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  1. 1. Market Gardening: A Start Up Guide A Publication of ATTRA—National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service • 1-800-346-9140 • www.attra.ncat.orgBy Janet Bachmann Market gardening involves the intense production of high-value crops from just a few acres and givesNCAT Agriculture farmers the potential to increase their income. Market gardening is also of interest to people consider-Specialist ing agriculture as an alternative lifestyle. This publication provides an overview of issues you need toUpdated May 2009 be 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 ............... 9 Peregrine Farms ....... 10 Beech Grove Farm ............................. 10 Harmony Valley Farm ............................. 11 Thompson Farms..... 12 Photo by Edwin Remsberg, USDA/CSREES.References ...................... 13Further resources ......... 13 Introduction Business plan Market gardening is the commercial pro- Starting any business demands an invest- duction of vegetables, fruits, flowers and ment of time and money. When youATTRA—National SustainableAgriculture Information Service other plants on a scale larger than a home invest in your own business, be it market( is managed garden, yet small enough that many of the gardening or something else, a business planby the National Center for Appro-priate Technology (NCAT) and is principles of gardening are applicable. will help ensure success. Developing yourfunded under a grant from the The goal, as with all farm enterprises, is business plan helps you defi ne your busi-United States Department ofAgriculture’s Rural Business- to run the operation as a business and to ness, create a road map for operations, setCooperative Service. Visit theNCAT Web site ( make a profit. Market gardening is often goals, judge progress, make adjustmentssarc_current.php) for oriented toward local markets, although and satisfy a lender’s request for a writtenmore information onour sustainable agri- production for shipping to more distant explanation of how a loan will be used. Aculture projects. markets is also possible. basic business plan includes:
  2. 2. What? Describe your product or service help eliminate wasted time, space, produce and money. Many market gardeners try to Why? Describe the need for your product maximize their income by selling directly to or service consumers and bypassing wholesalers and Who? Describe your customer other middlemen. Tailgate markets, farm- ers’ markets, roadside and on-farm stands, When? Draw a timeline and list all the tasks pick-your-own operations and subscription you need to accomplish marketing are common direct-marketing Where? Describe the location of your strategies. Sales to restaurants, institutions business and schools and grocery stores are common wholesale marketing strategies. More in-Related ATTRA How? Describe equipment, materials depth details are provided in other ATTRAPublications and supplies you will use in your publications. Most market gardeners useDirect Marketing market garden and how you will several outlets. Diversity in marketing, as finance your market garden well as diversity in planting, is a corner-Community-SupportedAgriculture The 280-page publication Building a stone of stability.Farmers’ Markets: Sustainable Business: A Guide to Develop- If you choose a wholesale market, youMarketing and ing a Business Plan for Farms and Rural will not be able to charge retail prices,Business Guide Businesses is an excellent tool for business but your labor cost for marketing may planning. Developed by the Minnesota Insti- be reduced. The case study summarizedEntertainmentFarming and tute for Sustainable Agriculture in St. Paul, below points out that price premiums atAgri-Tourism Minn., and co-published by the Sustainable farmers’ markets are not pure profit and Agriculture Network, the book helps people less-costly wholesale marketing producedPostharvest involved with commercial alternative andHandling of Fruits the highest profits.and Vegetables sustainable agriculture create profitable businesses. The book contains sample andResource Guide blank worksheets that help you learn how to A California case studyto Organic set goals, research processing alternatives, When comparing markets, be sure to com-and SustainableVegetable Production determine potential markets and evaluate pare the costs as well as the returns. If you financing options to create a business plan. sell wholesale, you will not get the price pre- miums expected at a farmers’ market, butScheduling See the Further resources section at theVegetable Plantings your labor cost for marketing will be lower. end of this publication for information onfor Continuous how to purchase this book. A recent case study in California comparedHarvest marketing costs of three farms selling bySeason Extension The book Sustainable Vegetable Produc- wholesale, community-supported agri-Techniques for tion from Start-Up to Market, published in culture and farmers’ market methods. AllMarket Gardeners 1999 by University of Vermont vegetable three farms were well-established, diversi- specialist Vernon Grubinger, has an outline fied organic growers in northern California.Selling to Restaurants One farm was small, with 20 acres and two for a basic five-part business plan. See the full-time employees; one medium, with 70Specialty Cut Flower Further resources section for informa- acres and seven employees; and one larger,Production and tion on purchasing this book. The ATTRA with 240 acres and 30 employees.Marketing publication Agricultural Business Planning Templates and Resources lists additional Labor was the highest marketing expense for all the farms. At the small farm, labor was resources, primarily Web site links. You 77 percent of all marketing costs, ranging can access it at or call from 67 percent for wholesale marketing 1-800-346-9140 for a copy. methods to 82 percent for farmers’ markets. Farmers’ markets generated the lowest net revenue return for all three growers, while Choosing markets wholesale provided the highest net return You need to develop a focused marketing for all. The study shows that price premi- plan before planting any crops. A market- ums at farmers’ markets are not pure profit. ing plan helps, but does not guarantee, that (Hardesty, 2008). most of what you plant will be sold and canPage 2 ATTRA Market Gardening: A Start Up Guide
