Homesteading After Retirement: Part 3
Market Gardening as a Homestead Income Source
Reading Time: 4 minutes
Is running a market garden business a good fit for retirement life? This installment of the Homesteading After Retirement series involves an area of homesteading that I have absolutely no experience in doing. While we do garden and enjoy our fresh produce, we rarely grow enough to come close to selling the excess at a market. We share our surplus with family and neighbors.
In addition, everything I know about selling at the weekly farmers markets has been gleaned from the customer side of the aisles. I was not dissuaded, though. After many years of interacting in the farming and homestead blogging communities, I knew I could call on some very experienced market gardeners to add market gardening to this series.
Meet the Market Gardening Experts
The two gardening gurus I chose to talk with have decades of experience in selling produce and food items at the local markets. Let me introduce
you to my experts.
Patti Alderman, of Alderman Farms, has been selling through the local farmers markets for over 12 years. Her children grew up learning how to graciously interact with the customers and handle money. Patti began at the market selling bread and dip mixes. Eventually, the garden space grew, and she began to bring vegetables to sell. Since her customer base was well-established, it was an easier transition.
May Vang is part of a farm and market-selling family. May explained to me that the family members all do what they can on the farm. Currently, they provide produce for more than one weekly market. While all families will handle the responsibilities of farming differently, May explains that everyone must be committed to the team. Flexibility and being open-minded about making changes are two factors she recommends for success.
How to Get Started
Start small and build your clientele. The first step is to check with the market manager. Ask for guidance about what products are lacking in the market location. Look at the pricing that vendors are setting. It is important to come in as a supportive member of the market and not try to undercut other vendor’s prices. Be prepared for the slow start. Customers will need time to get to know you and your products. May offered some history from her family. “You will need to be willing to try new produce and see if it meets the needs of your customers.
My parents during their first few years grew only Asian vegetables because that’s what they were used to growing. However, those vegetables did not meet the need of their customers, so after a few years, they turned their attention elsewhere. They had to learn to be willing to cater to the needs and the taste palettes of their consumers.
As you build your business, customers will make it a point to ask you and let you know what they are looking for, which will help you with the following year’s crop choice.” If you are willing to answer people’s questions, trust will begin to develop.
Consider offering samples or tossing in a new product sample with the items they are buying. Patti shared the following, “You have to get to know your market where you will know what vegetables or value-added items to bring. At my market, I brought pattypan squash, and the customers were not familiar with that. It wasn’t until there was not any yellow squash left that they tried it and came back for more. It is good to tell them how to cook things or give them a recipe card.
The same thing happened when I grew Japanese long cucumber. They are a great cucumber, in my opinion, but they are very long, and customers thought they would have hard big seeds. I decided to give samples and gave a few away. The next market, they came back asking for more! You have to have a plan when introducing new things, and giving samples is a good way to let people try things.” Always ask for feedback when they come back to the market.
May Vang also stressed that you should start with a small amount of good basics that you can also use, instead of an overwhelming variety. Once you know your customers and the market’s demographics, consider adding additional products to the market. Think outside of the box of veggies.
Patti Alderman, who also wears the hat of market manager at her market, stresses that you need to understand the market rules and selling homemade food. Also, not all markets allow non-food items. If you get the approval, she suggests some of the following products might bring you additional revenue.
Breads, muffins, and pastries
Dairy products (check local regulations)
Jams and jellies
Started vegetable plants
The Bottom Line
Gardening is not a sure bet. Weather, blight, and other natural factors can greatly impact the harvest. Some years will be bountiful, and some will be less than spectacular. Be prepared to work hard during the growing season and prepare during the off-season. If gardening is your passion, you love interacting with a customer base, and you have a good bit of energy, market gardening and selling might be the best job you have ever had. Our experts would be happy to offer you further guidance and answer more questions about growing and selling at the markets as time permits.
May Vang resides in Washington State and can be reached by E-mail
Patti Alderman resides in Mississippi and can be reached through Aldermanfarms.net or E-mail Patti@aldermanfarms.net along with their popular you-tube channel, https://www.youtube.com/user/AldermanFarms
Read Part 1 of this series at iamcountryside.com/homesteading/homesteading-after-retirementpart-1/
Originally published in the May/June 2021 issue of Countryside & Small Stock Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.