Market Gardening: A Start Up Guide PDF

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Market Gardening:A Start Up GuideA Publication of ATTRA—National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service 1-800-346-9140 www.attra.ncat.orgBy Janet BachmannNCAT AgricultureSpecialistUpdated May 2009Market gardening involves the intense production of high-value crops from just a few acres and givesfarmers the potential to increase their income. Market gardening is also of interest to people considering agriculture as an alternative lifestyle. This publication provides an overview of issues you need tobe aware of as you consider starting market gardening and suggests helpful resources.ContentsIntroduction . 1Business plan . 1Choosing markets . 2Learning productionand marketingtechniques . 5Selectingequipment . 7Planning andrecordkeeping . 7Labor . 8Food safety . 8Agriculturalinsurance . 9Organic marketgardening . 9Grower profiles . 9Peregrine Farms . 10Beech GroveFarm . 10Harmony ValleyFarm . 11Thompson Farms. 12Photo by Edwin Remsberg, USDA/CSREES.References . 13Further resources . 13ATTRA—National SustainableAgriculture Information Service( is managedby the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) and isfunded under a grant from theUnited States Department ofAgriculture’s Rural BusinessCooperative Service. Visit theNCAT Web site ( current.php) formore information onour sustainable agriculture projects.IntroductionMarket gardening is the commercial production of vegetables, fruits, flowers andother plants on a scale larger than a homegarden, yet small enough that many of theprinciples of gardening are applicable.The goal, as with all farm enterprises, isto run the operation as a business and tomake a profit. Market gardening is oftenoriented toward local markets, althoughproduction for shipping to more distantmarkets is also possible.Business planStarting any business demands an investment of time and money. When youinvest in your own business, be it marketgardening or something else, a business planwill help ensure success. Developing yourbusiness plan helps you defi ne your business, create a road map for operations, setgoals, judge progress, make adjustmentsand satisfy a lender’s request for a writtenexplanation of how a loan will be used. Abasic business plan includes:

What? Describe your product or serviceWhy? Describe the need for your productor serviceWho? Describe your customerWhen? Draw a timeline and list all the tasksyou need to accomplishWhere? Describe the location of yourbusinessRelated ATTRAPublicationsDirect MarketingCommunity-SupportedAgricultureFarmers’ Markets:Marketing andBusiness GuideEntertainmentFarming andAgri-TourismPostharvestHandling of Fruitsand VegetablesResource Guideto Organicand SustainableVegetable ProductionSchedulingVegetable Plantingsfor ContinuousHarvestSeason ExtensionTechniques forMarket GardenersSelling to RestaurantsSpecialty Cut FlowerProduction andMarketingHow? Describe equipment, materialsand supplies you will use in yourmarket garden and how you willfinance your market gardenThe 280-page publication Building aSustainable Business: A Guide to Developing a Business Plan for Farms and RuralBusinesses is an excellent tool for businessplanning. Developed by the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture in St. Paul,Minn., and co-published by the SustainableAgriculture Network, the book helps peopleinvolved with commercial alternative andsustainable agriculture create profitablebusinesses. The book contains sample andblank worksheets that help you learn how toset goals, research processing alternatives,determine potential markets and evaluatefinancing options to create a business plan.See the Further resources section at theend of this publication for information onhow to purchase this book.The book Sustainable Vegetable Production from Start-Up to Market, published in1999 by University of Vermont vegetablespecialist Vernon Grubinger, has an outlinefor a basic five-part business plan. See theFurther resources section for information on purchasing this book. The ATTRApublication Agricultural Business PlanningTemplates and Resources lists additionalresources, primarily Web site links. Youcan access it at or call1-800-346-9140 for a copy.Choosing marketsYou need to develop a focused marketingplan before planting any crops. A marketing plan helps, but does not guarantee, thatmost of what you plant will be sold and canPage 2ATTRAhelp eliminate wasted time, space, produceand money. Many market gardeners try tomaximize their income by selling directly toconsumers and bypassing wholesalers andother middlemen. Tailgate markets, farmers’ markets, roadside and on-farm stands,pick-your-own operations and subscriptionmarketing are common direct-marketingstrategies. Sales to restaurants, institutionsand schools and grocery stores are commonwholesale marketing strategies. More indepth details are provided in other ATTRApublications. Most market gardeners useseveral outlets. Diversity in marketing, aswell as diversity in planting, is a cornerstone of stability.If you choose a wholesale market, youwill not be able to charge retail prices,but your labor cost for marketing maybe reduced. The case study summarizedbelow points out that price premiums atfarmers’ markets are not pure profit andless-costly wholesale marketing producedthe highest profits.A California case studyWhen comparing markets, be sure to compare the costs as well as the returns. If yousell wholesale, you will not get the price premiums expected at a farmers’ market, butyour labor cost for marketing will be lower.A recent case study in California comparedmarketing costs of three farms selling bywholesale, community-supported agriculture and farmers’ market methods. Allthree farms were well-established, diversified organic growers in northern California.One farm was small, with 20 acres and twofull-time employees; one medium, with 70acres and seven employees; and one larger,with 240 acres and 30 employees.Labor was the highest marketing expensefor all the farms. At the small farm, labor was77 percent of all marketing costs, rangingfrom 67 percent for wholesale marketingmethods to 82 percent for farmers’ markets.Farmers’ markets generated the lowest netrevenue return for all three growers, whilewholesale provided the highest net returnfor all. The study shows that price premiums at farmers’ markets are not pure profit.(Hardesty, 2008).Market Gardening: A Start Up Guide

