Market gardening is a great business, but you need to start with the right information. If you are a beginning market grower, or thinking about becoming one, follow this advice to maximize your market gardening results.
Successful Market Gardening Tip 1: Grow natural. Demand for organic produce is increasing by as much as 20% annually. And fresh local organic produce commands a premium price with your customers. So don't compete with everybody else at the bottom of the market; go after the top. Grow better vegetables, get a better paycheck!
Successful Market Gardening Tip 2: Grow for your end customer. Avoid middlemen and wholesalers and go right to your end customer. You will make and keep more money by dealing directly with consumers. And as a bonus, you will get to know them, find out their likes and dislikes, and perhaps find out other things you might provide them. This is a great way to add a sideline business to your market garden.
Successful Market Gardening Tip 3: Grow a large variety of crops. If you grow enough different crops, you are less threatened if one particular crop fails to produce. For example if you grow 30 varieties of vegetables and 3 don't thrive, you are still operating at 90% capacity. Growing a large variety of crops also 'stretches out' your season, as different vegetables mature at different times. While the mix will change as the season progresses, aim to have a dozen or so different vegetables ready for sale all the time.
Successful Market Gardening Tip 4: Don't grow unless you know you can sell it. For example, while you may love Eggplant Parmesan, make sure enough of your target market will buy eggplant before you plant an acre of it. Observe whats selling at your local farmers market, and grow (mostly) the same things. It's OK to experiment ponce in a while with an unusual crop, but be prepared to eat the results!
Successful Market Gardening Tip 5: Remember, market gardening is just as much about the marketing as the gardening. This is the most important tip of the 5. If you don't believe great marketing is just as important as growing great vegetables, consider this: you might grow the healthiest, tastiest, most beautiful vegetables imaginable, but . . . if nobody knows you got 'em, nobody can buy 'em!
Marketing is how you let people know about the great vegetables you have for them. And if you are growing really great vegetables, you should be proud to tell them! To be really successful as a market gardener, the marketing has to come first. In other words, you need to know how, where and to whom you will sell it before you grow it.
Follow these 5 tips to to 'grow' a successful market gardening business of your own.
If you are a gardener, there's a great way generate some additional income; start a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) market garden! This article will explain the how to start making money from your garden with a CSA.
The Community Supported Agriculture model
If you have heard of CSA, you are probably aware that it is a special form of market gardening. Here's what makes it special: rather than selling produce at a farm stand, or the local farmer's market, the CSA gardener grows food for a select group of people - the members of the CSA. This group of people has pledged to support the CSA by paying for a season's worth of vegetables, thus providing the gardener with a guaranteed cash flow.
Members often pay in advance for the season, allowing the gardener to get started without spending a lot of her own money for seed and supplies. And just as importantly, the gardener can plan in advance what to grow and how much to grow to satisfy the members.
How to start your own CSA
Like any business, you should follow a plan to start your CSA. Here's a structured process to follow to launch your own Community Supported Agriculture market garden.
Step 1: Evaluate your assets
Make an assessment of the your tools, equipment, available land and other resources you will need for your market garden. This will help you decide how ambitious your start-up year should be.
Step 2: Evaluate your market
Businesses need customers. You will need a pool of prospective customers within an easy commute to your location, say an hour or less. I would suggest a nearby town of at least a couple thousand people would be the minimum market size to consider.
Step 3: Set targets
Considering your assets, your skills, and the potential size of your market, set a target for your first year. This should be based on the number of families you think you can provide fresh food to each week. You also have to set a sales target, based on the price you charge per member share. Remember: you need to make a profit to stay in business, don't underprice your shares. A little research on the Web will tell you what other CSA'a charge.
Step 4: Get the word out
Tell your friends, family, neighbours, church members, scout troop, EVERYBODY, about your plans for your garden. This will accomplish two things; it will let you know if there is any interest in a CSA in your area, and will probably get you some customers.
