Gardening for Profit

Selling what you sow: An experienced hand at gardening for profit offers his perspective on growing and marketing produce.

| February/March 1999

gardening for profit

Tim and Jill Stark, owners of Eckerton Hill farms in Hamburg, PA, welling their colored and flavored peppers. They have been gardening for profit since 1995. The business cleared $25,000 last year. "We could have made our money just selling to restaurants," says Tim, "but getting a price worth our time was too tough. If you have a great product and you know it, you should be bold and charge what you think you're worth...and don't be afraid to start small."


The demand for organic food keeps growing. That it exceeds the supply is certainly good news for anyone interested in organic farming or gardening for profit. It is interesting that people who ask me about starting a business of growing vegetables for market are most interested in marketing. I tell them marketing is the easiest part of the process. Planning, preparing the soil, planting, controlling weeds, and harvesting are the tricky parts. Grow it and they will buy.

That is an overstatement, of course, and someone who takes it literally could get themselves in a lot of trouble pretty fast. I'm reminded of the person who called me several years ago to ask where one could sell an acre of zucchini that was ready to harvest.

Where do you sell a perishable crop that doesn't have a good frozen or canned market? You can't take it to a processing plant. An unconscionable broker might he interested — one who didn't have contracts with other farmers for all that could be moved and didn't care about depressing the price for other farmers he or she dealt with. If you are gong to raise a perishable crop, you better have a pretty good idea who is going to buy it before you plant the seeds. You also ought to double-check the market as you get closer to harvest. Let your buyers know that the crop will he ready soon, which gives them the opportunity, if they are like the unscrupulous broker, to give you a little warning that things may have changed since you first talked.

Hard Lessons and First Steps

Establish your market before you buy the seed. You may find that there is no market for what you think you want to grow.

My neighbor, Bob, has been delivering manure and animal bedding to the side of my garden this past year (lucky me!). I wanted to repay him in kind. Well, not exactly in kind, but rather with the results of his gift to me. In discussion with him, however, I found that his family doesn't eat much of what I grow. They have a small garden of their own, which gives them the few vegetables they eat.

What if I decide to market through a farm stand, only to learn the hard way that none of the people who drive by my door are into vegetables or that they themselves all have vegetable gardens? A good marketing plan must begin with some market research.

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