Tips From A Market Gardener: How To Sell What You Grow

Planning. It seems like I do more of that than actually working in the garden sometimes. Even before the gardening season ended last year I was already planning for the new season. But that is what we do, all of us. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

So now I sit in front of seed catalogs, planting charts, and a diagram of the garden and where the plants will go. These is another market season ahead and I must be prepared. I have to plan on a perfect world in the garden and I have to plan on a not so perfect world. They can collide, they will collide, and many of my decisions will be made from the planning I had done before the season started. I have learned a lot and made plenty of mistakes along the way.

So, what are my plans for the coming year and why have I made the decisions that I will go forth with? Some ideas are simple, self- explanatory, no-brainers. Others are notes from markets passed that still work today. This is the first part of a series on my hopes and dreams for the coming market garden season.

Non-GMO heirloom lettuce seeds mixture, available at Lehmans.com and our store in Kidron, Ohio.

Over the last few years I’ll have to admit that much of my produce has been sold at wholesale prices with very little at market prices. The biggest reason for that was because I owned a small retail meat market and I sold most of my produce in the store. Now that worked out well for me for I was able to sell most of what I harvested. But what are the pros and cons of doing wholesale?

As I mentioned I was able to get the most from my plot by doing wholesale and after I made the sale the produce belonged to the market and that was that. No worries of having any leftovers much like you would have on some market days. But as you probably know your profit on your product is much lower than you would get by selling at the market.

What is best for you then? My suggestion is to keep good notes on your markets sales and garden harvest along with current prices and you can come up with a plan. For example, if you have great markets and have very little left at the end of each market day, I don’t see any need to wholesale your product. Your profit margin will still exceed wholesale margins even if you have some waste.

Non-GMO Amish Paste Tomato heirloom seeds, available at Lehmans.com and our store in Kidron, Ohio.

Keep in mind that I consider myself a small market gardener and I only grow what is manageable for me and one helper (family member), but if you are on a larger scale you could easily get away with doing markets and wholesaling some of your product. It is a good way of getting rid of excess.

The bottom line is to make the most money you can, and that will typically come from the markets. The stores that sell your produce have to mark the prices up to get their profit needs, so what they give you will be substantially lower than what you can get at a good farmer’s market. For example, if I can get $2.50 a pound for green beans at the farmer’s market but wholesale the same beans to the store at $1.25, I’ll just sell at the market.

If you have ideas about doing both wholesaling and markets you will have to figure out which one is the most important to you. Why?

Let’s say you are going to sell to a grocery store. They are going to want the freshest produce they can get and typically want some kind of up-front commitment by you, sometimes on a particular day or two of the week. All fine. But will you have anything left for your farmer’s market? You will not be able to walk into a store and offer any produce you might have left at the end of a market day. Sure, some stores might bite on it but they will not see the freshness or longevity of your produce especially a day or two after. The chances of you selling again to them will be slim. They want fresh produce.

USDA-Certified Organic, Non-Gmo 5 Color Silverbeet Swiss Chard heirloom seeds, available at Lehmans.com and our store in Kidron, Ohio.

See where your heart is. How much money do you need or want to make? How hard do you want to work? These are all questions that the market gardener has to ask themselves. Winter is slipping away quickly and the garden season is almost upon us.
The next time we meet it will all be about the garden.

Editor’s Note: Find a wide variety of tools, supplies, seeds and garden accessories at Lehmans.com/garden!