Every year I operate a seasonal market garden. I sell vegetables, fruit, nuts and value-added products directly to customers. My market garden plan is ever-evolving based on what is most profitable, least labor intensive and most cost effective to produce.
There is no magic formula for market garden profitability. Local tastes and market channels should always be your main consideration. But trial and error has taught me a great deal about turning a profit on a small amount of acreage. Modifying my market garden plan to include more moneymakers and less labor intensive items has made my small farm more efficient and profitable.
At the end of each season I sit down and review sales records to identify my top sellers. I recall which crops took most of my time and effort that season. I assess cost inputs such as seed, specialty fertilizer, plant supports and mulch. After a thorough review I have identified my high and low value crops.
Top 3 high value crops
1. Heirloom tomatoes with their odd shapes, unique colors and distinct flavors catch shoppers’ eyes and tempt their taste buds. Market shoppers don’t mind paying premium for something they can’t buy in stores.
2. Squash and pumpkins are a big hit for fall decorating and baking. Most cucurbits take over 100 days to mature, but they are the least labor intensive crops I grow. Squash and pumpkins are also easy to transport to market and have a long shelf life.
3. Salad greens are inexpensive to produce and sell well at market. Shoppers appreciate organic fresh picked salads. Unfortunately salad greens are very difficult to transport to market, and begin to wilt upon arrival.
A fellow farmer with more production acreage told me “Sweet corn keeps my farm stand afloat.” He said it is his top seller every season. He also said berries are a very profitable perennial crop for his farm. Overripe and unsold berries can also be turned into value-added preserves before they go to waste, but more on adding value later.
Bottom 3 low value crops
1. Potatoes are not a profitable market crop, likely due to the fact shoppers can buy 5 lbs at the grocery store for around $3. I discovered an exception: heirloom fingerling, blue colored potatoes and purple sweet potatoes have eye appeal that sell themselves at market.
2. Turnips do not sell. They also do not keep as well as other root crops: carrots, beets and radishes.
3. Bulb onions are a low value crop. Though not labor intensive to grow, full sized onion bulbs take a long time to mature. Like standard potatoes, traditional bulb onions can be bought very cheap at the grocery store. The exception is scallions, or green onions, which sell very well at market. They mature much faster than bulb onions. Scallions are a cool season crop that can be grown to bring a profit twice a year, in early spring and again in fall.
I don’t cut a crop out of the market garden completely just because it doesn’t make the high value cut. Some crops earn a place in my market garden by other means. Peppers aren’t big moneymakers, but my Sweet n’ Hot Pepper Preserves value-added product is. A little creativity turned my low value gourds into value-added bird houses. I add value to my garlic crop by turning too-small bulbs and bulbs damaged during harvest into garlic salt and minced garlic. Seasonings are very popular market products.
I’ve found adding value through processing is a good way to increase profits and keep my market stand full all season long.
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