Pick Your Markets Just as You Pick Your Friends
Shared From MOTHER EARTH NEWS Written by: Mort Mather
Some people carry too far the idea of growing what is easy. I got a call one July from someone who had planted and brought to harvest an acre of zucchini. Now that they had a product, they were looking for a market. I still shake my head whenever I recall that one. This person thought the whole world was wrong because they had a great product they couldn’t sell. If you want to grow a perishable product in quantity, be sure you have a solid market waiting for it. A contract might be a good idea.
My advice to any gardener who wants to become a market gardener is to plan, plan, plan. The first plan should probably be to lose money the first year. Look upon it as an education year. It will be a lot less expensive than a year of college and possibly more instructive.
Start your plan with what you know. What crops grow well on your soil in your location? Make a list. What do you envision as the market for your produce? How well do you know the market? If you’re thinking of a roadside stand, how much traffic goes by? Is there competition? Do the people going by have gardens of their own that will be producing the same things at the same time as yours?
If you want to sell at a farmer’s market, talk to the people already there. Perhaps they can suggest a special niche for you. Some people have success contracting with their customers in advance.
The customers buy shares in the market garden in advance and come to the farm to pick up their produce weekly during the growing season.
I found my niche in restaurants and natural food stores. In both cases there was no local competition when I started. At that time there were only a handful of certified organic growers in Maine. This year there are 174 and many of them are selling vegetables to restaurants. The competition will be a serious consideration if I decide to restart my market garden, something I’m thinking about. I know some of the other growers and would ask them if there is room for me with any of their suppliers. If not I’ll find another market so I don’t end up competing directly with another local organic grower.
Locally grown produce is clearly in more people’s minds now than it was just a few years ago. The supermarkets in this area have banners in their produce sections proclaiming “STRAIGHT FROM A LOCAL FARMER.” My output was too small for the supermarkets.
However, a friend of mine was selling to a local supermarket several years ago when they told him he could no longer deliver to the market in his area and that he would have to deliver his produce to their distribution center in Massachusetts. Either they have changed their policy or their definition of “local” is pretty broad. The important thing is that the market for locally grown produce has not been better in my lifetime. Organically grown produce is also highly popular now.
When you know what you are going to grow and have an idea what the market is, put your plan down on paper.
To continue reading about Mort Mather’s market gardening success, check out Starting a Market Garden on MOTHER EARTH NEWS.