Look Ma! I'm a Market Gardener!

Reader Contribution by Cam Mather
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Well we finally did it! We started
selling our organically grown vegetables in our nearby village of
Tamworth. While we’ve been earning a small portion of our income from
selling garlic and corn the last few years, this is the first time we’ve
actually put out all of our produce for people to purchase, and it’s
been kind of scary. What if no one comes? What if people don’t like our
stuff? What if we don’t sell anything?

We had a good feeling
because Tamworth is a great community. There are lots of people who are
into the concept of eating locally and there is a even a group called
“The Grassroots Growers” who are promoting gardening skills so that we
can all become more independent and reduce the carbon footprint of our
diets.

But there’s still that element of risk and uncertainty
there. And with all things that seem to have a great potential downside,
there is also a great potential reward, and that’s been the result of
our efforts so far.

It’s been a fantastic success!

Oh we’re
not getting rich by any means. But each week so far our sales have been
inching up and I sense as more and more stuff in the garden is mature
enough to sell, we can continue this.

I
think there have been 2 main keys to success. First is that people like
to buy produce locally when they can, and they like to buy food that
has been organically grown. We have a great community that is supporting
our modest venture.

Second is Michelle’s exceptional ability to
prepare and package our stuff. I know what you’re thinking; they’re just
vegetables, don’t you just haul them out of the ground and dump them on
a table and people line up to buy them? Well, maybe in a perfect world,
but we’re still dealing with consumers who are accustomed to the
blemish-free, cosmetically-attractive commercially-grown produce in the
grocery stores. While you may argue that something grown with synthetic
fertilizers and pesticides, picked before it’s ripe and shipped
thousands of miles may not be as nutritious as our just-picked,
organically grown produce, we still live in the real world.

Michelle
has been doing a fantastic job of getting the stuff ready. She washes
and bags all of our lettuces and spinach so that it looks very inviting.
Same with the peas and beans. She also insisted that we use coolers.
She puts one or two items on the table and keeps the rest in the coolers
(kept cool with our solar-powered ice cubes) so that things stay cool
and crisp until we sell them. And she made up great labels with the
words “Organically grown” before every vegetable name. It seems
redundant, but I think it’s important to remind people of this. Last
week our Chinese Cabbage had some tiny flea beetle holes in it, but
that’s what happens in my world. Michelle printed the prices so that
they are large and easy to read. It keeps me from having to answer the
“How much is ….” question all day.

Michelle has also been building
a mailing list of all the people we know in town who would be
interested in our stuff, and they’re starting to come out consistently.
She sends it out on Friday with a listing of what we’ll have and it
really seems to be helping.


We’re
also very fortunate to be allowed to set up on the main corner in town
(with the flashing red light, the only quasi-stop light in our amazing
little village) for free. The lot is owned by Hans Honegger and Carolyn
Butts from Bon Eco Design Studio. Hans and Carolyn have a great vision
for this town, part of which includes encouraging as much local commerce
as possible.

The last couple of weeks I’ve been joined by Sean
and Lori Milligan who are also selling corn. I have a limited amount of
corn so I don’t mind the “competition.” I’m finding that having two
vendors selling produce is better then just one vendor and more people
stop to check things out. Hans’ vision is to have the whole lot filled
with local vendors selling their wares, and not just food, to really
make it a destination.

I get a sense that it will take time for
people to get to know we’re there every Saturday morning and make it a
regular stop on their errands. But I think it will happen.

It’s
been interesting to note how many people who have been buying stuff from
us have their own gardens but still need something specific. It’s been a
brutally hot and dry summer here, and gardens that haven’t been watered
consistently are looking pretty tired. I understand the feeling of
planting a garden in the nice cool, wet spring, and losing interest once
the heat hits. But this year I haven’t had a choice. I have been
watering every day, without fail, and the quality of our stuff bears
this out I think. People have been raving about it. And coming back.

I
have earned an income from a pretty diverse number of ways over the
years. I’ve worked in landscaping, loaded trucks, sold radio and
television advertising, sold microcomputers when they came out in 1982,
run my own electronic publishing business, written, published and sold
books and DVDs on sustainability and done workshops on living
sustainably. I have never, ever, felt as good about earning money as I
do when I sell food. The first year that I dragged a wagon full of corn
out of the garden to sell to Desert Lake Gardens CSA was pretty amazing.
I can remember the feeling of pride that I had actually grown something
that people were going to sit down and enjoy at dinner. My corn was
going to nurture their bodies with energy and it had been grown locally
so as to limit the amount of energy needed to transport it. I was also
proud that my corn had used the sun not only for photosynthesis but I
had also used the sun to pump the water that sustained the corn plants
during the long, dry days of their growing season.

I will never
earn enough money growing at this level to even think about putting
money away for my retirement. Heck, I won’t be able to afford a used
motorcycle for my pending mid-life crisis. But I think the buzz I’m
getting from taking a truck full of healthy organic produce into
Tamworth every Saturday morning, and then driving home an empty truck,
is going to compensate me many times over, and on so many different
levels.

So if you’re ever in Tamworth, Ontario on a Saturday
morning, look for us at the four corners flashing red light. I’ll be the
one giving a personal history of every vegetable I sell to anyone
who’ll listen, and beaming from ear to ear.

For more information about Cam Mather or his books please visit www.cammather.com or www.aztext.com