Tag Archives: local farmers market

How to Make Money From Your Backyard Garden

Thankfully gardening is a relatively cheap hobby. In fact it can save you money, hello free produce, flowers, and herbs! Plus there’s no need to pay for a gym membership when you’ve got loads of weeding to do, am I right? That being said it’s absolutely a big commitment of time and effort. If you want your garden to do more for you can learn to market some of your backyard garden products.

This is not a guide to starting a farm and earning a full-time income. That, is way more involved than one post could ever hope to be. However using a couple of these ideas you can earn a little extra cash. Maybe you can use to buy seeds next year or that wheel hoe you’ve always wanted.

Start extra seeds.

If you start your own plants from seed during the spring try starting a few extra to offer for sale to local gardeners. Plant starts are really expensive even at the big box stores and unless you have a big greenhouse in your area it’s often hard to find much variety. If you have the best heirloom tomato starts in town let people know! Talk to friends and neighbors or post a few flyers.

Small co-ops/health food stores.

While your backyard garden may never be big enough to sell wholesale to your local grocery store you may find a nearby health food store or food co-op that will take some produce off your hands. These stores generally require a less consistent product and supply and may be willing to work with your restrictions. It never hurts to ask.

Set up a roadside stand.

Roadside stands can be as simple as a table and some baskets. If you’ve got kids this may be a great opportunity in lieu of a lemonade stand. If you’re not on a road with a high volume of traffic you may want to set up elsewhere. Some businesses allow people to set up a table with produce in their parking lot, just ask around.

For both options it’s good to check on things like zoning laws and local “peddler’s laws” before setting up shop.

Rent a booth at your local farmer’s market.

Farmer’s markets can be one of the best places to sell produce and other garden products because that’s what people are going there to buy. However there’s several things worth noting about farmer’s markets before you count on them to increase your payday. First most farmer’s markets have a fee and many now require sellers to carry liability insurance, a cost your gardening side business may not be able to afford. On top of that you need to consider the cost of fuel to get you to and from the market.

Second at larger farmer’s markets you’ll be competing with growers who spend their lives doing this. Customers are more likely to spend their dollars at booths with beautiful displays and loads of produce. At larger markets you’ll need something special to stand out. Check out your local farmer’s market before renting a booth for the season.

Third because farmer’s markets are better for everyone involved if there’s reliable vendors, markets generally require commitment for the entire season. You’ll have to dedicate a lot of time to the market itself plus set-up and tear-down, travel, and market prep.

Attend local sales.

If farmer’s markets don’t work out you may find some local sale events that will work well for your products. You may find some church, craft, or local artisan sales that will accept your products and are easier to handle than committing to a farmer’s market.

Try opening an Etsy shop.

Blue Clarage Dent Corn

While you may not be able to sell fresh produce online there’s plenty of garden products you can. Think about things that keep well like seeds, popcorn or flint/dent corn, potatoes, onions, garlic, dried herbs or flours. Herbs especially can be grown and dried for teas or you can grow plants like Dyer’s Coreopsis which can be sold to fiber artists.

If you’re not a fan of Etsy you could try your hand at making your own website or using a site like Facebook’s sale groups, Ebay, or Craigslist.

Sell garden amendments.

If you’ve been an avid gardener for years chances are you know how to make a few of your own garden amendments. Whether it’s compost tea kits, worm castings from your awesome vermicompost set up, bio-char, or bags of compost try selling some of your homemade garden improvements.

**Additional Tips**

  • Wherever and whatever you decide to sell be sure to check on any regulations before offering your product. Things like local food laws, zoning regulations, and organic standards are all important to look into.
  • Build a network. Especially for a small producer the best way to make sales is to get to know your neighbors. You may find people that have always wanted a place to buy really hot peppers or realize you have a neighbor that loves kohlrabi. People won’t buy from you if they don’t know you’re selling!
  • Keep it fun. Unless you intend become a full-time farmer this side gig isn’t meant to be stressful. If it takes all the joy out of gardening it may be wise to scale back.

For most people gardening is either a hobby or a profession but there’s no rule that says your backyard garden can’t make you money. If it’s something you love and are working hard at anyway selling your garden products can be a great way to bring in extra cash.

How do you make money from your garden? Did we miss any great ideas? Let us know.