Step 5: Market, Market, Market
If you didn't hit your target with friends and family, you will have to get the word out to other people. I suggest a mailout flyer as the most effective way to do that. You can make one up on your computer, and get it photocopied at your local print shop for pennies a copy. You can deliver them yourself, or through your local post office.
Step 6: Confirm your numbers
Once you have enough customers, run your numbers again; evaluate your projected income against expected costs i.e. seed, supplies, labour (including your own). If it looks good, i.e. you can make a profit, you are ready for
Step 7: Get growing! Congratulations, you are a market gardener!
Congratulations, you have lots of hungry customers signed up for your market garden . Now you need a market garden plan to figure out how to grow the veggies to satisfy those customers.
Planning for a market garden is a little different than planning your home garden. Here are the six steps you must follow to develop a good market garden plan.
Step 1 - Decide when you will start and finish selling your veggies.
This is usually determined by the length of your growing season. If you are in an area that experiences frost, most of your deliveries will occur between your last frost date in the spring and the first frost date in the fall.
For example, at my farm near Ottawa these dates are usually around May 10 and September 28. So we have about a 20-week growing season, on average. We sell veggies between early June and Mid-October, most years, which gives us about 20 weeks of sales as well.
Step 2 - Determine when to start your crops
To figure this out, you work backwards from your last spring frost date and your first fall frost date to determine when you should start plants to have some available all season. Take into account the date we want to start sales, the optimum age of transplants, and the 'days to maturity' (usually given in the seed catalogues) for each plant to determine your planting schedule.
For example, we know that broccoli transplants do best at about 5 weeks of age. We know that broccoli is pretty hardy, and can stand some frost if it is protected by row cover or a hoop house. And we want broccoli to be available as soon as possible in the season. We put that together with the 'days to maturity' figure (55 days for the variety we grow) and we have the following garden plan for broccoli:
1. start broccoli seed in greenhouse 56 days (8 weeks) before last frost
2. transplant out in field (under row cover) at 35 days; this is 21 days before last frost
3. we know days to maturity (from transplant) for broccoli is 55 day, for the variety we grow
4. plan to pick the first broccoli about 90 days (35 + 55) from the time we started the seed.
Repeat this analysis for each crop you plan to to grow to tell you when you need to start plants for your market garden.
Step 3 - Determine how much of each vegetable you expect to sell.
You can check on the Internet or visit farmers markets to determine what the most popular vegetables are in your area. For example, you may decide that tomatoes, snap beans, cabbage and broccoli are what you think you can sell.
If you decide you can sell 10 heads of cabbage each week, you need to be able to harvest (at least) 10 heads of cabbage each week, for the length of your season. We figure this out well before the season so we can determine how much space we need in our greenhouse and in our garden.
Step 4 - Determine how many plants you need to start
To end up with a yield of 10 cabbages each week, you must start more than 10 cabbage seeds. Not every seed will germinate, and not every transplant will survive. So include a 'safety factor' when determining how many plants to start. Here on my farm, we usually start about 25% more cabbage transplants than we think we need. So to end up with 10 cabbages, start 12 or 13 seeds.
Step 5 - Determine how much space will each crop take
So, if you have figured out how much of each crop you are growing, you then calculate how much space each crop will take. Using the example of cabbage from above, if each cabbage takes about 2 square feet to grow, then allow 2 square feet x 12 or 13 transplants (allow for all seeds you start, even though some might not grow) resulting in 24-26 square feet of garden bed needed for each planting of cabbage.
Step 6 - Figure out how big your market garden needs to be
Once you know how much space each planting for each vegetable will take, you can determine the total garden area required.
To continue the example from above, if you have a 20-week sales period, and you want to sell 10 cabbages each week, you need to allow space to grow about 220-230 cabbages (allowing for all transplants, even if some might not grow). So if 2 square feet are required for each cabbage, you will need 440 - 460 square feet for this crop.
Repeat this process for each crop you plan to grow to determine the size of your market garden.
Whew! Sounds complicated, but this is the process we follow for each crop to build our market garden plan. Hint: if you are technically inclined, a spreadsheet can help you figure it all out.