Tag Archives: Community Supported Agriculture

Market Gardening On A Budget

Market gardening is a great job. Bringing fresh healthy food to appreciative customers can be enjoyable and profitable. But if you are on a budget, how can you start market gardening without breaking the bank? Here’s some suggestions to get started growing for market on a budget.

Step 1: Finding land to start market gardening. Here’s the good news: you don’t have to own a farm to be a farmer! In most rural areas, there is good land that is underused. Put the word out to your neighbours that you are looking for a small plot for a market garden. You can also find land by driving around and looking for fields that appear un-worked, without animals grazing. Ask local farmers if they might be interested in renting you a small plot; they may even take a share of the vegetables you grow in exchange. A plot as small as 5000 square feet can produce an amazing amount of food for sale.

Step 2: Covering your start-up costs. Here’s a way to raise the start-up capital you will need for seeds and equipment. Approach your friends, family, co-workers, boy scout troop, hockey buddies, in short everybody, and tell them you will be raising delicious, fresh, naturally-grown vegetables, and if they hurry they can get on the list to get some. You can ask them for a deposit to secure their share of the bounty from your garden, or even get them to pay you in advance for veggies they will receive throughout the season. This model of market gardening is known as Community Supported Agriculture, and is a popular and successful model to start gardening for money.

Step 3: Getting your equipment. You don’t need to spend a lot of money on market gardening equipment to get started. You can hire a local farmer to plow and disc your garden space for you. A simple light stand for starting seeds indoors can be built with florescent shop lights and 2 by 2 lumber. Shop light usually come with chains that will let you adjust their height as your plants grow. A market garden of up to an acre can be managed with mostly hand tools, often available cheap at farm auctions. If necessary, you can buy a used rear-tine roto-tiller, or rent one as required. Other recommended supplies include drip or soaker hose for irrigation, and a roll of floating row cover to protect your plants from weather and insect damage.

Step 4: Ordering seed. This is one place where you don’t want to skimp too much. Check the seed catalogs from different suppliers, and find the best prices and sizes of seed packets that suit your growing needs. It’s better to order too much rather than too little seed; if you run out in the middle of the season, more seed may be hard to find. And most seeds will keep for several years, so anything you don’t plant can be used next season.

Step 5: Putting it all together. You now have your land, some customers, start-up capital, and market gardening equipment. Now you actually have to grow the delicious vegetables your customers are expecting. To start with, you need a production plan for your garden. You need to figure out how much of each crop you need to grow, when to start growing them, and when they need to be replanted to ensure a continuous harvest. Your planning will be based on such factors as the length of your growing season, your date for last frost in the spring and first frost in the fall, the number of customers you have, and the equipment you have available. For example, if you have ten customers that each want one head of cabbage from you each week, you will obviously need at least that many cabbages available for harvest on a weekly basis. And since not every seed germinates, and there will be some losses due to weather or insects or disease, you should allow for a ‘safety factor’ when determining how many plants to start. To be sure you will have 10 cabbages ready for harvest, you might start 15 seeds to allow for losses. Follow this kind of analysis for each crop you plan to grow.

Step 6: Maintaining your market garden. Market gardening is real work, requiring regular daily attention to be successful. You will spend time each day in watering, weeding and feeding; the gardener’s WWF. One key to this is, don’t start too big a garden the first year. Perhaps just grow vegetables for a few friends, then as your experience grows you can increase the size of your garden.

Market Gardening Success Secrets For The New Grower

If you are a first time market gardener, or thinking about market gardening as a career, there are important ‘success secrets’ you must follow for your garden and your business to thrive.

Success Secret 1: Sell before you sow.

There is more to market gardening than just planting some seed in the ground. You have to market, plan and manage your garden as well. Notice that marketing comes first; you should know how, where and to whom you will sell your produce before you plant it.

In fact, the best marketing approach for a small market garden is the Community Supported Agriculture model. In this model, customers basically subscribe to your market garden, paying you in advance for a season’s worth of fresh vegetables. You deliver the vegetables weekly throughout the season, but get the money up front. This is important cash flow early in the season, to pay for seed and supplies.

Success Secret 2: Seed is cheap, buy lots.