Tailgate marketing. Photo courtesy of UM Food Services.Tailgate marketing is one of the simplestforms of direct marketing. It involves parking a vehicle loaded with produce on a roador street with the hope that people will stopand purchase the produce. This is commonlyused for selling in-season regional produce.This method takes very little investment andcan be set up on short notice. Check withyour city government first if you plan to setup inside a city. Some cities have regulationsgoverning transient vendors.Farmers’ markets are an excellent place fora beginning market gardener to sell theircrop. Farmers’ markets do not demand thata vendor bring a consistent supply of highquality produce every market day, althoughthat is the goal. If you have less-than-perfect tomatoes, you may be able to sell themas canners at a reduced price. A farmers’market is a wonderful place to meet peopleand develop steady customers, which canlead to additional marketing channels. Disadvantages include the need to spend timeaway from the farm and the possibility ofhaving produce left over at the end of themarket. The ATTRA publication Farmers’ Markets offers more information andresources about establishing, promotingand being successful at a farmers’ market.On-farm marketing strategies include roadside or farm stands and pick-your-ownarrangements. On-farm marketing strategiesare often successful because pick-your-owncustomers who come for the enjoyment ofspending time in the field will often alsowww.attra.ncat.orgFarmers’ Market. Photo by Jim Lukens.purchase harvested crops. Innovative farmers have found that on-farm entertainment,like animals to pet or pumpkins to carve,can be profitable additions to on-farmmarkets. For these marketing methods, amower may be your most important piece ofequipment since you will need to keep thefarm landscape neat to attract customers.See the ATTRA publication EntertainmentFarming and Agri-Tourism for more information about on-farm selling.Subscription marketing is a strategy thatcontinues to gain interest and has benefitted by the use of the Internet. Communitysupported agriculture (CSA) is one typeof subscription marketing that involvesproviding subscribers with a weeklybasket of seasonal produce, f lowers orFarm stand. Photo by Maggie Hoback, courtesy of 3

