9 Steps to Market Gardens
Easy Steps to Profitability
Becoming a market gardener can become a very lucrative career, but you have to know what you are doing and be willing to change the course of what you are doing if the venue or customer base changes. This is small-scale production of food at its best.
Learn why market gardens are important, and then how you can compete successfully with other market gardeners in this growing season business.
- 9 Steps to Market Gardens
- Easy Steps to Profitability
- Why are Market Gardens Important?
- Local Market Garden Production is Important
- Nutritional Benefit of Market Gardens
- Job Creation
- Environmental Benefits of a Market Garden
- 9 Steps to a Successful Market Garden
- Step 1: Conduct Market Research
- Step 2: Choose a Suitable Garden Location
- Step 3: Determine Crops for Your Market Garden
- Step 4: Develop a Business Plan and a Marketing Plan
- Step 5: Establish a Growing System in Your Market Garden
- Step 6: Implement Sustainable Practices
- Step 7: Develop Marketing Strategies
- Step 8: Establish Good Relationships with Customers
- Step 9: Continuously Learn and Improve Your Market Garden Business
- Other Types of Market Gardens
- Looking Ahead
Why are Market Gardens Important?
Market gardens, also known as vegetable farms or truck farms, are important for a number of reasons.
Local Market Garden Production is Important
Recent public awareness of the benefits of locally grown produce has created a huge demand for local food production. Market gardens are typically located in or near urban areas, allowing for fresh and locally-grown produce to be readily available to consumers. However, on farm stands are popular in some areas.
There are benefits beyond good eating. Locally produced food can help reduce the environmental impact of transportation, support local economies, and promote sustainable agriculture practices.
Nutritional Benefit of Market Gardens
Market gardens have a high nutritional benefit for they often specialize in growing a wide variety of vegetables and fruits, many of which are nutrient-dense and contribute to a healthy and balanced diet. These garden products are delivered to the consuming public in a quick manner, thus allowing nutrition to be optimum.
Job creation is another unexpected benefit to a market garden economy. Market gardens can provide employment opportunities for people in the local community, including those with limited job options or experience.
If you have ever been to a local farmer’s market, you see a variety of people and vendors, all interacting. Market gardens can be a source of community pride and engagement, bringing people together around a shared interest in fresh and healthy food.
Environmental Benefits of a Market Garden
Best of all, there are environmental benefits to market gardens. These gardens can be designed and managed using sustainable agriculture practices, such as composting, cover cropping, and crop rotation. All of these techniques can help improve soil health, reduce water usage, and decrease the need for synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.
9 Steps to a Successful Market Garden
Overall, market gardens are important in promoting local food systems, supporting healthy communities, and advancing sustainable agriculture practices.
It doesn’t need to take a few acres to create your own market garden, but the more land you cultivate, the more product you will have to sell. Start with a minimal amount of land, get your processes in place, and cultivate more land as you are able. Don’t take on more than you can do well.
Here are 9 steps to get you started creating your own profitable market garden filled with nutritious food.
Step 1: Conduct Market Research
This is a critical step toward making a profit with your business start-up. Isn’t that your goal? Identify your target market, the types of products they prefer, and what prices they are willing to pay.
You may ask: how do you find your target market, preferred products, and acceptable prices? This will take some work and imagination on your part, but it will be worth it. Think about targets: If you just pour water AT a glass without aiming, very little water goes into the glass. However, if you direct the stream of water INTO the glass, you will fill the glass.
Targeting your audience works the same way. If you just produce a product that you like, but no one else does, you aren’t going to sell it. BUT, if you produce a product that people want at a price they will pay, people will buy that product. That is what you have to do: determine WHO will buy your product, WHAT will they buy, and HOW MUCH will they pay.
Do some market research by watching what people buy at market gardens. Take notes. Devise a list of questions that are important to your targeting. Post a survey on FaceBook or ask focus groups your questions.
Analyze Competitors of your Market Garden
Next, analyze your competitors. This may be vendors at the local farmer’s market or online websites that sell products similar to what you are going to produce. What is working for them? What don’t you like? Where is the hole in the market that you could fill?