Seed will be one of your lowest expenses, so don’t skimp om your seed order. Seed houses often run out of some varieties later in the season, so don’t wait to order, or expect you can find seeds when you need them. Order more than you think you will need up front. Most seeds keep for several years, so little will be wasted if you don’t use it all that same season.

Success Secret 3: Sow frequently.

As a market gardener, your income depends on selling vegetables weekly throughout the season. This means you have to harvest vegetables weekly throughout the season. Sow often, and sow a lot. Make more than one planting of everything, even the crops that produce all season e.g. indeterminate tomatoes, so you have a backup if something happens to the first planting. Crops like lettuce and other greens need to be sown weekly.

Success Secret 4: Stretch the season.

Your growing season will be a lot longer than your harvesting season. You will be starting plants weeks and months before your first harvest. Unless you are in a really beneficial climate, i.e. warm and sunny year-round, you will need a facility to start and grow your transplants. This might be a heated greenhouse or a plant-starting room with heat and artificial light.

You will need to learn to grow healthy transplants in these environment. Remember it can take 8-12 weeks for some seeds to grow into plants you can set out in your garden. If you lose a batch in the greenhouse, you better have another one coming along behind it, or you lose the season for that crop (remember Success Secret 3.)

Success Secret 5: Start now.

No matter what time of year it is, you can get started on your first market garden. You can read about market gardening, find seed catalogs, and start planning and laying out your first garden. You can contact friends, neighbors and co-workers to see if they might like to subscribe to your garden. You can start working on an advertising flyer to market your garden. Whatever the task, don’t wait to get started on your market gardening dream.

How To Fail At Csa Market Gardening

CSA market gardening is a great way to connect farmers and consumers. The farmer receives a good income and guaranteed cashflow, and the consumer gets a steady supply of fresh, local food. But your CSA can fail if you don’t avoid the following mistakes.

CSA market gardening mistake 1: Marketing. Community Supported Agriculture programs typically experience high turnover of customers, especially in the early years. You may lose as many as 40% of your customers each year. This means you need to be continuously marketing to find new customers to replace the losses, and even more if you expect to grow.

Marketing your garden doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive; the first thing to invest in is some good business cards. Cards are a cheap way to promote your market garden. You can print both sides of the card, perhaps using the back of the card as a coupon for new customers.

Mail-out flyers are also an effective marketing tool. Flyers let you target a particular geographic area, and a 1-page 2-sided flyer gives you lots of room to get your message across.

You should also consider creating a website for your market garden; having a web presence is expected of businesses these days. And a well-designed, keyword-focused, content-driven website is your marketing magic weapon, bringing in customers even while you sleep.

CSA market gardening mistake 2: Not growing enough produce. When customers join your CSA, they often pay you in advance for the season. You have to make sure you deliver great value for that payment. This starts with planning.

Since you know how many customers you have, you can plan your garden to make sure you have ample produce for everyone. For example, if you have 50 customers who each want one head of lettuce each week, you need to be able to harvest at least 50 heads. However, not all lettuce seeds germinate. And not all plants successfully grow to produce a harvestable crop. You can lose plants to insects, or disease, or bad weather. So to make sure you will have sufficient produce available, you need to build in a safety factor; that is, plant more than you think you will need. So to get 50 harvestable head of lettuce, you might start by planting 75 seeds; this will give you some allowance for losses.

And you have to take all reasonable means to protect your crop from the perils mentioned above. You need protection against insects, disease, flooding, predatory animals, drought, and storms. It does you no good to grow beautiful vegetables if you lose them before harvest.

CSA market gardening mistake 3: Not growing enough variety. Successful CSA’s grow lots of vegetables, and a large variety of vegetables. There are some good reasons for this: first, your customers will appreciate receiving something different in their delivery boxes each week. The more types of vegetables you grow, the more people you will appeal to.

The second reason to grow a large variety is for security of production. To give an extreme example, if you grew only two vegetables, and you lose one, your garden has lost 50%. On the other hand, if you grow 20 different vegetables and you lose one, you garden is still at 95%.

And finally, you need to grow a large variety of crops to stretch out your season. Different vegetables, and even different types of the same vegetable, mature at different times. The more you grow, the longer your potential season.

CSA market gardening can bring a great benefit to both farmers and consumers, if you avoid these mistakes.