This small blackberry bush at the Garland Community Garden has 204 blackberries maturing on it. Market Value of Harvest: $51.00
To illustrate the extreme productivity of blackberry bushes, for my area of Garland, Texas, I took a photo this morning (May 28, 2015) of a blackberry bush that was planted down at the Garland Community Garden last year (July 2014).
Its first season for production at the garden shows a count of 204 blackberries this morning. Since it appears to have finished blooming, this is likely the final count for this year. These berries average 2 berries to the ounce. Thus this bush has 102 ounces of berries. At six ounces a package for an average seasonal price of $3.00 for six ounces (sometimes as low as $1.59 but soon it is back to $3.98 per six ounces even before the season is over here the second week in July), the berries on this bush have a market value of $51.00. That is more than three times the price I paid for this berry bush last year ($15.00).
What product/service do you know of that can yield a return on investment like this in one year? Urban agriculture can be profitable, provided the right crops for the right area are chosen. Urban agriculture is a fantastic way to boost a local economy. Unlike a lot of other types of startups, urban agriculture does not need a big front-end investment to get started.
Urban Agricultural Market Support is Necessary for Economic Success
The trick to a successful urban agricultural program lies not only in choosing crops with a high market value, a plant with varied uses, and a plant that grows well with little effort in the designated urban area, but also in creating a support system for bringing the crop to market and selling the produce at a profit for the growers.
One of the best business structures for this is a cooperative or co-op as they are sometimes called. When it comes to establishing a co-operative of urban farmers, the design might look like a honeycomb of cells within the municipality. It could be organized as low as the neighborhood level. From there, here in Garland, it could then be organized at the district level.
The type of agricultural co-op I suggest is an agricultural service cooperative. This type of cooperative provides various services to the members. There are two primary types of agricultural service cooperatives: supply cooperatives and marketing cooperatives. Supply cooperatives supply members with inputs needed for production such as seeds, fertilizers, fuel, and machinery services. Marketing cooperatives help the farmers with transportation, packaging, distribution and selling their products.
One of the many advantages of a cooperative is because of its size, the members can get goods at lower prices. For the urban farmer whose crops may be too small to be considered worth bothering with by a larger business such as a cosmetic manufacturer or a chain grocery store can pool their harvests with their neighbors.
It is even possible for an agricultural cooperative, depending upon its membership support, to create secondary markets for the agricultural product. For example, a small food processing plant might be created where the berries are frozen for re-sale, or perhaps a plant that made Blackberry cosmetics or other blackberry products such as natural dyes. Also as part of its operations, the co-op has a store where they sell products grown by their members as well as products purchased wholesale for their members.
Personal Note: Life after Loving Garland Green
Perhaps, after I step down as President of Loving Garland Green on October 31, 2015, I will form The Garland Texas Urban Agricultural Cooperative. I had thought of calling it "The Garland Blackberry Growers Association" but that name limits the scope of the organization. Blackberries are not the only cash cow crop that can easily be grown in Garland. For example, we also have the loofah. This year Loving Garland Green is testing the market value of this crop more fully with a larger crop. Last year we grew 24 loofah from a five-gallon bucket and sold 12 of them for $2 each at the Garland Market Place. And no doubt there are other easy to grow urban crops with high dollar market value.