Become an Urban Farmer

Anyone can be a farmer. Growing plants can be done almost anywhere. You don’t have to have large fields and hundreds of acres. You have to have imagination. People who grow dope do it in cellars and in caves. Select plants to raise that that you see being sold in quantity by local nurseries or garden centers. In our area arborvitae are in hot demand. These plants can be started from cuttings or you can buy rooted cuttings. Thousands can be grown in a 20’x20′ area in small containers. Arborvitae are not the only plants that you can choose. Dwarf conifers and bonsai are other avenues to consider. The first thing to consider is what plants you like. They make a nice starting point. I like arborvitae. Plus they are easy to grow. There are many varieties to select from. They are compact and very popular. A 2-3″ rooted cutting in 3 years should be 2′ if growing conditions are optimal. These might sell for as much as $5-10 depending on your market and quality. If you were to raise 1000 of them that might be $5-10,000. You can market them just as I do on the internet. Being small you can ship them via UPS practically anywhere.

An example of a plant that is not suitable for small plot urban farming is an Oak tree. It is very fast in growing (good), but has a big tap root, and is best marketed when over 6-8′ tall. You will use up your space with a hard to confine, large tree that is not suitable for close compact container production. Shipping will also be more costly as starter plants tend to be larger hence larger shipping fees per tree. Besides I have sold many people 50 -100 arbs at a time but no one, 100 oaks at a time. My largest order for arbs to one homeowner was 265.

Try to target plants that will sell multiples to a customer rather than just one at a time. If you target single plants to individual customers you need high value plants for your sales cost per unit will be higher. You will hear the same story from your customers about 1 plant as you will about 10 plants. I can tell you without a doubt that each customer will tell you about his property and his neighbors dog. I would rather hear the story once for each 10 plants that I sell. That is why I like plants that sell in multiples to a single customer. Additionally an unusual or exotic plant is seldom purchased in quantity and the buyer has little knowledge of the plant. They will have many more questions about this plant. This translates to a higher amount of time spent on a smaller volume of product sold.

Arborvitae are commonly used evergreen shrubs or trees useful in urban areas where low maintenance and durability is needed. Many cultivars with forms such as being globed in shape, columnar, or narrow pyramidal, tend to be near buildings, doors, and walkways. Other forms which are larger are used for screens and buffers that are planted in rows. These plants will be easy to raise on your small urban lot.

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The form of arborvitae is small, medium, or large depending on the cultivar. Some reach 50′, others only 3′. Most prefer full sun to partial sun. Planting in dense shade conditions should be avoided. A moist , well drained, loamy soil in full sunlight are ideal conditions for growing healthy arborvitae. These plants will tolerate rocky, clay, urban conditions of heat drought and pollution. The most important pest we have is bagworms which must be controlled to prevent complete defoliation. Some cultivars have multiple leaders which also prove to be a detraction for the plant. Pruning out multiple leaders in some cultivars is a simple remedy.

As you raise these plants if you find that you are selling more than you can raise on your property, an add in the newspaper such as, “Wanted: land to grow trees on” will help you find vacant parcels to use in growing more stock. This land may be free to use as many owners want in urban areas land to be used as it is then maintained. We have had many offers of free land to use in raising nursery stock. (You should check with your local BTK Code Enforcement Officer to make sure that this use is acceptable.)

Another suggestion is that you work for another local urban grower. They may have facilities set up that they would allow you to use after hours. When they see that you are a willing go getter, they might even ask you to grow special plants that they don’t want to grow because the volumes are light or they are to intensive in labor. At any rate it is the best way to learn the trade and its secrets. Most nurserymen will tell all their trade secrets because its the best way to help the industry and build a network of reliable and knowledgeable associates.

You can see more articles by Bill at his web sites

The Ready Store
"The doctor of the future will give no medicine, but will interest his patient in the care of the human frame, in diet and in the cause and prevention of disease" ~ Thomas Jefferson

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