Market gardening is a great business. Demand for fresh organic produce is growing by leaps and bounds. Best of all this is a business you can start ‘on the cheap’, beginning with very few resources, or money, or even land of your own! And, you can make money the first year. Follow these 5 steps to start a market garden business on the cheap.
Step 1: Start With The Right Model.
The best way to start market gardening on the cheap is by starting a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) garden. In this model, your customers subscribe to your farm, paying you in advance for produce you will deliver throughout the season. This advance cash flow will help you buy equipment, seed, and supplies to get started.
Step 2: Planning.
The next step to market gardening on the cheap is planning. You need to set some goals for your CSA market garden. You do this by answering a couple basic questions;
1. How much money can I make (or do I need to make) from my garden?
2. How many customers do I need?
Answering these questions will give you the goals or targets for your market garden. For example, if you decide you need to make $10,000 from your garden, and you think each customer will pay you $500 for a season’s worth of vegetables, you will need to find 20 customers to hit your sales target.
Step 3: Marketing
Now you have to find those 20 customers. Start with your ‘warm market’ i.e. with people you already know. Talk to your friends, co-workers, team members, church members, hockey team, everybody you come into contact with on a regular basis; this is your warm market.
Tell them you are going to be growing great organic vegetables and if they hurry they can get on the list to get some!
If you still need more customers after mining your warm market, mail-out flyers sent to the local community work well. Flyers give you lots of room to communicate your marketing message, you can target a particular neighbourhood or area for distribution, and flyers were relatively cheap. You can use some of the advance payments from your warm market customers to pay for the flyers.
Step 4: Management
Now you need to put the resources in place to actually grow those great veggies for your hungry customers. You will need to plan your garden. You need to figure out what crops you are growing (hint: ask your customers what they want), how much of each crop you need, when to plant your garden, and how much space you will need. You will also need equipment, supplies and land.
Here’s a few tips to get the stuff you need for your market garden on the cheap.
– Don’t buy what you can borrow or barter.
– Work your network before you open your wallet. Try to barter veggies from your garden for things you need.
– Rent, don’t buy, big equipment like tractors or rototillers
– Go to farm auctions to find hand tools, wheelbarrows, small equipment
You can even barter for the use of some land from a neighboring farmer if you don’t have any of your own
Step 5: Production
Production is the day to day care of your market garden. This includes seed starting, transplanting and the market gardener’s WWF: Weeding, Watering and Feeding. You always need to be on the lookout for ways to reduce the time, effort and cost of production in your market garden. Sometimes an investment in the right tool can save you time and money in the long run.
For example, we now hire a neighboring farmer with a tractor and bed shaper to make our raised garden beds. This turns out to be less than half the cost of doing it with my little tiller and my farm helpers.
Market gardening on the cheap is a great way to start a part-time business on your small property. You can start market gardening even while keeping your current job. If you are successful you can grow it into a full-time business. Get growing!