Everybody could use a side hustle in this recession, especially if you’ve seen the latest unemployment figures. But why endure babysitting your neighbor’s brats or hawking jeans at the mall when you could do something that not only pays well, but can improve your health and help your community?
It’s called urban farming and it’s been growing in popularity for years. Urban agriculture aims to increase the availability and quality of healthy food in densely populated areas. Grown in backyards, atop rooftops and in vacant lots that have been converted into gardens, the fruits-and vegetables-of this labor can then be sold for profit at local farmers markets.
Despite the fact that more than half of African-Americans live in cities and have the highest rate of unemployment at around 15 percent, blacks have been slow to cash in on this $1 billion industry.
Farming is so potentially lucrative because of the barriers of entry are so low compared to other types of businesses. To start an urban farm, you don’t need highly specialized training or education, hundreds of thousands of dollars in start-up capital or even farmland. All it takes is a little space in your yard or rooftop, seeds, sunlight, and water, to start earning cash.
Of course, like everything else in life, how much money you can make from farming depends how much work you put into it.
But to give you some idea, according to a 2005 USDA report, a 25-vendor farmers market open six months out of the year and serving 565 customers per week, can generate sales of $20,770 per month, about $800 per farmer (year-round markets report sales of more than three times this amount).
Follow these easy steps to a rewarding mini-career:
1. A Seed is Sown
If you have a yard, great. If not, get yourself some containers (e.g. planter boxes, flower pots, and buckets work well) and gardening soil, which costs about $5 per cubic foot. Here’s an excellent article on things you can grow in containers. If you don’t know how to prepare soil and sow seeds, don’t feel stupid; Gardening for Dummies is a great resource. Some cities also provide vacant city-owned property for community gardens to neighborhood groups at no charge.
2. A Mighty Tree
Gardening is hard work. Plants need to be watered, weeds have to be pulled, and mulch and fertilizer needs to be applied. If gardening is your side hustle, these chores can be done before or after work and provide good exercise or quiet time for meditating. Since summer is almost over, consider growing winter vegetables such as carrots, beets, collard, and turnip greens.
3. Bountiful Harvest
When your veggies are ready, you’ll want to find your nearest neighborhood farmers market. Most major cities have several, where people who go to buy high-quality locally grown fruits, vegetables and other items gather usually once per weekend. In some cases, vendors are charged a small fee. According to the USDA, year-round farmers markets reported an average of 58 vendors, had monthly market sales of $69,497, and served 3,578 customers weekly. For vendors, that translates to about $1,200 per week.
Sales also vary by region. The Far West and Mid-Atlantic regions have average monthly sales of at least twice that of other regions of $56,742 and $41,452 respectively.
If there is no farmers market in your neighborhood, the federal government has $10 million in grants available to help set them up. Additionally, most farmers markets participate in the Women Infants and Children and food stamp (SNAP) programs, which provides low-income families access to fresh fruits and vegetables.
4. Share The Wealth
Aside from the personal monetary benefits, urban farming helps communities in a number of ways. Sadly, finding fresh fruits and vegetables in inner city black neighborhoods is about as difficult as finding a payday loan business in the ‘burbs. What is fairly and disturbingly common in black and brown communities, however, are disproportionately high rates asthma, heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, sickle cell anemia, stroke, and other diseases that can be combated by adding antioxidant-rich produce to our diets.
Farmers markets also have been found to have what’s known as a multiplier effect on local businesses. Some reports show that farmers markets patrons will spend the same amount as they spend at the markets at nearby stores.
Could you use this to make any extra side dough? Leave a comment and let us know.