  3. 3. Tailgate marketing. Photo courtesy of UM Food Services. Farmers’ Market. Photo by Jim Lukens.Tailgate marketing is one of the simplestforms of direct marketing. It involves park- purchase harvested crops. Innovative farm-ing a vehicle loaded with produce on a road ers have found that on-farm entertainment,or street with the hope that people will stop like animals to pet or pumpkins to carve,and purchase the produce. This is commonly can be profitable additions to on-farmused for selling in-season regional produce. markets. For these marketing methods, aThis method takes very little investment and mower may be your most important piece ofcan be set up on short notice. Check with equipment since you will need to keep theyour city government first if you plan to set farm landscape neat to attract customers.up inside a city. Some cities have regulations See the ATTRA publication Entertainmentgoverning transient vendors. Farming and Agri-Tourism for more informa- tion about on-farm selling.Farmers’ markets are an excellent place fora beginning market gardener to sell their Subscription marketing is a strategy thatcrop. Farmers’ markets do not demand that continues to gain interest and has benefit-a vendor bring a consistent supply of high- ted by the use of the Internet. Communityquality produce every market day, although supported agriculture (CSA) is one typethat is the goal. If you have less-than-per- of subscription marketing that involvesfect tomatoes, you may be able to sell them providing subscribers with a weeklyas canners at a reduced price. A farmers’ basket of seasonal produce, f lowers ormarket is a wonderful place to meet peopleand develop steady customers, which canlead to additional marketing channels. Dis-advantages include the need to spend timeaway from the farm and the possibility ofhaving produce left over at the end of themarket. The ATTRA publication Farm-ers’ Markets offers more information andresources about establishing, promotingand being successful at a farmers’ market.On-farm marketing strategies include road-side 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 also Farm stand. Photo by Maggie Hoback, courtesy of ATTRA Page 3
  4. 4. Grocery and natural food stores may be one of the most difficult markets to break into for small-scale growers, but as inter- est in locally grown food increases, some stores are looking for ways to make this easier. If you want to sell to retailers, remember that they need consistently available and high-quality products. Have a sample of your product with you when you visit the store and know your selling price for the product. A number of farm-to-school programs across the country make schools and insti- tutions another market for small-scale grow- ers. Food service departments at schools across the country are joining forces with concerned parents, teachers, community activists and farmers to provide studentsCommunity Supported Agriculture (CSA) Bivalve MD. Photo by Edwin Remsberg, with healthy meals while simultaneouslyUSDA/CSREES. supporting small farmers in their region. livestock products. The subscribers pay at Check to see if a farm-to-school program the beginning of the season for part of or exists in your community. Healthy Farms, their entire share of the farmer’s planned Healthy Kids: Evaluating the Barriers and production. This eliminates the problem of Opportunities for Farm-to-School Programs, covering up-front production costs at the a campaign started by the Community Food beginning of the season and guarantees Security Coalition, examines seven farm- a market. The challenge for the grower to-school projects from around the country is to have a consistent and continuous and provides plenty of information to start supply of popular vegetables through- a farm-to-school program. See the Further out the growing season. It is helpful to resources section for information on how survey the customers or members about to find the Healthy Farms, Healthy Kids pub- their preferences before planting. Refer to lication. Also useful is the ATTRA publi- ATTRA’s publication Community Supported cation Bringing Local Food to Local Institu- Agriculture for more information. tions: A Resource Guide for Farm-to-School and Farm-to-Institution Programs. Restaurants that a re interested in serving fresh, locally grown produce can Market gardeners can use the Internet to be a good market. Chefs or restaurant transact business or distribute information owners are very busy people. Ask the about farms and products. How to Direct chefs what day and hour is the best time Market Farm Products on the Internet, to call to fi nd out what produce they need, a U.S. Depa r tment of Ag r icu lture and then be consistent about calling at that Agricultural Marketing Service publica- time every week. You can also fi nd out tion, discusses what to consider before when to make deliveries. Chefs appreciate using the Internet as a marketing tool and the opportunity to tell you what they can provides examples of farmers’ experiences, use or would like to try. ATTRA’s Selling as well as links to more information. Using to Restaurants has more information about the Internet to Get Customers is available selling to chefs, as does Diane Green’s from the Southern Sustainable Agricul- Selling Produce to Restaurants: A Market- ture Working Group. See the Further ing Guide for Small Growers, which is listed resources section for information on how in the Further resources section. to fi nd these publications.Page 4 ATTRA Market Gardening: A Start Up Guide
  5. 5. Learning production and A green restaurant suppliermarketing techniques Greentree Naturals, a certified-organic farm in Sandpoint, Idaho, sup-Apprenticing with an experienced market plies a number of local restaurants. Diane Green and her husband, Thomgardener is one of the best ways to learn Sadoski, created to let people know aboutsound techniques. If that opportunity isn’t their products, workshops and projects. The Web site also gives Greenavailable, you can attend workshops and and Sadoski a way to answer questions from other farmers.conferences, visit with other market grow- “We receive frequent requests asking us how to do what we do,” Greeners, read industry materials, watch videos explains. “ While on the one hand, we do not want to give away theand experiment. State fruit and vegetable hard-earned knowledge that we have learned about being successfulgrower organizations, sustainable agri- small-acreage growers, we feel it is very important that more peopleculture and organic grower groups and are exploring the possibilities of becoming farmers. We believe that ourregional and national organizations host experience has value. We are proud of what we do.”conferences, trade shows, workshops andfield days where a wealth of information isshared. A few of these organizations, work-shops 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 exten-sion techniques; organic production of spe-cific crops; postharvest handling; and insect those obstacles. The book discusses howpest, weed and disease management. much money you will need to start growing,The books listed below are all highly rec- how much money you can expect to earn,ommended by those who have used them. the best crops and markets, essential tools,Which one may be the most useful to you how to keep records to maximize profits andon a day-to-day basis depends on your scale further resources.of production. See the Further resources Eliot Coleman’s The New Organic Grower:section for ordering information. A Master’s Manual of Tools and TechniquesMarket Farming Success was written by for the Home and