I recently spoke at the Virginia Biological Farming Conference about transitioning from being a home gardener to growing and selling produce at the markets. That talk was so well received that I thought I would pass on some of the information here.
The first thing I stressed was to feed the soil and build the ecosystem. We can’t have healthy people and healthy communities if they are being fed less than nutritious food. In order for food to be nutrient dense, the soil needs to be as healthy as possible. I advise to put your space, time, and energy into growing cover crops to feed the soil and make your compost, rather than bringing those materials in from somewhere else.
As you are working on getting your soil into shape with cover crops, you will also be building the ecosystem and attracting beneficial insects with those crops. Learn what other crops you can grow to enhance the system. Not everything will be a market crop, bringing in money. What these additional crops will bring in is balance.
Saving your own seed will help to bring in beneficial insects with their flowers. Yes, it often takes more space to grow plants out to save seed from, and space in a market garden is at a premium, but you will benefit in the long run. Feeding the soil, building the ecosystem, and saving seeds are all things you can practice in your home garden and will be the foundation of your future market garden. As for making money with your crops, there are some tips about that at Homeplace Earth.
Another thing I stressed at the conference was to have a washing station in your garden so you are not washing all your produce in your kitchen. That can be disruptive to your family. Also, unless what you pick that day is sold the same day, a packing shed is necessary to keep the mess off your porch. The packing area could be part of the outdoor washing station.
I sold vegetables for ten years and my market garden provided employment for whichever of our children was a young teenager—actually the youngest two were ages 11 and 10 when they started. As they became the age to get a “real job”, the next became my employee. How else would you find yourself side-by-side with your young son or daughter talking about everything under the sun for an hour or two at a time while you washed lettuce or picked beans? After ten years it was time to devote my attention to teaching and give up selling produce. I was out of homegrown employees anyway and it would not have been the same.
I wouldn’t trade those years in the garden with my children for anything. No matter how much money you make, there are other things that come out of endeavors like this that money can’t buy.
Cindy Conner is the author of Seed Libraries and Grow a Sustainable Diet and has produced DVDs about garden planning and managing cover crops with hand tools. Learn more about what she is up to at Homeplace Earth.
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