Grocery and natural food stores may beone of the most difficult markets to breakinto for small-scale growers, but as interest in locally grown food increases, somestores are looking for ways to make thiseasier. If you want to sell to retailers,remember that they need consistentlyavailable and high-quality products. Havea sample of your product with you whenyou visit the store and know your sellingprice for the product.Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) Bivalve MD. Photo by Edwin Remsberg,USDA/CSREES.livestock products. The subscribers pay atthe beginning of the season for part of ortheir entire share of the farmer’s plannedproduction. This eliminates the problem ofcovering up-front production costs at thebeginning of the season and guaranteesa market. The challenge for the groweris to have a consistent and continuoussupply of popular vegetables throughout the growing season. It is helpful tosurvey the customers or members abouttheir preferences before planting. Refer toATTRA’s publication Community SupportedAgriculture for more information.Restaurants that a re interested inserving fresh, locally grown produce canbe a good market. Chefs or restaurantowners are very busy people. Ask thechefs what day and hour is the best timeto call to fi nd out what produce they need,and then be consistent about calling at thattime every week. You can also fi nd outwhen to make deliveries. Chefs appreciatethe opportunity to tell you what they canuse or would like to try. ATTRA’s Sellingto Restaurants has more information aboutselling to chefs, as does Diane Green’sSelling Produce to Restaurants: A Marketing Guide for Small Growers, which is listedin the Further resources section.Page 4ATTRAA number of farm-to-school programsacross the country make schools and institutions another market for small-scale growers. Food service departments at schoolsacross the country are joining forces withconcerned parents, teachers, communityactivists and farmers to provide studentswith healthy meals while simultaneouslysupporting small farmers in their region.Check to see if a farm-to-school programexists in your community. Healthy Farms,Healthy Kids: Evaluating the Barriers andOpportunities for Farm-to-School Programs,a campaign started by the Community FoodSecurity Coalition, examines seven farmto-school projects from around the countryand provides plenty of information to starta farm-to-school program. See the Furtherresources section for information on howto find the Healthy Farms, Healthy Kids publication. Also useful is the ATTRA publication Bringing Local Food to Local Institutions: A Resource Guide for Farm-to-Schooland Farm-to-Institution Programs.Market gardeners can use the Internet totransact business or distribute informationabout farms and products. How to DirectMarket Farm Products on the Internet,a U.S. Depa r tment of Ag r icu ltureAgricultural Marketing Service publication, discusses what to consider beforeusing the Internet as a marketing tool andprovides examples of farmers’ experiences,as well as links to more information. Usingthe Internet to Get Customers is availablefrom the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group. See the Furtherresources section for information on howto fi nd these publications.Market Gardening: A Start Up Guide

Learning production andmarketing techniquesApprenticing with an experienced marketgardener is one of the best ways to learnsound techniques. If that opportunity isn’tavailable, you can attend workshops andconferences, visit with other market growers, read industry materials, watch videosand experiment. State fruit and vegetablegrower organizations, sustainable agriculture and organic grower groups andregional and national organizations hostconferences, trade shows, workshops andfield days where a wealth of information isshared. A few of these organizations, workshops and educational materials are listedin the Further resources section.The Cooperative Extension System is anexcellent source of bulletins on productionbasics for most crops. The service may beable to provide on-site consultation if youhave production questions. Check calendarsin trade magazines and the ATTRA onlinecalendar at forconference postings. See ATTRA’s Web site,, for current publicationson soil fertility management; season extension techniques; organic production of specific crops; postharvest handling; and insectpest, weed and disease management.The books listed below are all highly recommended by those who have used them.Which one may be the most useful to youon a day-to-day basis depends on your scaleof production. See the Further resourcessection for ordering information.Market Farming Success was written byLynn Byczynski, editor and publisher of thejournal Growing for Market. The advice inthis book comes from the personal experience of the author and her husband, DanNagengast, as market growers in easternKansas, as well as interviews with manyother growers around the country. The bookis intended to help those who are or want tobe in the business of growing and sellingfood, flowers, herbs or plants create a profitable and efficient business. Market FarmingSuccess identifies the key areas that usuallyhamper beginners and shows how to avoidwww.attra.ncat.orgA green restaurant supplierGreentree Naturals, a certified-organic farm in Sandpoint, Idaho, supplies a number of local restaurants. Diane Green and her husband, ThomSadoski, created to let people know abouttheir products, workshops and projects. The Web site also gives Greenand Sadoski a way to answer questions from other farmers.“We receive frequent requests asking us how to do what we do,” Greenexplains. “ While on the one hand, we do not want to give away thehard-earned knowledge that we have learned about being successfulsmall-acreage growers, we feel it is very important that more peopleare exploring the possibilities of becoming farmers. We believe that ourexperience has value. We are proud of what we do.”those obstacles. The book discusses howmuch money you will need to start growing,how much money you can expect to earn,the best crops and markets, essential tools,how to keep records to maximize profits andfurther resources.Eliot Coleman’s The New Organic Grower:A Master’s Manual of Tools and Techniquesfor the Home and Market Gardener is written for market gardeners with about 5acres of land in vegetable crop production.Coleman, an agriculture researcher, educator and farmer, describes techniques usingwalking tractors, wheel hoes, multi-rowdibble sticks and soil block transplants. Thesections on planning, crop rotations, greenmanures, soil fertility, direct seeding andtransplants are inspiring. Coleman includesseason extension techniques in this bookand authored additional books on this topic,including Four Season Harvest and TheWinter Harvest Manual.ATTRAPage 5