Market Gardener is writ-Lynn Byczynski, editor and publisher of the ten for market gardeners with about 5journal Growing for Market. The advice in acres of land in vegetable crop production.this book comes from the personal experi- Coleman, an agriculture researcher, educa-ence of the author and her husband, Dan tor and farmer, describes techniques usingNagengast, as market growers in eastern walking tractors, wheel hoes, multi-rowKansas, as well as interviews with many dibble sticks and soil block transplants. Theother growers around the country. The book sections on planning, crop rotations, greenis intended to help those who are or want to manures, soil fertility, direct seeding andbe in the business of growing and selling transplants are inspiring. Coleman includesfood, flowers, herbs or plants create a profit- season extension techniques in this bookable and efficient business. Market Farming and authored additional books on this topic,Success identifies the key areas that usually including Four Season Harvest and Thehamper beginners and shows how to avoid Winter Harvest ATTRA Page 5
  6. 6. Sustainable Vegetable Production from Start- final chapter profi les the experiences of 19 up to Market was written by Vern Grubinger, vegetable growers, focusing on individual a vegetable and berry specialist for Univer- crops, and provides each grower’s budget sity of Vermont Extension and director of the for these crops. UVM Center for Sustainable Agriculture. How to Grow More Vegetables: And Fruits, The book is aimed at aspiring and begin- Nuts, Berries, Grains, and Other Crops Than ning farmers. The book introduces the full You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land range of processes for moderate-scale veg- Than You Can Imagine by John Jeavons etable production using ecological practices details biointensive gardening techniques. that minimize the need for synthetic inputs The book emphasizes the use of hand tools, and maximize conservation of resources. raised bed production, intensive spacing, The book provides practical information on companion planting and organic fertil- essential matters like selecting a farm site; ity management. The planning charts are planning and recordkeeping; marketing aimed at helping families provide for their options; and systems for starting, planting, own food needs, but can be adapted for use protecting and harvesting crops. The book’s by market gardeners as well.Table 1. Estimated equipment needs for various sizes of vegetable farms. Power Post- SeedScale source and Direct Equipment Cultivation Harvesting harvest Delivery starting seeding tillage handling1-3 small hoop rototiller Earthway Back-pack, Wheel Field knives, Bulk tank, Pickup withacres house, grow or walking seeder, sprayer, hoe, hand hand boxes, canopy, topper or lights, plant- tractor, Cyclone irrigation, hoes, dig- buckets, packing van ing trays custom seeder tools ging forks, carts containers work spades4-6 1,000 sq. ft., 35-40 hp Planet Jr. 1-row Cultivating Potato Roller track Cargo vanacres greenhouse, tractor, with plate seeder trans- tractor digger, conveyor, cold frames, creeper planter, (IH Super A bed lifter, hand carts, field tun- gear, power irrigation, or IH 140) wagon, walk-in nels, plant- steering, more tools more boxes, cooler ing trays high buckets clearance7-10 Additional 40-60 hp Stanhay 2-row Tool bar More field Barrel 1 ton truckacres cold frames, tractor, precision trans- implements: crates washer, with refrig- planting chisel plow, belt seeder planter, beet knives, spinner, eration trays spader with belts sprayer basket pallet jack weeder20 + 2,000 sq. ft. 80 hp Nibex or Irrigation, Sweeps Asa lift, Wash line, Refrigeratedacres greenhouse tractor Monosem bed shaper, (Besserides), harvest larger truck with loader seeder mulch layer Buddingh wagon cooler, bucket finger packing and forks, weed- shed and compost ers, flame loading spreader weeder, dock potato hiller, 2nd cultivating tractorAdapted from a table distributed at Michael Fields Institute Advanced Organic Vegetable Production Workshop, 2/2001, Jefferson City, MO.Page 6 ATTRA Market Gardening: A Start Up Guide
  7. 7. Selecting equipment explains how to set up a drip system. Your local extension office can supply detailedTable 1 (on the previous page) is adapted bulletins. An irrigation specialist who willfrom a chart distributed to participants at work with you to design a system to meetan Advanced Organic Vegetable Produc- your needs is also helpful.tion Workshop sponsored by the MichaelFields Agricultural Institute. The chart pro-vides an estimate of equipment needs for Planning and recordkeepingmarket gardens of various sizes. The pub- Recordkeeping may be one of the most dif-lication Grower to grower: Creating a live- ficult tasks for market gardeners, but goodlihood on a fresh market vegetable farm records are critical if you want to knowalso provides information on equipment which crops are profitable. Market garden-options for different sizes of farms (Hen- ers need records to fine-tune planting, culti-drikson, 2005). Please keep in mind that vation, pest management and harvest sched-your own needs will differ. You may be able ules. Records help answer questions aboutto adapt machinery that you already have labor, equipment and capital needs, and areor you may be able to buy used machin- valuable when developing business plans.ery. If you are just starting out with a small Alex Hitt of Peregrine Farm in Graham,amount of land, it may be more econom- N.C., keeps extensive records. The recordsical to purchase transplants than to build include planned and actual data for whata greenhouse and grow your own. It may crops he plants, where crops are planted inmake sense to have primary tillage done the field and when Hitt plants the crops. Heby someone with a large tractor rather than keeps a harvest record and a crop rotationpurchase a tractor for this purpose. record. Hitt tallies the produce he bringsDepending on your location and choice of to farmers’ markets, charts selling pricescrops, irrigation is a must for consistent and notes what doesn’t sell. In addition, heand high-quality production, even on a keeps track of farm expenses and incomescale of less than an acre. Drip or trickleirrigation is becoming the method of choicefor many fruit, vegetable and flower grow- Table 2. Peregrine Farm 10-year rotationers. Grubinger’s book provides a summary Spring Summer Fallof overhead sprinkle and drip or trickle Year 1 Tomatoes & leeks Oats withirrigation systems. Byczynski’s book also (half no-till) crimson clover Year 2 Cool season Sudangrass with Oats with Tools of the trade flowers soybeans crimson clover It is possible to operate a market garden of less Year 3 Spring lettuce Summer flowers Rye with hairy than an acre with little more than a shovel, rake, vetch hoe and garden hose. However, most serious Year 4 No-till squash Fall-planted market gardeners acquire labor-saving tools flowers such as walk-behind rototillers, mowers, small Year 5 Over-wintered Sudangrass with Rye with hairy greenhouses and small refrigerator units. Some flowers soybeans vetch growers, especially those farming more than an acre, use small tractors with a limited array Year 6 Peppers Wheat with of implements. (half no-till) crimson clover Experienced market gardeners advise begin- Year 7 Summer flowers Oats with ning growers to first purchase equipment that crimson clover will support the back end of their operations. Year 8 Mixed spring Cowpeas Fall-planted A small walk-in cooler to maintain high prod- vegetables flowers uct quality or an irrigation system to assure Year 9 Over-wintered Sudangrass Oats with consistent yields and quality might be more flowers with soybeans crimson clover important early purchases than a tractor (Hen- drickson, 2005). Year 10 Summer flowers Wheat with hairy ATTRA Page 7