Unique Selling Proposition
A little secret of advertising is to figure out what is special or unique about your product (called Unique Selling Proposition) and then hype/sell that aspect. Maybe you are producing honey from bees in a lavender field. Maybe you have a unique, heirloom tomato that no one else is selling. Find something that is desired, yet no one else is selling it. Or, they aren’t selling it well. Sell it better.
You’ve run your surveys so now define your ideal customer. From your research, create a profile of that customer which includes age, gender, location, and income. You can also include psychographic information such as their values, lifestyle, and behavior.
You have already identified your competitors. Now research your market garden competition and identify ways to differentiate yourself from them. What are they doing wrong that you can do right?
Run some market tests and try selling your product to your target market. As you do, collect feedback from those customers and revise your target market as you go.
Continue Analyzing Market
Remember, your target market will evolve over time as your business grows and changes. Continuously gather feedback and adjust your approach to ensure that you are effectively reaching and serving your target customers.
Step 2: Choose a Suitable Garden Location
Find a garden location with good soil quality (or where you can easily amend that soil), ample sunlight, and access to water.
Consider the climate of your region and the growing season for various crops. Keep records about temperatures–both ground and air–and frost dates.
Step 3: Determine Crops for Your Market Garden
You’ve done your research, so choose crops that are high in demand, profitable, and well-suited to your local climate and growing conditions. Specialty or niche crops do exceptionally well and they have a high market value.
The most profitable crops will tend to be tomatoes of all sorts, mesclun mixes, lettuce, garlic, microgreens, green onions, basil, mushrooms (especially the exotics), and flowers, just to name a few. Look at what your customers are looking for and buying. You may need to increase the different types of herbs you carry–or you may need to bring in more tomato varieties.
Consider the heirloom lines, especially tomatoes. Microgreens are inexpensive and quick to produce. Some popular microgreens are beans, broccoli, and pea sprouts, but you have many more choices. Maybe your market is edible flowers? Your customers in your local markets will dictate what you will grow and sell. Be sure to listen to them.
Caring for Your Fresh Produce
Caring for your fresh produce is just common sense. This is the product you sell, and it must be in optimum condition to have anyone want to buy it. This also edges into your customer service, for you are considering your customer’s needs.
Here are a few ideas to increase sales of your product:
- Make sure that everything you bring to market or present to grocery stores or restaurants is absolutely glowing with freshness.
- Wash off all of the dirt or sand.
- Keep the leaves (as long as they are crisp) on carrots, beets, etc. for customers love the look of this.
- If you are at a farmers market or farm stand, display your fruits and vegetables attractively.
Step 4: Develop a Business Plan and a Marketing Plan
Develop a comprehensive business plan in writing. It should be detailed and include your financial projections and production plan. This plan should also include your target profit margins and how you plan to achieve them. Be very detailed in what you plan and how you intend to execute your idea.
Be realistic in projecting what you can accomplish. At the beginning, you should scale down your business idea to what is doable at that point, but allow for growth–in fact, a prediction of that expected growth is a good detail to include.
Revisit your business plan at least every 6 months, and perhaps more as you experience changes and challenges. Keep your expenses to a bare minimum so that you will be able to take some money home.
In addition to a business plan, you will also need to write your marketing plan. Include all of your market research and revise it regularly. Track your efforts and revise your marketing plan regularly.
How are you going to promote your small business of market gardening? Will you advertise? Will you look for free outlets of exposure for your market garden and your farm?
One piece of advice: Do not spend any more than you absolutely must. It is very easy to get sold a bunch of expensive advertising that is not going to get the customer growth that you need. That expensive advertising will take away from your bottom line, cutting your profit severely.
Look for free exposure first, and explore that thoroughly. Once you have growth and income, you can spend a bit more.
Formula for Business Success
According to experts, if you create both a business plan and a marketing plan and follow them, you have a much greater chance of success. Best business practices!
Step 5: Establish a Growing System in Your Market Garden
Determine the appropriate growing system for your crops, such as raised beds, hydroponics, or greenhouse production. Consider the equipment and supplies needed for your chosen growing system.
