4 Key Questions Before You Start Market Gardening
By William Kelland

To be successful at market gardening, you need to do some planning before you start planting. Here are 4 key questions you need to answer to start market gardening the right way.

Key market gardening question 1: How much money do I expect to make from my garden? Every real business starts out with some idea of the revenue they plan to generate. Do you plan to create a small second income to help out with expenses? Or do you plan your market garden to be your main source of income?

The answer to this question will determine a lot of your subsequent decisions, including the particular crops you grow and how big your market garden needs to be. Set yourself a target for sales and then answer the rest of these questions with that target in mind.

Key market gardening question 2: How do I find customers? No successful business should start up without a good idea of who their customers will be, and how they will get the opportunity to buy.

This means your market garden needs a marketing plan, a way to find enough customers to buy enough of your products to meet your revenue target.

For example, let's say you want to make $10,000 from your market garden. You decide to sell your produce at a local farmer's market. The market is open for 20 weeks of the year. This mean you would have to sell $500 a week on average to hit your target. Will this particular market be sufficient to meet this target? How much are other vendors there selling on average? Will you need to go to more than one market to sell enough produce?

For another example, let's say you are planning a community supported agriculture (CSA) market garden, wherein customers subscribe to your farm for the whole season. CSA customers usually pay in advance to receive a share of fresh vegetables each week from their market gardener.

If you decide each customer will pay $500 for their share, where will you find 20 customers to make your revenue goal? These questions must be answered before you start your growing season or you risk wasting a lot of vegetables and time and money.

Key market gardening question 3: Where can I get the money to start-up my business? Market gardening can be less expensive to start than many businesses, but you will still need money for seed, equipment and supplies.

Start by estimating your start-up costs; what equipment and supplies do you have, and what will you need to buy? Can you rent or borrow equipment rather than buying it? Do you have credit with your suppliers? Remember that you probably won't see income from your market garden until at least 90 days after you start.

One advantage of the CSA model is that customers generally pay at least part of their share price in advance of the season. If you sign up enough customers early enough, this could help finance your start-up.

Key market gardening question 4: How much land do I need for my garden? If you have figured out the answers to the previous questions, you can now determine how much you will need to grow, and therefore how much land you will need for your market garden.

Here's one way to calculate the space required: let's say you have signed up 20 CSA customers, and you plan to deliver one cabbage to each customer each week as part of their garden share. You plan on delivering for 20 weeks.

20 customers times 1 cabbage a week times 20 weeks equals 400 cabbages that you must grow. A cabbage requires about 2 square feet of garden space, so to grow 400 cabbages will require about 800 square feet in your garden.

If you complete this calculation for each crop you plan to grow, you can get a good estimate of the total size of your garden. This advantage of this method is you also figure out exactly how much of each crop you need to grow.

If you want to take a short-cut in figuring out how big your garden needs to be, you can use an estimated revenue per square foot model. A good market gardener can generate one or two dollars per square foot from her garden.

Use the lower figure if you are a beginner. So if you need to generate $10,000, you could figure that your garden will need to be a minimum of 10,000 square feet (1/4 acre.)

Figuring out the answers to these business questions in advance will help your sure your market garden is a success.

William Kelland is the owner of award-winning New Terra Farm and the author of 'Bootstrap Market Gardening', How to Start-up, Market, and Manage your own Successful Small Farm Business. Get more practical market gardening advice at Start Market Gardening

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