  8. 8. and records daily activities, including time Separate task sheets list supplies needed for spent on each farm task. A sample planting each task. For example, if floating row covers record is included on a CD titled Organic need to be laid, the task sheet will include Vegetable Production and Marketing in the shovels, markers and marking pens. South with Alex Hitt of Peregrine Farm, pro- Harmony Valley Farm commits to providing duced by the Southern Sustainable Agri- full-time jobs. A list of rainy day tasks and culture Working Group. See the Further extra chores is on hand to ensure that employ- resources section for ordering information. ees always have something useful to do. DeWilde emphasizes that it is important for Labor employers to be knowledgeable about govern- The size of your operation and the crops, ment regulations, including field sanitation, markets, and equipment you choose will drinking water, worker protection and safety determine the amount of labor needed. Two regulations. A resource for learning about of the growers profi led in this publication government regulations is Neil D. Hamilton’s have decided that they do not want to hire The Legal Guide for Direct Farm Marketing. outside help and planned their production The book includes a chapter on labor andP ast records and marketing accordingly. employment. See the Further resources show how Many market gardeners, however, will need section for ordering information. long it help. In an advanced organic vegetable pro-should take to duction workshop offered by the Michael Food safetydo each task. Fields Agricultural Institute, Richard Changing lifestyles and a growing inter-This information DeWilde of Harmony Valley Farm explains est among consumers in fresh, nutritious how to manage labor so crews will be happy food has created an increase in produceis critical for and productive. DeWilde’s operation is one consumption. Along with this increase,determining described in the grower profi les at the end there has been an increase in the numberassignments. of this publication. of food-borne illness outbreaks associated with fresh fruits and vegetables. An occur- DeWilde emphasizes that it is important to rence can cause irreparable damage to a be clear about your employee expectations business, both legally and from the negative and operating procedures. He does this by effects on its reputation (Cuellar, 2001). meeting regularly with his employees and using an employee manual. An employee Currently, there are no mandatory rules for manual details farm standards and expecta- the safe growing and packing of fruits and tions. For example, it might tell people what vegetables, except for those regulating water to do with trash and include a Friday night and pesticide residues under the surveillance checklist to ensure that supplies and equip- of the Environmental Protection Agency. ment are properly stored at the end of the In 1998, however, the EPA published the week. Employees do not work on Saturday Guide to Minimize Microbial Food Safety or Sunday. Hazards for Fresh Fruits and Vegetables, comprising a set of Good Agricultural Prac- On Monday morning DeWilde meets with his tices. Although the practices are optional, crew in the packing shed. He makes the day many growers incorporate them into their and week manageable by writing down all operations. Extension offices in a number that needs to be accomplished on two dry of states provide bulletins outlining safe erase boards. One board provides informa- growing and packing practices. Cornell Uni- tion about tasks planned for the entire week. versity compiled a number of educational On the other board, De Wilde posts tasks materials in English and other languages. for the day with assignments for who will The National GAPs Education Materials do each task. Past records show how long it can be found at the Web site www.gaps. should take to do each task. This information Kan- is critical for determining assignments. sas State University published Food*A*Syst, aPage 8 ATTRA Market Gardening: A Start Up Guide
  9. 9. handbook to help address food safety and Publications/AgBusinessInsurPM7.pdf or seeenvironmental concerns. You can fi nd the the Further resources section for infor-third chapter, Growing Vegetables, Fruits mation on obtaining a print copy.and Produce, online at A very readable discussion on insurance islibrary/fntr2/foodasyst/foodasys.pdf. The in Lynn Byczynski’s Market Farming Success.University of California’s Good Agricul- She advises that your best bet in finding whattural Practices: A Self Audit for Growers and you need is to sit down with an independentHandlers is online at agent and explain your business thoroughly.files/filelibrary/5453/4362.pdf. Another excellent resource on this issue is Neil Hamilton’s The Legal Guide for DirectAgricultural insurance Farm Marketing. Both books are listed in theAccording to the Washington State Depart- Further resources section.ment of Agriculture, insurance is one of themost overlooked pieces of running a farm Organic market gardeningbusiness. In today’s litigious culture, it is Some market gardeners grow their cropswise to have adequate coverage for all your organically. The motivations vary. Some Ifarm activities. Insurance coverage is avail- market gardeners think it is the socially n today’sable for nearly any activity on your farm, and environmentally responsible thing litigious culture,but the cost of coverage may not be eco- to do. Some are motivated by economicnomically viable. Shop around for the insur- it is wise to have benefits. Organically grown produce typi-ance that best suits your needs and balance adequate coverage cally commands higher prices in the mar-the coverage into your farm business plan. for all your farm ketplace. Growers who sell through CSAs orIf your farming operation is very small, you use other forms of relationship marketing activities.may be able to simply add coverage to your sometimes find that their customers expecthomeowner’s policy. Larger operations may and demand organic produce. There is arequire a farm policy that includes prop- long history that equates organic farmingerty coverage as well as liability coverage