants and markets within a 10km radius of our farm.

We believe produce tastes better when it’s delivered the same day it’s picked.

Orders can be placed directly online through the Harvest Urban Farms website.

I believe this type of practice is really displaying what the future of agribusiness can be in high-density urban environments.  Various types of vegetables are grown at a rapid yet natural and organic pace, ordered by consumers, and delivered the same or next day.  The exciting thing about these spaces is that they are known to consume much less water and energy than traditional farming practices, in a highly dense environment.  A large goal at this point is moving to a scale and efficiency that would generate food that could be sold at prices to consumers at similar or lower prices than we would see at the grocery store, year round.


Imaged credited to Harvest Urban Farms


First Planned Agrihood in Florida Facing Public Backlash

“The Grow” would be Florida’s first planned Agrihood, but many local residents are apposed to the development.  They cite that the planned development (that would house 2,256 homes over 1,237 acres) would severely alter the built landscape of the primarily rural area just east of Orlando along East SR 50.  They also state that such a large development would add further congestion to local roads, something the current transportation infrastructure would be unable to handle.  Developers are supposedly willing to provide upwards of $26 million that would be allocated to transportation infrastructure upgrades, thus reducing congestion from increased local residential density.

Local residents that are “for” the The Grow have discussed how the housing is needed in an area that is in close proximity to the expanding University of Central Florida and Central Florida Research Park.

The Grow, if developed, is planned to feature sustainable farmland, and as has been promoted as a “Farm and Garden Community”.  My first thought when looking at the potential site plan is whether this development can actually be called an Agrihood, as less than 1% of its total developable area is planned towards agricultural uses.  According to the plan, there is 805 net developable acres, with 6 acres planned for farms.  181 acres are allocated to wetlands/ponds, while nearly 500 acres are allocated to residential housing.

At first glance, this seems more of a marketing spin to get development approval from the County.  Do we really want to water down new development and planning terms before they have even caught on?  It will be interesting to hear over the next several weeks what occurs at County Hall and the decisions that are made on this development.

The Grow Orlando agrihood-site-plan-xx2         Site Concept Plan Credited to Orlando Business Journal

Saks Fifth Avenue introduces Beaumont Kitchen

According to retail-insider.com, Saks new store at Sherway Gardens in Toronto is expected to open on February 25.  The store will have a 5,500 square foot restaurant Beaumont Kitchen which will be operated by Oliver & Bonacini.  Oliver & Bonacini are well known in the restaurant and event circle within Toronto, allowing Saks to have partner who knows the Toronto culinary market and has experience in launching new concepts.

The Saks at Toronto’s Eaton Centre will also have an 11,000 square foot restaurant and bar, displaying that they are targeting Nordstrom Canada’s Bistro Verde concept.

Canadian customers are not used to upscale dining in a department store setting, however Bistro Verde has been performing fairly well during its short time.  With many restaurants moving towards the “upscale-casual” dining concept, the positioning for both Bistro Verde and the new Beaumont Kitchen hits the mark.

I suspect a variety of foods will hit the menus across Saks in Canada, since a department store restaurant has to attempt to meet the needs of a wide variety of customers.

Link to Original Article