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Pint-size Plow-horses by Doug Smith

Easy as Pie: The Myth of Simple Living by Sheri Dixon

The Three Sisters Legacy: The Science Behind Companion Planting by Clare Brandt

Look to the Weed by Diana Barker

Gardening by the Moon by Catherine Lugo

American Farmers Today: The Lances by Karyn Sweet

Farmers of Fungi by Dustin Eirdosh


A Backyard Market Garden

by Kevin Wright

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 started plants?

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 are after.

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.


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