Sustainable Vegetable Production from Startup to Market was written by Vern Grubinger,a vegetable and berry specialist for University of Vermont Extension and director of theUVM Center for Sustainable Agriculture.The book is aimed at aspiring and beginning farmers. The book introduces the fullrange of processes for moderate-scale vegetable production using ecological practicesthat minimize the need for synthetic inputsand maximize conservation of resources.The book provides practical information onessential matters like selecting a farm site;planning and recordkeeping; marketingoptions; and systems for starting, planting,protecting and harvesting crops. The book’sfinal chapter profi les the experiences of 19vegetable growers, focusing on individualcrops, and provides each grower’s budgetfor these crops.How to Grow More Vegetables: And Fruits,Nuts, Berries, Grains, and Other Crops ThanYou Ever Thought Possible on Less LandThan You Can Imagine by John Jeavonsdetails biointensive gardening techniques.The book emphasizes the use of hand tools,raised bed production, intensive spacing,companion planting and organic fertility management. The planning charts areaimed at helping families provide for theirown food needs, but can be adapted for useby market gardeners as well.Table 1. Estimated equipment needs for various sizes of vegetable farms.ScaleSeedstartingPowersource and DirectseedingtillagePostEquipment Cultivation Harvesting heelhoe, handhoes, digging forks,spadesField knives,hand boxes,buckets,cartsBulk tank,canopy,packingcontainersPickup withtopper orvanPotatodigger,bed lifter,wagon,more boxes,bucketsRoller trackconveyor,hand carts,walk-incoolerCargo ll hoophouse, growlights, planting traysrototilleror walkingtractor,customwork4-6acres1,000 sq. ft.,greenhouse,cold frames,field tunnels, planting trays35-40 hpPlanet Jr.tractor, with plate seedercreepergear, ation,more toolsCultivatingtractor(IH Super Aor IH 140)7-10acresAdditionalcold frames,plantingtrays40-60 hptractor,chisel plow,spaderStanhayprecisionbelt seederwith belts2-rowtransplanter,sprayerTool barMore fieldimplements: cratesbeet knives,basketweederBarrelwasher,spinner,pallet jack1 ton truckwith refrigeration20 acres2,000 sq. ft. 80 hpgreenhouse tractorwith loaderbucketand forks,compostspreaderNibex orMonosemseederIrrigation,bed shaper,mulch layerAsa lift,Sweeps(Besserides), harvestwagonBuddinghfingerweeders, flameweeder,potatohiller, 2ndcultivatingtractorWash line,largercooler,packingshed andloadingdockRefrigeratedtruckAdapted from a table distributed at Michael Fields Institute Advanced Organic Vegetable Production Workshop, 2/2001, Jefferson City, MO.Page 6ATTRAMarket Gardening: A Start Up Guide

Selecting equipmentTable 1 (on the previous page) is adaptedfrom a chart distributed to participants atan Advanced Organic Vegetable Production Workshop sponsored by the MichaelFields Agricultural Institute. The chart provides an estimate of equipment needs formarket gardens of various sizes. The publication Grower to grower: Creating a livelihood on a fresh market vegetable farmalso provides information on equipmentoptions for different sizes of farms (Hendrikson, 2005). Please keep in mind thatyour own needs will differ. You may be ableto adapt machinery that you already haveor you may be able to buy used machinery. If you are just starting out with a smallamount of land, it may be more economical to purchase transplants than to builda greenhouse and grow your own. It maymake sense to have primary tillage doneby someone with a large tractor rather thanpurchase a tractor for this purpose.Depending on your location and choice ofcrops, irrigation is a must for consistentand high-quality production, even on ascale of less than an acre. Drip or trickleirrigation

The goal, as with all farm enterprises, is to run the operation as a business and to make a profi t. Market gardening is often oriented toward local markets, although production for shipping to more distant markets is also possible. Business plan Starting any business demands an invest-ment of time and money. When you

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