with fresh, whole foods.for physical injury and ingested food prod- The production and marketing of organicucts. A farm policy can also cover a road- foods is subject to federal regulation.side stand whether or not it is on your prop- Organic production is defined in legal termserty and may be extended by endorsement and use of the term organic is cover a farmers’ market stand. Farms You must be certified by the USDA tothat process foods or sell primarily flowers market your products as organic unlessor other non-edibles may require a commer- your annual sales of organic products arecial general liability policy (WSDA, 2006). less than $5,000. ATTRA has numerousVisit the Washington State Department publications that address organic matters.of Agriculture Web site at http://agr. See ATTRA’s Guide to Organic for more information.Risk_Management.htm#Insurance for moreinformation. Grower profilesThe Pennsylvania State Universit y To give you additional ideas and inspiration,bulletin Agricultural Business Insurance several market gardeners from differentdiscusses the different types of insurance parts of the United States agreed to shareyou should consider as part of your risk information about their operations. Alexmanagement strategy. Agricultural busi- and Betsy Hitt are featured in the Sustain-ness insurances include general liability, able Agriculture Network publication Build-product liability, business property, work- ing Soils for Better Crops, 2nd Ed. and Theers compensation, vehicle and crop insur- New American Farmer. Richard DeWildeance and more. The bulletin is available and Linda Halley are also featured in Theonline at New American ATTRA Page 9
  10. 10. It is interesting to note that although each their location near Chapel Hill, home to operation is unique, all have a number of the University of North Carolina. More things in common. These include: unusual produce like leafy greens, leeks and rapini fi nd a home in restaurants, and • Diversity of crops sell well alongside their most profitable let- • Diversity of marketing strategies tuce, tomato, pepper and flower crops at area farmers’ markets. • Cover crops grown for soil building A year in the Hitts’ rotation may include a • Detailed recordkeeping systems cool-season cash crop and a summer cover • Willingness to share knowledge and crop like soybeans and sudangrass followed ideas with others by a fall cash crop and then a winter cover. “We have made a conscious decision in our Peregrine Farm, Alex and Betsy rotation design to always have cover crops,” Hitt, Graham, N.C. Alex Hitt said. “We have to. It’s the primary Alex and Betsy Hitt began market gar- source for all of our fertility. If we can, we’llT dening on their 26-acre farm near Chapel have two covers on the same piece of ground he Hitts in the same year.” Hill, N.C. almost 20 years ago. They grow created organic vegetables and specialty cut flowers While other farmers grow beans, corn an elabo- on 5 acres and have a quarter of an acre or another profitable annual vegetablerate rotation that in highbush blueberries. The Hitts sell pri- in the summer after a spring crop, theincludes both winter marily to local farmers’ markets, but have Hitts don’t hesitate to take the land out ofand summer cover also sold to restaurants and stores. production. Instead, Alex Hitt said, theircrops to supply “Our original goals,” Alex Hitt said, “were commitment to building organic matterorganic matter and to make a living on this piece of ground in the soil yields important payoffs. The while taking the best care of it that we farm remains essentially free of soilbornenitrogen, prevent could.” For the Hitts, making a living doing diseases, which they attribute to “so mucherosion and crowd work they enjoy and fi nding a scale that competition and diversity” in the soil. And,out weeds. despite farming on a 5-percent slope, they allows them to do most of it themselves are key aspects of sustainability. Their crop mix see little or no erosion. and markets have changed over the years, The Hitt’s 10-year rotation plan is on as they continue to evaluate the success page 7. You can learn more with the of each operation and its place within the CD Organic Vegetable Production and whole system. Marketing in the South with Alex Hitt of When the horse stable down the road went Peregrine Farm, available from the Southern out of business, it forced the Hitts to re- Sustainable Agriculture Working Group. evaluate their farm fertility program. With- See the Further resources section for out this source of free manure, the Hitts ordering information. created an elaborate rotation that includes both winter and summer cover crops to sup- Beech Grove Farm, Ann and ply organic matter and nitrogen, prevent Eric Nordell, Trout Run, Pa. erosion and crowd out weeds. Neither Ann nor Eric grew up on a farm, “We designed a rotation so that cover crops but both gained experiences on other farms play a clear role,” Hitt said. “Many times, during and after college before they bought where other growers might say, ‘I need to Beech Grove Farm, their small farm near grow a cash crop,’ we’ll grow a cover crop Trout Run, Pa. In this area with steep, rug- anyway.” ged terrain and a relatively short growing season, they had three goals: The farm stays profitable thanks to a mar- keting plan that takes full advantage of • Remain debt-freePage 10 ATTRA Market Gardening: A Start Up Guide
  11. 11. • Keep the farm a two-person management publication, Weed the Soil Not operation the Crop, available for $10 plus $3 ship- • Depend on the internal resources ping and handling. Order these directly of the farm as much as possible. from them at 3410 Rt. 184, Trout Run, PA 17771. You can read more at www.newfarm.Of the 90 acres on the farm, 30 are wooded. org/features/1204/nordell/index.shtml.Six are cultivated for the market garden.The remainder, excluding the homestead Harmony Valley Farm,and house garden, is left in pasture. Theyuse draft horses and low-cost implements Richard DeWilde andfor cultivation and tillage and have the 6- Linda Halley, Viroqua, Wis.acre plot divided into half-acre strips of 20 Richard DeWilde has farmed for most ofyards by 120 yards, which the Nordells find his life. He moved to Harmony Valley Farmto be a good size for working with horses in 1984 after his farm in Minnesota wasand by hand. paved over by urban sprawl. Linda joinedBecause the farm is distant from major him there in 1990. The DeWildes grow veg-markets, the Nordells fi rst chose crops that etables, fruits and herbs on 70 acres and Acan be sold wholesale, like fl owers and have pasture, hay and a few Angus steers CSA marketmedicinal herbs for drying and root vege- on 220 acres. They sell produce whole- demands atables. As the couple became known in the sale at the Dane County Farmers’ Market in tremendousarea, they were approached by restaurant Madison, and through a 500-member CSA. DeWilde handles this scale of operation by diversity of crops.buyers to supply cool-season and specialtyitems. By 1998, they