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Archive for the ‘market gardening’ Category

cindy in cotton vest - BLOGI have come to the conclusion that the English language is deficient in vocabulary to adequately describe the value of our homegrown/homemade products. Each week my local farmers market devotes a booth space to a nonprofit organization for educational purposes. Recently that space went to Clothos Handspinners, of which I am a member. For my part, I set up a display to demonstrate how flax straw becomes linen thread, spun cotton on a spindle, wore my homegrown, handspun vest, and had my homegrown, handspun shirt on display. From conversations there, it was apparent that people wanted to put a value on my shirt and vest and the only way they knew how to do that was to put a price on them.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEven though I made it clear that they weren’t for sale, I was repeatedly asked how much money I would take for my vest and shirt if they were for sale. This has happened to me before. These garments are priceless. I will not put a price tag on the cotton I grow and the labor of love involved in bringing these garments to life. Granted, when I grew for the markets I had to put a money value on my vegetables and eggs.  I don’t do that now for the food I grow and for anything else I make for my family’s consumption and use and that which I give to friends. It is a relaxing way to be. Market growers need to grow high value crops to make ends meet. However, there are many other great things to grow and to make that wouldn’t bring enough money if you were to sell them, but would greatly enhance your well being.

Unfortunately, putting a monetary value on things is how our society of consumers operates. There should be words to describe an item that includes more than the materials, labor, and overhead that are involved, which is what is usually considered when setting a price. How about the love that is extended in the growing and making? I truly believe that there is a special positive energy in something grown or produced with love and that the people who are the end users benefit from that energy. Likewise, if something is grown or produced by someone who is not of a loving nature throughout their work, the results would not be so positive.

Cindy's booth at 17th street--BLOG

Cindy’s booth at the 17th St. Farmers Market, Richmond, VA in 2001. Photo display is in the back.

With that in mind, you might want to keep a positive attitude with everything you do. If you are not growing all of your food, take care to get to know the producers of the food you buy. At first glance, the vegetables might look the same, but rather than make your decision on price, dig deeper and make your purchase decisions on attitude. Ask questions, such as; what kind of fertilizers are used, how are the plants protected from insects, and if measures are taken on their farm to build the ecosystem. Those growers who are in tune with their land will be oozing with great information. From their answers, you will identify those you might want to steer clear of. I once asked a grower what he did to keep Colorado potato beetles from his potatoes. He proudly told me about a product from Bayer that knocked them dead. Needless to say, I did not buy potatoes from him. On the other hand, a grower might tell you that she has no problem with potato beetles because she has a diverse ecosystem on her farm that attracts beneficial insects that take care of the bad ones, which is what has happened at my place.

The Inuit language has more than fifty words that describe snow. I wish we had the vocabulary to describe the value when someone puts their heart and soul into what they produce. Here in the United States we have different labels, such as Certified Naturally Grown and USDA Organic, which help to differentiate the growers, but there is more that goes into things than is measured by those terms. How do you adequately quantify and express the love and care involved?

Fifty Plus cover--cindyI sold vegetables and eggs from 1992 through the 2001 season. Although I followed good organic practices, I never bothered to get certified organic because I was selling directly to restaurants and families and I told them how I grew things. When we started the Ashland Farmers Market in 1999 I had a photo display that showed my gardens and compost piles. Besides being an educational tool, it gave people a reason to stop, see what I was doing, and ask questions. In 2001 I also sold at the 17th St. Farmers Market in Richmond, VA. Two of the farms at that market were certified organic. A few weeks after the Richmond market opened for the season the monthly publication, Fifty Plus, came out that included an interview with me. I had turned fifty that year and I was on the cover holding a chicken! In the interview I explained how I did things at my farm, working with nature and making compost. The next week a woman came to my booth to shop and said that in the previous weeks she had only bought from the certified organic growers because she thought they were the only ones who had what she valued. After reading about me in Fifty Plus she realized that I was the one she wanted to buy from.

It is with more than food that we need to look deeper. Everything has energy and we should want to make sure that it is as positive as it can be for the things we bring into our homes and lives. With my work with fiber, I know that not everyone is going to go out and grow their own clothes. My hope is that it will open the thought process of discovering the origins of the clothes that are being worn now. What is the fiber used and what are the environmental consequences involved in bringing it to you? Who made the garments and how are they compensated for their work? The list of questions could go on and on for each thing that comes into your life.

I don’t mean to burden you, but to urge you to look at everything with new eyes and to recognize the all encompassing energy that is involved. How do we express the value of things that are produced with the heart? I believe we can feel it, but have no words at this time to express it.homeplace earth

 

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lettuce washing Cindy--BLOGOnce you have gotten quite good at producing food for your table, it is natural to think of providing for others. You could casually share with your neighbors and the local food bank, but many want to take it further and exchange their extra veggies for cash. If that is where your thoughts have been leading you, I would like to offer some things for you to carefully consider before becoming a market gardener. There is a big difference between doing what you love when you have the time and turning doing what you love into a business. During my time as a market grower I grew and sold a lot of lettuce. This photo shows me washing it for a restaurant delivery.

