I was a market gardener long before I ever knew it.
I came along it quite by accident, really. It would be several years
after my first experience that I finally realized that I, indeed, had been
a market-gardener all that time.
I worked at a small grocery store in town. Living in that same town,
I had a small garden in the backyard. It didn’t amount to much, that
garden, just a few rows of this and a few of that; just enough for my
small family, with a little leftover to share with others. My plant
of choice at that time was tomato, of which, I had about 16. Those
tomato plants are where it all started for me. One day the store was
short on an order for tomatoes. Luckily, I came to the rescue for
that order. I was paid for my tomatoes of course, thus the
real beginning of my market-gardening career.
I was able to sell the store more tomatoes after that, along with a few
green beans, and an assortment of peppers. I didn’t get rich that
first season, but I did make some money. Because I liked the
idea of selling my homegrown produce for a little cash, I made plans to
expand my growing space for the next season.
In those very early stages of my market garden I had very, very little
growing space but despite that I still made some money. Since there
was no one out there knocking on the store's door to sell their
homegrown produce, this market was completely open and I was fortunate
enough to fall right into an outlet for my produce.
So, depending on your needs, monetarily speaking, of course, the size of
your garden can vary. If you are looking for just a few dollars here
and there, a small garden will suffice, but if you have bigger plans, then
you will need more growing space. I eventually moved from that small
home to a much larger home with more ground in which to garden and for my
needs it has worked out perfectly thus far.
Planning is the key to
being successful and you will want to plan well in advance. Your
first big decision is where you will be selling. Farmer's
markets? Wholesale? Just to friends or family? Other
outlets? Then, do you want to grow several items or stick with
just one or two? Will you have a conventional garden or will you
try to grow organic? Will you start your own seeds or buy
If you plan to grow for the markets, then the first task will be to
contact local officials or a county extension office to find out what
markets are in your area. Most small communities have farmer’s
markets and most times you can find one occurring almost any day of the
week. Depending on travel distance, you can do one or two a week, or
all of them if you have enough produce. But for most backyard
gardeners one or two markets a week will keep them busy enough. It
will be to your advantage however to try and check all the markets out as
some will be more productive than others.
I myself am not a big fan of most farmer’s markets. I like the idea
of the market I just feel that most folks sell their wonderful homegrown
produce too cheap. It’s difficult to sell your green beans for $2.99
a pound, when everyone else is selling for $.99 a pound. If you are
in it to make a little pocket change then that is fine but if you are a
big market gardener then you need to make some profit. So, keep an
eye out and see what type of market you are dealing with, stick with the
ones where you can make some money, because after all, that is what you
I am, however, a big fan of wholesale selling.
After a few years into my venture with market gardening, I began selling
tomatoes to local restaurants and grocery stores. My tomato
plantings went from 16 that first year to well over 100 a few years later.
While you will not get as much money per pound (most times) as you would
at a market, you do have a guaranteed sale. Many times you can latch
into a guaranteed so-many-pounds-per-week deal until you are out for the
season. I had two restaurants, each buying 30 pounds a week, one
season. Just make sure you can produce whatever is needed.
I like to check out the
local stores to get an idea on pricing. Remember that you are
selling FRESH HOMEGROWN PRODUCE so don’t be afraid to charge for it.
It is also pretty easy to get an idea on what the grocery stores
themselves have paid for their product. This information is
especially important if you are going to wholesale some of your produce.
Most grocery stores will work on a 25% to 30% markup. So, if
tomatoes are retailing at $1.99 per pound, it means that the store has
paid roughly $1.39 if they have a 30% markup.
If I was going into market with this information I would sell my tomatoes
for at least that $1.99 a pound. If I wanted to wholesale some of
those tomatoes to that store, I would offer them the tomatoes at around
$1.25 a pound.
How do you choose if you want to market or wholesale? That is
totally up to you. I like the idea of the guaranteed sale as I
mentioned earlier. Such is not always the case with markets (but if
you find a good market, you can nearly always sell out).
If a restaurant wants 60 pounds of tomatoes a week and I am getting $1.25
per pound, I am making $75.00 from them, guaranteed. If I head to a
market with 60 pounds of tomatoes and only sell ten pounds at $1.99 a
pound, I have only made $19.90 for the day. Now I have 50 pounds
that I have to get rid of pretty quickly. If I can sell them all, I
have made a good profit but what if I only sell 25 pounds and the rest go
to the compost heap, my profit then for that 60 pounds is $69.65.
Keep in mind that you can do both. A bit of wholesale to go along
with your markets is a great way to profit. Some gardeners will
wholesale their product after the market. Maybe you have picked 30
pounds of green beans and sixty pounds of tomatoes and your market was
slow for the day. Stop off at the local store and shoot them an
offer to take your remaining produce off your hands.
Never, however, offer your produce at cheaper prices to finish off the day
at the market. You will find out rather quickly that many of your
customers will begin showing up during the end of the market because they
know you will have your produce marked down. Soon enough, your
entire market will consist of those last few minutes as folks wait to get
that special deal and you never will get full price.
Growing space and what you have to work with is your next concern. I
use any available land on my property that receives good sunlight. I
guess my growing space is less then a quarter-acre or so, maybe a bit
more. I know I can get nearly 100 tomato plants, 50 green pepper, 50
assorted peppers, several rows of beans, cucumbers, zucchinis, squash,
peas, onions, melons and cut flowers. Use as much space as you can
and are able to work with.