were selling to 10 hiring labor, becoming highly mechanizedfi ne restaurants in the area and at the Wil- and through careful management.liamsport farmers’ market. Income from DeWilde notes that his wholesale marketswholesale markets is now only 10 percent have been the most profitable, and CSAof their total income. the least. The time needed for managementFor the Nordells, as for all market garden- makes the difference. The wholesale mar-ers, weeds presented a major challenge. ket is the least diverse. The moneymaking crops are turnips and daikon radishes. AThey adapted a traditional field crop rota- CSA market demands a tremendous diver-tion system of corn, oats, wheat, grass sity of crops and a complexity of manage-and legume sod used in the Midwest and ment needed for market.Pennsylvania to a rotation that includesvegetables, cover crops and a summer Soil building is done with cover crops,fallow. The half-acre strips are managed so compost and additional micronutrients asthat 3 acres are in crops and 3 acres are needed. Favored cover crops are sweet clo-in fallow or cover crops. Over the years, ver, vetch, rye, oats and peas. Seeds forthe Nordells reduced the fallow period to these are available locally and are reason-six weeks or less as the weed population ably priced. The residue is chopped into thehas diminished. top 1 or 2 inches of soil with a rotovator.The Nordells offer a video of a slide presen- DeWilde and Halley have experimentedtation made at the 1996 Pennsylvania Asso- with many ingredients for making compostciation for Sustainable Agriculture Confer- and have been pleased with dairy manureence that explains their controlled rotational and cornstalks, which are readily avail-cover cropping in the bio-extensive market able and have a good carbon-to-nitrogengarden system. The Nordells also collected ratio. The compost is made in windrows,copies of the articles they’ve written about turned with an old wildcat turner pulledrotation, cultivation, growing onions, using by an International tractor equipped with apigs to turn compost, designing a barn for hydrostatic drive so that it can move slowly.animals and for compost production and Finished compost is spread on fields at amore. The Nordells also have a new weed rate of 10 to 15 tons per ATTRA Page 11
  12. 12. One strategy for insect pest management After Thompson started working on the on Harmony Valley Farm is to provide per- 140-acre farm, he quickly learned that sell- manent habitat for natural predators and ing to canneries failed to cover production parasites. Refuge strips in the fields are expenses. The family opened their farm to made up of plants that attract and harbor the local suburban community. Thompson beneficial insects and birds. A number of started offering pick-your-own berries and these plants can also be cut and sold as selling the fruit at a stand he built at the flowers or woody ornamentals. farm. Strawberry sales were so strong that Thompson decided to plant new varieties to Richard says his goal is “to develop an extend the season. organic farming curriculum, complete with slides. My time and focus could be The Thompsons soon attracted a loyal put into a Harmony Valley Farm operating following, primarily from Portland, which is manual. It would deal with communica- 20 miles away. The family started selling tion, employee training and recordkeeping. at area farmers’ markets, too. The family Who knows? Maybe I would retire and do and 23 employees raise 43 crops and sell training seminars.” them at six markets and two farm standsT hompson and through on-farm activities. For Thomp- Halley adds, “We really do have clear fam- son, profitability means that each year he makes sure ily goals: to continue to learn new ways to earns more money than he spends. “I reach he earns a do things on the farm and communicate that level consistently,” he said.profit. He calculates those things.”the cost of planting, Thompson makes sure he earns a profit. He Thompson Farms, calculates the cost of planting, raising andraising and harvest- harvesting each crop, and then charges hising each crop, Larry Thompson, Boring, Ore. customers double that. His most profitableand then charges Oregon farmer Larry Thompson has a crop is strawberries. Retaining different mar-his customers long history of using innovative, sustain- keting channels gives Thompson a chancedouble that. able practices to grow his array of berries to cross-promote. and vegetables. He also works closely with the fast-growing community of Damascus Thompson is a dedicated advocate of to develop policies that help farmers hold crop rotations and planting a succession onto their operations as urban boundaries of flowering species to control pests with- grow around them. Thompson Farms has out pesticides. He relies on cover crops 140 acres in strawberries, raspberries, to control weeds and provide habitat caulif lower, broccoli and other crops. for benefi cial insects. Thompson allows Produce is sold at farmers’ markets and native grasses and dandelions to grow between his berry rows. The dandelion farm stands; one in a new location just blossoms attract bees, which are efficient outside a hospital where patients, nurses berry pollinators. The mixed vegetation and staff benefit from his healthy fruits provides an alluring habitat that, along and vegetables. with flowering fruit and vegetable plants, Thompson’s parents, Victor and Betty, draws insects that prey on pests. Late in began raising raspberries, strawberries the year, Thompson doesn’t mow broc- and broccoli in the rolling hills southeast of coli stubble. Instead, he lets side shoots Portland in 1947. Thompson’s parents sold bloom, creating a long-term nectar source their produce to local processors, where for bees into early winter. Thompson agents for canneries always set the purchase Farms sits on erodible soils and runoff price. In 1983, Thompson took over oper- used to be a major problem. But thanks to ating the farm and sought more profitable the cover crops and other soil cover, now places to sell his produce. virtually no soil leaves the farm.Page 12 ATTRA Market Gardening: A Start Up Guide
