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In the late 1980s to mid 1990s, the era in which Growing for Market was born, there simply didn’t exist a quick way for small farmers across the U.S. to share ideas, experiences, and knowledge.
Remarkably, despite the lack of communication platforms, market farming as we know it today arose almost simultaneously in every part of the United States. It was as though this great idea was just waiting to burst forth, creating not just new farmers, but also farmers markets, CSAs, trade groups, sustainable agriculture organizations, and the farm-to-table movement. That’s why so many organizations, GFM included, are celebrating 30th anniversaries.
In the March issue of GFM, I talked about a spacing change in my tomato hoophouse, which allowed me to plant 60 percent more plants than the previous year. Yet I was able to increase yield by 100 percent over the previous year. Now, I’m going to report on the improvements that led to the other 40 percent of my yield increase. Many of the principles can be applied to the field as well as the hoophouse, and crops besides tomatoes.
The first few years of any farm are chaotic. They’re filled with high-energy experimentation. Farmers are learning their land, trying out different tools and production methods, and planting everything under the sun to see what grows well and what sells. Tractors are bought, greenhouses and coolers are built, workdays are long, vacations short. At some point, the chaos needs to settle down if new farms and their farmers are going to survive.
If you've grown or thought about growing pumpkins, winter squashes, and gourds, you have likely noticed the large number of varieties that are available. Johnny's offers a diverse selection of cucurbits, some strictly ornamental, some strictly edible, and many that serve both purposes -- in all, more than 60 varieties. With so many to select from, you may be wondering how best to make your choice.
Here are some facts about lettuce that may surprise you: It is the most valuable vegetable crop in the United States, with sales of $2.2 billion in 2010. (Fresh tomatoes were a distant second at $1.4 billion.) Lettuce alone accounts for 19% of all fresh vegetable sales in the U.S. Iceberg lettuce is still the dominant type, accounting for 53% of total lettuce value, but its popularity has been dropping, while head and romaine lettuces have been increasing steadily and salad mixes have been skyrocketing in popularity.
Across most of North America, December is down time for market farmers. Days will keep getting shorter until the winter solstice on Dec. 21 and, in most places, it’s too cold for much of anything to grow. Greenhouse growers, though, are gearing up this month. It’s time to start tomato, lettuce, and pepper seeds for transplanting into a heated greenhouse, followed shortly after by transplant production for the unheated greenhouse. If working in the greenhouse sounds like therapy for the mid-winter blues — not to mention a way to make some cash earlier next year — then read on to learn more about how greenhouse growing might fit into your business plan.
As farmers markets extend their seasons and the demand for local food goes year-round, many growers are creating value-added products to take advantage of the new marketing opportunities. The term “value-added products” encompasses a wide array of farm products, from specialty foods to non-food items such as straw bales and wreaths. In this issue of the JSS Advantage, we’ll focus on creating value-added food products as a way of diversifying your farm’s offerings, extending your selling season, and improving your bottom line. First, identify potential products. They should be food items that you know and love, because your enthusiasm will be crucial to your marketing success in the future.
When it comes to the mechanical end of farming, growers fall into two categories. In the first are people who grew up with farm equipment or have spent a lot of time around it, and are thoroughly comfortable using it. In the second category are the people who don’t know as much as they need to about buying, using and maintaining tools and machinery.
Winter growing is one of the biggest trends in market farming. Farmers markets are staying open longer, many are going year-round, and winter CSA shares are growing in popularity. Even supermarkets are learning that “locally grown” programs aren’t limited to summer months.
The popularity of pelleted seeds continues to grow among market farmers and serious gardeners. Pelleting is a process in which small or irregularly shaped seeds are coated with an inert material to make them round and uniform. The benefits of pelleting are numerous:
Expand your market by growing a wide selection of peppers. Hot and sweet peppers are used in cuisines around the world so the more types of peppers you offer customers, the more likely you are to find buyers. Think of all the cuisines that use peppers: Mexican, Southwestern, Cajun, Indian, Thai, Italian, Ethiopian...the list goes on and on.
The first year I grew flowers, my cutting garden was a jungle of flowers and waist-high weeds. While I loved the process of selecting varieties, planting, tending and picking, I hadn’t anticipate just how much energy would be used battling weeds to ensure a healthy and abundant harvest. The following spring, determined to have a more successful experience, I borrowed a thousand bucks from my Mom and ordered enough landscape fabric to cover my barely half-acre plot.
Fava beans (known as broad beans in the UK), are easy to grow and have an unusual earthy, nutty flavor. Botanically, they are a kind of vetch. Like all legumes, they can fix nitrogen in nodules on their roots, leaving a fertilizer boost in the soil for the next crop. Their flowers are surprisingly fragrant and are very attractive to pollinators and other beneficial insects. They are usually eaten fresh and shelled, but they can also be dried, then cooked. In the UK, there has been some research into making foods like hummus, falafel, or tempeh from locally grown fava beans, to reduce dependence on imported garbanzos or soybeans. There are also small-seeded varieties which are mostly grown for cover crops or livestock feed.
Customer satisfaction is always important for Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farms. Part of what makes the CSA such a desirable marketing model is the stable customer base that ideally sticks with the farm year after year. Happy CSA customers are more likely to return and share positive words with their friends, who may become new customers.