Dustin Bajer, Moodular Pallet Farm in his Edmonton backyard

Pallet Farming

Modular Urban Agriculture Using Pallet Farms

One of urban agriculture‘s ongoing challenges is access to land. While urban ag has social, ecological, and economic benefits, municipalities and developers rarely sit on vacant land for extended periods. As a result, access is often tenuous unless an urban farmer owns the land.

I’ve seen and experienced the relocation of urban farms and know how disruptive it can be for aspiring urban farmers. Some farms never recover, while others relocate outside the city.

The Edmonton Urban Farm is currently being forced to move to make way for a condo development. With hundreds of trees in the ground, I’ve been thinking about what I could do differently. My conclusion is pallet Farming.

My Urban Agriculture Wish List

Ideally, access to land wouldn’t be an existential threat to my business and the community I am growing.

  1. How can we create mobile urban farms that are easy to assemble, disassemble, and move?
  2. How can we scale urban farms to the size of the site? Small farms for backyards and large farms on vacant lots.
  3. How can we take advantage of marginal urban spaces without concern about soil quality or contamination?
  4. How can we systematize and coordinate production across sites, farms, and farmers?
  5. How do I spend less time digging trees and more time growing, distributing, and community building?

Introducing The Pallet Farm

A pallet farm can tap into existing infrastructure. Pallets are designed to be moved, and farms built on pallets could be picked up and relocated with a forklift and flatbed truck or trailer.

Growing on the pallets means a site’s soil conditions aren’t a concern. Pallet farms could be as small as a single pallet but expand to entire urban lots.

Dustin Bajer, Pallet Farm, Tree Pots in Air Pruning Boxes on a Pallet, Modular Urban Agricultre
Modular Urban Agriculture. A Pallet Farm with six air-pruning propagation boxes for tree production.

Building My Backyard Pallet Farm

I recently prepared an area of my yard for a pallet farm. I cleared and flattened the space, pulled and dropped the weeds, and mulched the site around six inches deep.

To kill potential pests and diseases, pallets are treated with chemicals or heat (Emerald Ash Borer was believed to have been introduced to North America through contaminated pallets). Heat-treated pallets are marked with an HT.

Dustin Bajer, a 6 foot by 8 foot pallet farm in McCauley, Edmonton
A propagation box of horsechestnuts on a pallet farm in my backyard in McCauley

Tree Pots in Propagation Boxes

I use old beehives as propagation boxes, but you can use any container with good drainage. I was able to place twenty propagation boxes in the roughly 8×6-foot area. While I can reach everything with the watering wand, accessing the propagation boxes in the centre is more challenging. For this reason, I wouldn’t recommend a pallet farm wider than a single pallet (~4 feet). I wanted to give myself a little extra space (to the left of the photo) to build some compost bins.

Dustin Bajer, Twenty-four trees per propagation box and six boxes to a standard pallet farm make for 144 trees per pallet or roughly ten trees per square foot.
Twenty-four trees per propagation box and six boxes to a standard (~48′ x 41′). One hundred forty-four trees per pallet or roughly ten trees per square foot.

Coordinated Propagation & Distribution

A network of pallet farms would decentralize plant production and shield urban farmers from the worst parts of relocating. The model would be especially useful for a community of growers operating many small farms.