  13. 13. Thompson won the Sustainable Agriculture off his holistic pest management strategiesResearch and Education’s 2008 Patrick and bounty of colorful crops. As a result,Madden Award for Sustainable Agriculture. the farm attracts people by the busload forMany call him a pro at relationship market- educational seasonal, or forming bonds with customers who “Instead of seeing my farm as a secludedsee a value in local produce raised with few hideaway, I am getting the communitychemicals. Thompson regularly offers tours involved, bringing them to see our prin-to students, other farmers, researchers and ciples in action,” Thompson said (USDAvisiting international delegations to show CSREES, 2008).References Further resourcesCuellar, Sandra. 2001. Assuring produce safety: A Bookskey industry marketing strategy. Small Fruit News of Corum, Vance et al. 2001. The New Farmer’s Market:Central New York. Cornell Cooperative Extension of Farm-Fresh Ideas for Producers, Managers andOswego County. November. p. 3-5. Communities. New World Publishing. 272 p.Hardesty, Shermain. 2008. Case study compares Available for $24.95 plus $3.95 shipping andmarketing costs of farms selling wholesale, CSA, and handling from:farmers market. Small Farm News. p. 4. SAN Publications Hills Building, Room 10Hendrickson, John. 2005. Grower to Grower: University of VermontCreating a Livelihood on a Fresh Market Vegetable Burlington, VT 05405-0082Farm. CIAS, University of Wisconsin-Madison. p. 7. (802) 656-0484U.S. Department of Agriculture Cooperative State sanpubs@uvm.eduResearch, Education and Extension Service Web site. Covers the latest tips and trends from leading sellers,2008. Larry Thompson - Boring, Oregon. Accessed managers and market planners all over the country,April 2009. including the hottest products to grow and sell as focus/sustain_ as how best to display and merchandise your products,ag_if _profiles_thompson.html set prices and run a friendly, profitable business. The second half of the book, written for market managersWashington State Department of Agriculture Web site. and city planners, offers ideas about how to use2006. Insurance and Risk Management. Accessed farmers’ markets as a springboard to foster communityApril 2009. support for sustainable and locally grown foods.Insurance_Risk_Management.aspx#Insurance List of additional ATTRA Page 13
  14. 14. Hamilton, Neil D. 1999. The Legal Guide to Direct Coleman, Eliot. 1998. The Winter Harvest Manual.Farm Marketing. Drake University. 235 p. To request 63 p. Available for $15, including postage, from:a copy, contact: Four Seasons FarmKarla Westberg 609 Weir Cove Road(515) 271-2947 Harborside, ME A supplement to The New Organic Grower, this man- Covers questions about liability, insurance coverage, ual records recent experience in planning, carrying out labor laws, advertising claims, zoning, pesticide drift, and fine tuning a fresh vegetable production and inspections and food safely issues. marketing operation on the back side of the calendar.Green, Diane. 2005. Selling Produce to Restau- Grubinger, Vernon. 1999. Sustainable Vegetable Produc-rants: A Marketing Guide for Small Growers. 95 p. tion from Start-Up to Market. NRAES-104. 270 p. able for $38 plus $6 for shipping and handling NRAES, Cooperative ExtensionAvailable for $12.95 plus $3.95 152 Riley-Robb Hallshipping from: Ithaca, NY 14853-5701Greentree Naturals (607) 255-76542003 Rapid Lightning Road (607) 254-8770 FAX nraes@cornell.eduSandpoint, ID 83864 263-8957 The author is a certified organic grower in Idaho who Jeavons, John. 2002. How to Grow More Vegetables, markets through restaurants, CSA subscriptions and a 6th ed. Ten Speed Press. 276 p. farmers’ market. Magdoff, Fred and H. van Es. 2000. Building SoilsDiGiacomo, Gigi, Robert King, and Dale Nordquist. for Better Crops 2nd ed. Available for $19.95 plus2003. Building a Sustainable Business: A Guide to $3.95 shipping and handling from:Developing a Business Plan for Farms and Rural SAN PublicationsBusinesses. Minnesota Institute for Sustainable PO Box 753Agriculture. 280 p. Printed copies are available for Waldorf, MD 20604-0753$14 plus $3.95 shipping and handling from: (301) 374-9696SAN Publications www.sare.orgHills Building, Room 10 You can also download a free copy at of Vermont publications/bsbc/bsbc.pdf.Burlington, VT 05405-0082(802) 656-0484 Valerie Berton, editor. 2005. The New Farmer. 200 p. Available for $16.95 plus $5.95You can also download the publication from www.sare. shipping and handling from:org/publications/business/business.pdf. Sustainable Agriculture Network 10300 Baltimore Ave., Bldg. 046Byczynski, Lynn. 2006. Market Farming Success. Beltsville, MD 20705-2350Fairplain Publications, Lawrence, KS. 138 p. (301) 504-5236Available from: (301) 504-5207 FAXGrowing for Market san_assoc@sare.orgPO Box 3747 You can also download a free copy at www.nrcs.usda.Lawrence, KS 66046 gov/NEWS/thisweek/2005/062205/ Bulletins or reportsColeman, Eliot. 1995. The New Organic Growers: Azuma, Andrea Misako and Andrew Fisher. 2001.A Master’s Manual of Tools and Techniques for the Healthy Farms, Healthy Kids. CFS Coalition. 64 p.Home and Market Gardener, 2nd ed. Chelsea Green Available for $12 plus $4 shipping and handling from:Publishing Company. 340 p. Community Food Security CoalitionPage 14 ATTRA Market Gardening: A Start Up Guide
  15. 15. PO Box 209 Small Farm NewsVenice, CA 90294 Now available online or from:(310) 822-5410 Small Farm University of One Shields Ave. This report documents the barriers and opportunities Davis, CA 95616-8699 for school food services to purchase food directly from (530) 752-8136 local farmers. Case studies and policy recommenda- tions are included. www.sfc.ucdavis.eduKlotz, Jennifer-Claire. 2002. How to Direct Market The 12-page Small Farm News is published four timesFarm Products on the Internet. USDA Agricultural per year. It features farmer and farm advisor pro-Marketing Service. 50 p. For a copy, contact: files, research articles, farm-related print and webUSDA Agricultural Marketing Service site resources, news items, and a calendar of state,Transportation and Marketing Programs national, and international events. The newsletter is free. However, contributions to help defray expenses areMarketing Services Division encouraged. Many past newsletters contained articles1400 Independence Ave., S.W. on marketing produce and crafts.Room 2646-SouthWashington, DC 20250 Other SFC publications of possible interest include(202) 690-0031 Small Farm Handbook, a guide for people in operating a successful small farm; Production Practices and Sample Costs, Chili Pepper, Eggplant,Newenhouse, Astrid et al. 1998–2001. Work Lettuce, and Okra. These and more are available forEfficiency Tip Sheets. University of Wisconsin. free online or $4 each for printed version.Available from:Healthy Farmers, Healthy Profits Project The PackerBiological Systems Engineering, Target audience is primarily large-scale produceUW-Madison growers and wholesalers.460 Henry Mall Subscription rates are $79 per year. The Packer isMadison, WI 53706 available online in both English and Spanish from: Vance Publishing Corp. A series of tip sheets on labor efficiency for vegetable PO Box 1415and berry growers. 400 Knightsbridge Pkwy. Lincolnshire, IL 60069Periodicals (847) 634-2600 www.thepacker.comGrowing for MarketSubscriptions are available from: American Vegetable GrowerPO Box 3747 Available from:Lawrence, KS 66046 Meister Media1-800-307-8949 37733 Euclid Willoughby, OH 44094-5992 Growing for Market is published 10 times per year. 1-800-572-7740 It covers growing and direct marketing vegetables, fruits, herbs, cut flowers and plants, farmers markets, Community Supported Agriculture, the local food Monthly publication featuring production and movement, organic growing, cut flowers, and much marketing information. Annual Sourcebook provides more. Print subscriptions are $33 per year, or information on state vegetable grower organizations. 2 years for $60. It is also available electronically. Also information about equipment and supplies. ATTRA Page 15
