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Children from last year's Bremerton Washington's 25th Annual Blackberry Festival

Only the most cursory of research efforts can yield positive proof of what great things can happen to a local economy that moves just a little bit toward a plant-based economy.

This year Bremerton Washington http://www.blackberryfestival.org will have its 26th an annual Bremerton Blackberry Festival on September 5, 6, and 7. The Festival is the biggest annual fundraiser for Bremerton Rotary. Funds raised are awarded to non-profit organizations and for projects in their community. 

[Note:  Blackberries are in season from the end of summer through early autumn in many locations. According to PickYourOwn.org, blackberries in the United States typically hit the peak of their season in July if you live in the north, or June for southern dwellers. To ensure a supply of ripe berries throughout the growing season, plant a mix of early, mid-, and late-season blooming varieties if you grow your own blackberries.

Here in Garland the season is a six-week time that varies between the last week of May and the second week of July.  Thus, we would need to plan our festival for the second or third week in June.]

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Compared to other festivals celebrating fruit harvests, there are not so many for Blackberry festivals.  I did not find a single Blackberry Festival in Texas.  The closest blackberry festival to Garland I found is in McLoud Oklahoma.  They hold their festival the first weekend in July. McLoud claims to be the "Blackberry Capital of the World" after they sent a crate of blackberries to President Truman.  This town is located just about dead center in the state of Oklahoma.  According to Wiki, its population of 4,044 in 2010 represented a 14% increase from 3,548 in 2000.  That's an interesting trend that might be worth looking into.  They must be doing something right.

  • McLoud Blackberry Festival -  first weekend (Friday and Saturday) in July: open 5pm to midnight; 8am to midnight with fireworks at 10pm Saturday 
    McLoud, OK. Phone: 405-964-6566.Email: Festival@mcloudchamber.com. The festival began in the 1940's as a celebration of the end of harvest season for the local cash farm crop, blackberries. The town received national media coverage when the Blackberry Growers Association sent a crate of berries to President Harry Truman.

The association disbanded in 1963 due to a poor market and farmers moved on to a more lucrative crop. While blackberry farming may no longer be the agricultural strength of McLoud, the festival celebrated each year continues to be an exciting event for the town and draws thousands of attendees from throughout the nation. (UPDATED: July 13, 2014, from their website)

[Note:  I think it’s time for McLoud to revisit the market for blackberries.  Fifty years later it has changed. And now there are even nonfood uses (cosmetics and herbal applications) for blackberries that were not there 50 years ago.]

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Jasper Florida features a Blackberry festival on June 12.  Their celebration includes a Wild Blackberry Bake off, pancake breakfast, country store, children games & crafts, amusements, crafts, entertainment and antique car shows. Free admission, face painting, pony rides, etc. 

Possible food products from blackberries:  frozen blackberries; blackberry jams and jellies; blackberry syrup; blackberry ice-cream; blackberry pies; blackberry smoothies; blackberry wine; blackberry bath products such as soap, shower gel, shampoo, hand and face creams.

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Blackberries and Garland

This one crop does have the potential to add thousands of dollars to the local economy of Garland.  If you consider that it only takes one year to grow four blackberry plants (cost approximately $50.00 to install) to a maturity that will yield approximately 100 pounds of blackberries (average market value between $700 to $800), you will understand what I’m talking about.  And all of this in a total area of 32 square feet.  [How do I know?  I did it myself in my own front yard.]

Once again, the fastest way and cleanest way to lift up a local urban economy is with local urban agriculture.  In addition to encouraging citizens to grow some of their edibles, leaders should also encourage all citizens to participate in growing a few local cash crops (such as blackberries and loofah for Garland) to sell. 

A Blackberry Cooperative could be formed by the Urban Blackberry Growers to serve the Garland Urban Blackberry growers.  Members of the co-op would work to see the farmers got the best prices for their raw materials.  They would also focus on promoting non-food uses for the product as well.  Perhaps as part of their activities they could establish a local company that makes blackberry hand creams.

If we create the raw materials, businesses will rise up and move in to support production of these raw materials into other products.  Ideally, for the benefit of our community, all of these activities related to production will stay in the local economy.  Plant-based economies also offer great opportunities for establishing a few cooperatives as well.  All communities need a mix of business types:  some chain stores, some mom/pop operations, some small businesses (under 100 employees), and a few cooperatives in order to create a stable local economy that grounds the community.  We need to consciously make these efforts to improve our local economy.  We can do it.

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 Promoting Urban Agriculture in Garland

I’ve been promoting urban agriculture in Garland Texas since 2010.  (After one of the biggest heists pulled yet by our Congress in the Fall of 2008 when they forked over billions of our taxpayer money to bail out the big banks, it took me two years to realize the only way things are going to improve is if we all work together to make our local economies more secure.  The people who are supposed to represent us in DC and in Austin for the most part are clueless regarding the needs of Main Street.  Furthermore, most of them give no indication of even caring.)

The first step with a local urban agricultural program is to designate a plant that has high market value, many uses, and grows well in the local area. (For the Garland area I’m convinced this is the blackberry.)  The initial plant chosen to begin an urban agricultural program should be one that can be grown to maturity in no more than two years, as most local economies needed help 5 years ago.  Thus you wouldn’t want to begin your local urban agricultural program with a pecan tree, for example since pecan trees can take 10 to 15 years to mature.

However, the urban agricultural program of any local community, should like any financial plan to build a community’s economy, have both short-term and long-term goals regarding the crops chosen to grow to boost the local economy. 

Garland should also take a look at the pecan market.  I know from personal observation of the obvious that 1) pecans have a high market value at $12.00 a pound shelled    2) pecans grow well in Garland as evidenced from those in our local parks and people’s yards and the fact that our local organization, Loving Garland Green, has made close to $1,000 from the sale of pecans over the past two seasons. 

Perhaps part of the long-term plan for Garland’s Urban Agricultural program will include planting pecan trees as many of them in our parks are reaching the end of their long lives.

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We Need a Makerspace

Once again, our city needs a Makerspace where citizens can come together to work to promote plans that will grow our city’s local economy and benefit the residents.  Where can we have that space?  Perhaps instead of waiting for it to happen, I'll do what I did with Loving Garland Green and turn my own home into a Makerspace.  I will if I have to, but an official Garland Makerspace located on or near our downtown square would be so much better.

 “. . .  A Makerspace is a community-directed facility where people share knowledge and resources such as tools, to prototype industrial and technological projects. Depending on local interest, makespaces can cross-pollinate between industries or be focused on a specific niche such as metal working or electronics technology. The creation of a makerspace as a strategic incubator space will be designed to facilitate, encourage, and support local creatives/talents. The Makerspace will leverage the enthusiasm of the Garland community to serve as a point of convergence and landmark for the emerging creative district.  . . .“  From “A Better Plan for the Other Side of the Tracks” by Robert Steuteville – Better! Cities and Towns

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