On January 29 I gave the presentation Scaling Up from Homestead to Market Garden at the Virginia Biological Farming Conference. It was well received and people who heard me speak approached me that evening and the next day to thank me for the presentation. Those who had already been selling said that my points hit home. I became an organic gardener so that I would have a healthy family. In order to also have a healthy community I became a market gardener in 1992 and sold to area restaurants. The farmers market network was not yet established at that time. In 1997-98 I had a small CSA in addition to the restaurant sales and in 1999 I was a founding farmer at our local farmers market. I left selling produce and eggs for others after the 2001 season to concentrate on teaching and researching so that I could put more knowledgeable consumers and producers at the markets.

Selling to others on a regular basis highlights the need for good record keeping. You need to plan for how much to grow and to plan for how much money it will bring to your business. No matter how good you are at growing some crops, such as broccoli and cabbage, the income from the same amount of other crops, such as specialty lettuce mixes, will exceed it every time. If you have already been a home gardener and have kept some records of your yields you will be able to anticipate how much you can produce from the space you have. Keep in mind, however, that if you have to break new ground for this endeavor, it may not be as productive as the garden you have been building the soil in for years. Some crops might surprise you. Onions turned out to be a good crop, as well as potatoes, winter squash and garlic—all crops that are not as labor intensive as lettuce.

You need to know what your crops will sell for before you even grow them. Notice what they are being sold for in area grocery stores and farmers markets. Start now and make a chart of the stores and markets in your area with a list of vegetables you might want to sell. Record the prices for them each week throughout the year, noting if they are sold by the piece, pound, bunch, etc. If by the piece, how many pieces make a pound? If by the bunch, how many items make a bunch and how heavy is it? Also record the origin of each crop. This list will be invaluable to you as you move forward with your plans.

Cindy's booth at 17th street--BLOG

Potatoes in wooden boxes were sold by the pound. Small potatoes in pasteboard containers were sold by container.

Although prices might fluctuate in the greater marketplace, I decided on a price that was fair for both myself and for my customers for each crop and kept it the same throughout the season. That said, there are a number of things you could do to vary the price. If you have an abundance of something, you could offer a larger quantity of seconds at a cheaper price per pound. I sorted my potatoes and displayed the smaller ones in pint and quart containers at a higher price per pound than the larger potatoes that were sold by the pound. The price displayed for the containers was by the container size, not by the pound. Nevertheless, the prices remained the same for the abundant seconds (cucumbers), the pints and quarts of potatoes, and everything else for the duration of that season.

Know your produce. People often comment on how much more expensive the colored peppers are in the grocery store compared to the green ones. Well, you need to leave the green peppers on the plant for a few additional weeks to ripen to red, yellow, or orange and anything can happen during that time. I priced my colored peppers at twice as much per pound as the green ones and had no complaints. Besides the prices, you need to know the nutritional value of everything you have and what to do with it in the kitchen. The more information you can pass on to the buyers, the more sales you will make.

I sold a limited variety of produce to the restaurants; primarily leaf and romaine lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, and onions and the chefs did not need me to suggest what to do with it. For the farmers market I needed a larger variety of things for my booth and my customers welcomed my suggestions. The greater population has gotten away from cooking from scratch at home and need some instruction as they move back to that. If you package all the ingredients for salsa, for example, plus the recipe, many are more likely to try it. Packaging all the colors of the peppers you have together will entice your customers to buy the package, rather than just the one or two peppers that they had in mind.

Your passion and enthusiasm will go a long way to making sales, but keep in mind that you need to tend to your family first—and to your soil. If you feel you can grow more than you alrFeed the soileady do, maybe it is time to expand what you are growing for your own table, rather than grow for others. How much of your staple crops, such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, garlic, and grains do you grow? Are you growing enough cover crops to feed back the soil and provide all your own compost?

The first DVD I produced was Cover Crops and Compost Crops IN Your Garden and I was excited that I could show people how to manage cover crops in their gardens with hand tools. I knew it would be a tremendous help to small scale market gardeners—those gardeners moving from growing for their family to growing for others. The garden plan DVD followed which shows how to put together a notebook with your complete plan. I wanted gardeners to have a good foundation to help them plan to feed their families and others. Through my teaching I met folks who were ready to jump into growing for the markets with little experience of getting their hands dirty, let alone an understanding of what is going on in the soil when things grow and in our bodies when we eat the food. By the way, you will get dirty, sweaty, and tired. So tired that you will fall into bed at night thoroughly exhausted, only to get back up early in the morning to do it all again. It is not an occupation for the fainthearted.

I want gardeners to understand all of that before they ramp up to feed others. I expanded on what was in the DVDs when I wrote Grow a Sustainable Diet. It includes an additional worksheet (How Much to Grow), and information on nutrition, food processing and storage, garden washing stations, sheds, fences, and more on garden rotations with cover crops. With that book and the DVDs it is like taking a class from me. No matter how many people you are growing for or how much land you are using, my teaching materials apply. I’ve been talking here about determining how much money you could make, but sometimes the profit in this is not so much about the money you make, but the life you make. You become an integral part of the community around you and you can’t put a dollar value on that.homeplace earth

 

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