Seed Growers Large and Small

Ken and I recently returned from a 2-week road trip, which we took primarily to visit farms that grow seed for Southern Exposure.  We work with about 60 farms that produce seed for us, which we then freeze, test for good germination, weigh out, and sell.  We took this trip to meet some of the farmers face to face, see their land, and get a better sense of how they farm, in hopes of collaborating better in the future.  We’re also glad that we can share some of their experiences with you.  Southwestern Virginia has one of the highest concentrations of farms growing seed for us, including two diversified family homesteads, which we’ll profile first.

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The Moyer family has been growing vegetable seeds for us for seven years.  They also grow an impressive range of their own food, sell vegetables at a local farmers market, and raise cows, goats, and several kinds of poultry.

We pulled some weeds in their garden and collected harlequin bugs off of a kale seed crop; they served us fresh cornbread with fresh butter, squash that they had traded with another farmer, and pork, and the next morning, a delicious breakfast of fresh eggs, oatmeal, butter, and sorghum syrup. Several of the Moyer children have raised seed crops of their own, keeping the proceeds and calculating their dollar per hour as part of their math class.  This year seed crops they’re growing for us include Selma Suns sunflower, German Johnson tomato, Burpee’s Butterbush squash, Egyptian Walking Onions, Sugar Drip Sorghum, Painted Mountain flour corn, and Floriani flint corn.

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Later we visited the Smythes, an extended family with a large vegetable garden, a cowshare dairy, and a young orchard.  To get to their property, we crossed a wooden bridge with low sides, and then entered a large family homestead, where we didn’t see any house numbers.  The door we knocked happened to be the right one.

Charlotte Smythe, who initially organized the family’s seed growing, has now married and moved up the hill to a new house on the family’s land, so more recently her younger sister Lydia has been heading up the seed growing.  The family decided to take a break from seeds this year so as to focus more on infrastructure development and perennials, but we hope they will grow for us again next year.

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On our way into Southwest Virginia we stopped to see Beth Shelley in Bent Mountain, VA She and her family grow a wide range of vegetables in two huge old greenhouses.  They are further diversifying their farm to include Chinese medicinal herbs.

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One of the biggest farms we visited just started growing seeds for us this year.  Fassifern Farm, in Bath County, VA, is managed by Mark Scott and includes 12 acres of cultivated land on various parts of a 2400 acre property.  Currently their biggest crops are vegetables that Cavalier Produce picks up twice a week for sale in nearby Charlottesville, after Cavalier unloads other produce for the local restaurants.  This year Mark and his crew are growing seed crops of Chires baby sweet corn, Black Amber Cane sorghum, Liana asparagus beans, Grady Bailley Greasy snap beans, Carwile’s Virginia Peanuts, and Orange Bell sweet peppers for seed.  Looking forward, Mark is excited to make seed growing a bigger part of his operation, and his farm’s large acreage, surrounded largely by forest, will give him the opportunity to isolate and grow seed crops of several varieties of corn per year.

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Near the other end of the spectrum of scale, Ann Shrader, in Floyd, Virginia, grows a home garden of no more than a quarter acre where her biggest crops are the seed crops she grows for us – this year, Appalachian Red garlic, Charleston Belle sweet peppers, and Peking Black southern peas.  She also grows a few fruits and vegetables for her own consumption, and lets a wide range of flowers self-sow.

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Monica Williams, Bill Whipple, and their young son Gabriel divide their time between Asheville, NC, and the remote West Virginia farm a ways down a one-lane road where they hosted us on the first night of our trip.

Their vegetable gardens include crops for home use as well as seed, but they find that on their rocky mountain land, berries and trees tend to do much better than annuals.  They are fortunate to have not only a very young orchard but also an older orchard that Bill planted at a time when farmers markets were much less common, with little idea of how they would sell the fruit it produced.  Now fruit is most of what they bring to market.

 

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Troy Teets and his family hosted us for a night in Riceville, Tennessee.  The evening we arrived, they showed us their garden and their new goats and pigs, and in the morning we harvested tomatoes and blackberries for their farmers’ market.  This year they’re growing a seed crop of Grandma Nellie’s Yellow Mushroom bean.  They’re also growing a few short rows of Parker Half-Runner bean, a favorite in Troy’s area that’s more tender than the standard Half-Runner beans on the market.  They expect to harvest a few pounds of seeds from this year’s Parker Half-Runner so that they can plant a much larger crop next year.  We plan to offer the seeds from their 2016 crop in our 2017 catalog.

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In South Carolina, we were hosted by seed growers Rodger and Karen Winn, who I profiled last year.  All in all we had a busy trip, visting about three farms a day on most days.  In upcoming blog posts, I plan to profile plant breeders, university research farms, and a bakery that mills its own grain.