  16. 16. or online. Free to qualified growers and consultants. strengthen alliances and celebrate the achievements of Meister also publishes American Fruit Grower. Southern sustainable farmers. Southern SAWG’s video series titled Natural FarmingAgencies, associations and organizations Systems in the South provides an easy, economical way to take a virtual tour of some highly successfulNorth American Direct Marketing Association farming operations in the region. Organic vegetables62 White Loaf Road and cut flowers are among the enterprises covered.Southhampton, MA 010731-888-884-9270 Center for Integrated Agricultural 1535 Observatory UW-Madison NAFDMA is a 501(c)6 trade association whose mem- Madison, WI 53706 bers include farmers, farmers’ market managers, exten- Contact: sion agents, industry suppliers, government officials John Hendrickson and others involved with agritourism, on-farm retail, (608) 265-3704 farmers’ markets, pick-your-own, consumer-supported agriculture and direct delivery. The organization hosts an annual conference and trade show. Wisconsin School for Beginning Market Growers is an intensive three-day course held in January or February.Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers The course demonstrates what it takes to set up andMPO Box 268 run a successful market garden or small farm, includ-17 ½ College St. ing capital, management, labor and other resources.Oberlin, OH 44074 Topics include soil fertility, crop production, plant(440) 774-2887 health and pest management, cover crops, needs and labor considerations at different scales operation and marketing and economics. The course is taught primarily by three growers whose farms vary in Formed in 1988, the essential goal of ASCFG is to scale, cropping mix, marketing strategies and growing help growers of specialty cut flowers produce a bet- methods. It includes presentations and hands-on labs by ter crop. The ASCFG hosts an annual conference and University of Wisconsin faculty and other specialists. trade show, regional workshops, coordinates new vari- ety trials and publishes the Cut Flower Quarterly. Its Michael Fields Institute members share information based on their field and W2493 County Rd ES marketing experience through a Bulletin Board. PO Box 990 East Troy, WI 53120Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (262) 642-3303(Southern SAWG) http://michaelfieldsaginst.orgPO Box 1552 Michael Fields Agricultural Institute offers courses ofFayetteville, AR 72702 benefit to people who want to become farmers and those(479) 251-8310 who have been farming for many years. They are creating opportunities for consumers to enter into life through cooking, gardening and farm tours. These This association of organizations and individuals include interactive workshops and on-site field trainings. from 13 Southern states holds the Practical Tools and Solutions for Sustaining Family Farms Conference, an Videos and CDs annual January event that provides a forum to learn about sustainable farming techniques and marketing From Vern Grubinger, strategies, community food systems and federal farm University of Vermont Extension policies and programs that promote sustainable agri- Farmers and Their Diversified Horticultural culture. This event also provides producers, researchers, Marketing Strategies information providers, concerned consumers and Farmers and Their Innovative Cover Cropping Techniques community organizers the opportunity to build networks, Vegetable Farmers and Their Weed-Control MachinesPage 16 ATTRA Market Gardening: A Start Up Guide
  17. 17. Farmers and Their Ecological Sweet Corn Beech Grove FarmProduction Practices 3410 Route 184High Tunnels (DVD only) Trout Run, PA 17771Farmers and Their Sustainable Tillage Practices A 52-minute video of a slide presentation by the(DVD only) Nordells at the PASA conference.Available as DVDs at $15 each or VHS at $5 each, Kaplan, Dan. No date. Crop Planning and Recordincluding shipping, from: Keeping with MS Excel.Center for Sustainable Agriculture Brookfield FarmUniversity of Vermont PO Box 227106 High Point Center, Suite 300 Amherst, MA 01002Colchester, VT 05446 (413) 253-7991(802) 656-5459 Disks with the spreadsheet templates can be obtained These videos were produced by Vern Grubinger, by sending a check for $25 made out to Brookfield University of Vermont Extension, and feature vegetable Farm with your name, address, phone number and growers in the Northeast. what version of Excel you will be using. The file willFrom Southern Sustainable Agriculture be sent as an e-mail attachment or can be sent on diskWorking Group via regular mail.Order SAWG videos from: Rosenzweig, Marcie. No date. Market Farm Forms:Southern SAWG Spreadsheet Templates for Planning and OrganizationPO Box 1552 Information on Diversified Farms. Available from:Fayetteville, AR 72702 Back40Books(479) 251-8310 Mail Order Nature’s Pace Hartshorn, MO 65479Hitt, Alex. 2007. Organic Vegetable Production & 1-866-596-9982Marketing in the South with Alex Hitt of Peregrine www.back40books.comFarm. A 95-page book and a disk containing Excel spread- This Windows-only CD-ROM resource grew out of sheet templates available in PC or Macintosh formats. presentations made by Hitt at Southern SAWG conferences. The presentations follow Alex and Betsy Internet Hitt’s system from the start to marketing, including soil building, planning, crop rotation, pest management, Market Farming list serve recordkeeping and more. Available for $15 plus $7.50 shipping. Horticulture & Marketing: A discussion group that covers tools and equipment,Maple Springs Garden markets, production practices, labor, and more.Organic Horticulture & Marketing: Au Naturel FarmCut Flower Production and Marketing: Dripping Business plansSprings Garden Developing a Business Plan. 2004. Agriculture Alterna- The Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group’s tives. Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences Agri- video series titled Natural Farming Systems in the South cultural Research and Cooperative Extension. presents virtual tours of many types of farming operations in the region, including the three listed above. Available DevelopBusPlanPM7.pdf as DVDs or VHS for $15 each plus $7.50 shipping. Building a Plan for Your Farm: Important First Steps.Nordell, Anne and Eric. 1996. 2003. Jones, Rodney. Presented at the 2003 Risk andAvailable for $10 by writing to: Profit Summer Conference. and Eric Nordell mgt/planning/Building_a_Plan_ ATTRA Page 17
  18. 18. NotesPage 18 ATTRA Market Gardening: A Start Up Guide
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  20. 20. Market Gardening: A Start Up Guide By Janet Bachmann NCAT Agriculture Specialist Updated May 2009 Holly Michels, Editor Amy Smith, Production This publication is available on the Web at: or IP195 Slot 201 Version 062409Page 20 ATTRA