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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
My husband and I are cautiously planning to start market gardening this year. We want to focus on a small amount of specialty items that will not necessarily be at every stand, and will also bring us a good profit. We really hope to start small and grow. We would love to minimize mistakes too. We were thinking we would offer heirloom pumpkins in fall (I am very passionate about pumpkins!), unique lettuces, some unique heirloom tomatoes, some white and purple varieties, as well as some cherry tomatoes. I was also thinking shelled sweat peas and lima beans might be good sellers. Can you offer any feedback and advice for an up and coming first timer?
 

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not to discourage you or anything but it might help to get proficient with the easy stuff like tomatoes and peppers then expand into more unusual varieties.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Oh, I am proficient at tomatoes and peppers and things. I meant first time market gardener, not first time gardener :D We are growing most vegetables in our personal garden. We just don't want to make the mistake of growing tons of every common veggie our first year for market. We were thinking start small with profitable items and grow each year. I always make the mistake of planning too big and getting overwhelmed. I really want to avoid that my first year, while still turning a profit if possible.
 

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I say keep doing what you love to do, if your passion is heriloom pumpkins etc, do it!
When people are excited & knowledgable about their product it attracts potential customers.
Dont have any ideas for you cept one thing we are always looking for is Romano (flat Italian) beans at farmer's markets. No one ever has them.
 

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I have been market gardening for 18 years and have been a merket manager for over 10. I love to grow unusual veggies but most people won't buy them. People want red tomatoes and yellow squash. Our association runs 3 markets. One is in a retirement community, its a great market but they are the most particuler old blankity-blanks that wouldn't eat a cherokee purple tomato if they were starving! Another market is a week day downtown market in a mid size town, with a lot of talking, recipes, and years of frustration they will now buy a 1 cherokee purple tomato for each 100 red tomatoes bought. The last of our markets is on Saturday morning in another mid size town with more of the yuppie crowd. People will ask for cherokee purple tomatoes when I don't have them but will still buy a lot more regular red tomatoes.

Check your markets for there demographics. You may have one that will love to buy pumpkins. Unusual veggies will always draw attention to your table and they are great to fill out a table and make you look different but you will still make the most money on red tomatoes and yellow squash.
 

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there is a farm here that has done a booming business for years growing pumpkins and various squashes. they are the only farm in the area that i know of.

people are interested more in heirloom foods. brandywine tomatoes, green beans like turkey craw and mccaslan are hugely popular here. cushaw and pie pumpkins (not jackolantern type.) tommy toe tomatoes. sweet potatoes. they all sell well here.

so much of it depends on your area and what the people want.
 

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Might I suggest OregonII snow peas. They sell here for $4 a quart , are easy to pick and are very popular. They also do well in hot weather. Another good seller was tomatillos and jalepenos. I sold them side by side. I got $3 a quart for jalepenos and $2 a quart for tomatillos52 Jalepeno plants yielded me 21 gallons plus of peppers.
Linda
 

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I have a very small business here, and people love the snow peas and the gourmet lettuce combinations, more color and texture the better. The lettuce is really the only thing they like to try that is different, tomatoes they like red, but the snow peas and lettuce provide a wonderful flavor that the grocery stores cannot compete with. Same with fresh herbs, they cannot compete! Good luck!!
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
Thank you so much for the ideas! It's nice to know what specialty items do well in other places. I am in a unique spot that has two different largish cities within 45 minutes and both have very eclectic foodies who attend the farmer's markets. Heirloom items are very much appreciated in my area. Thanks also for providing ballpark pricing, that is so helpful.
 

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It sounds like you have a good location to try some of the unusual things.

At the markets I'm a member of I make more profit from, believe it or not, radishes than anything else. I grow as many different colors and shapes as I can find. I think it was 8 or 9 varieties last year. I sell them by variety and also in mixed bunches. I can easily get $1.25 for a bunch of 10.

Other crops that have a high profit margin for me are snow peas, asparagus and cherry tomatoes. I sell my snow peas and cherry tomatoes in pints, usually getting 2.50 - 2.75/pint. I used to sell snow peas and cherry tomatoes in quart baskets but I found that I sold more (and made more profit) selling in pints.

If you're hoping to do market gardening on a long term basis, I'd suggest planting asparagus if it grows well where you are. Once it's established, it lasts almost forever if taken care of. There's also very little labor involved except for picking once it's established. I sell as much as I am able to bring at my markets. I usually get about $2.75 for a one pound bunch. I do well enough with the little I have now that I'm planting another 400 or so crowns this spring.

One thing I would suggest is to have recipes for your customers. Especially for any of the unusual things you might grow. In my experience, a lot more people will try something they're unfamiliar with if they know to use it.

Good luck with your first market garden.
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
Thanks for the ideas Murray, I hadn't even thought about radishes, asparagus would be fun too.

Todd we are halfway between Richmond and Charlottesville, both very eclectic markets!
 

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Are you selling in front of your home/farm or taking your produce to a public farm market? The Farm market where we sell our soaps, eggs and produce (from June - Oct) wants a complete list of what we plan to sell for the year. They compare lists of all the vendors. They've never told someone that they couldn't sell a certain item, but they try to guarantee a good selection for the customers. This is somewhat tough to plan for us because the 5 ladies that handle the market are not familiar with vegetable gardening. We've had difficulty explaining to them that we (and other growers) started planning the 2009 garden during 2008

I agree with starting with something that you know, can easily explain the benefits/price/care/history, etc. Be prepared to justify why you're unique item is priced the way it is. SAMPLES, SAMPLES, SAMPLES! Cut open that purple tomato or that white peach, stick toothpicks in each of the pieces and offer it to those that walk by. This will almost guarantee immediate sales if they can taste it.

We learned quickly that growing tomatoes in the garden and selling them to the public are 2 completely different worlds. And keep in mind they saying "You have to spend money to make money." Good luck to you!
 

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I think standard varieties would be a less risky sell. Then once you have that as a base, add the less traditional varieties.
Every area is different and you know your area better than I.
I like the idea of selling "shares". Every shareholder gets a box of what you have ready in the garden that week. Sometimes not much, sometimes over flowing. You sell shares in the spring before planting and then you know you have a customer for everything you grow.
I've been successful in producing quality products, on and off farm things, and I over estimated the market many times. Growing is not selling.
 

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I try to grow some unusual items for my market sales. Last year I grew tomatillos. Tomatillos are hard to find in any New York State market. I sold out each time I took them. I tried to have cilantro jalapenos and tomatoes with onions so customers could make salsa . One market I had 3 gallons of tomatillos and 5 gallons of jalapenos and I did not bring one home. In the past I sold okra and sweet potatoes with the same result. We are a cool zone 5 here in New York which makes southern veggies a challenge to grow.
Linda
 
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