Simple vs Specialty Equipment
Some systems can be accomplished simply with what you have on hand. Other systems, such as hydroponics, are a bit more complicated and require specialty equipment to make the system work. If you are looking at greenhouseproduction, learn everything you can about the equipment for this system and how to grow plants in a greenhouse. Even a small cold frame can get you started.
Step 6: Implement Sustainable Practices
Adopt sustainable practices to minimize your impact on the environment and reduce costs. This can include using organic fertilizers, composting, and minimizing water use. If you are raising animals, you have a free source of organic fertilizers.
Better yet, you can compost your grass clippings, manure, leaves, and other organic materials to make the best soil amendment available. (This is so good that many farmers compost and then sell their compost product–another source of income with little effort and expense!) Vegetable crops especially benefit from good soil.
Water Usage of Your Market Garden
Use of water has become critical in many parts of the world. Learn to wisely use the water you have available to you. There are a number of water systems that can help you, such as drip lines or rainwater retention.
Step 7: Develop Marketing Strategies
Develop a marketing strategy to attract customers to your market garden. This can include advertising, social media, and participating in a local farmers market or community events.
Search for Free or Inexpensive Advertising
Especially at the beginning, look for areas of free or inexpensive advertising. This could include announcing your farmers market presence on your FaceBook page (you do have a FaceBook page for your market garden, don’t you?) or your website (you do have a website, don’t you?). Some of the farmers markets have their own advertising funnels and it would be good to explore those. However, keep your expenses to a minimum.
Use your imagination in looking for new outlets for your advertising. What are your competitors doing that you could do better? Copy success!
Step 8: Establish Good Relationships with Customers
Build a good relationship with your customers by providing high-quality produce, excellent customer service, and reliable delivery. This can help you to retain customers and attract new ones through word-of-mouth recommendations.
Customer service can make or break any business, so you must answer queries and complaints immediately. Fix problems and they will go away. If you don’t, remember the old adage: if someone likes something, they will tell 6 people; if they don’t like something, they will tell 600. If you are getting negative comments or reviews, IMMEDIATELY respond in a positive manner. Fix the problem. It is cheaper to retain a customer than it is to gain a new customer.
Customers are also willing to pay more for products from a business with good customer service. Keep a good relationship with all of your customers and your business will grow.
Step 9: Continuously Learn and Improve Your Market Garden Business
Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is just another form of brain freeze. Market gardeners need to be open to new ideas and methods if they wish to have a successful market garden. So how do you do this?
Stay up-to-date on industry trends, new technologies, and best practices for market gardening. You can do this for free by following various industry publications or websites such as Successful FarmingorAgUpdate (not my affiliates, just good sources for you).Not everything will apply to what you do, but you will be able to glean some information that will be beneficial to your operation. Skim these publications on a regular basis to keep up with what is happening.
Refine Growing Techniques
Continuously experiment and refine your growing techniques to increase yields and improve quality. What is working and what is not working? Keep good records so that you can correct mistakes without repeating them. You will find written records very valuable as you start planning next year’s market garden.
Other Sources of Information
People often forget that we have multiple government and organizational sources of good market gardening information.
Contact your local state Cooperative Extension with questions. The staff can identify bugs or plant diseases and answer most questions you bring them.
Extension often sponsors classes which can be quite valuable. Years ago, I took a “Living on the Land” course that met every week for 6 months. I will say that it was very difficult–as difficult as any of my college courses–but I learned about every aspect of living on acreage plus made a number of good farming friends. Many of us went on to create a farm business that was profitable. You just need the info to make the money.
Other Types of Market Gardens
Selling in farmers markets, and on farm stands, or on your website are two typical business ventures. Expand out and consider selling direct into the wholesale market. It will take a bit of research to find these markets, then a bit of resolve to approach and sell direct to them, but this could be a very viable and regular outlet for your produce.
Exploring all of the possibilities of your local markets will increase your exposure, and hopefully your sales. Some market gardeners have found a subscription service for their vegetable crops or their fruit will give them a somewhat predictable income during the growing season. Good thing about this is that you have regular customers; the downside is that you may have to deliver these profitable crops to your customers every week or so.
You could join food cooperatives, where in today’s economy you will find more and more customers opting in to reduce their food costs.
By following these steps and becoming one of many market gardeners, you can create a successful and profitable high-income market garden.