There’s never been a better time to start market gardening! Demand for fresh organic produce is soaring, driven by food ‘scares’ and movements like Slow Food and the 100 Mile Diet. When you add in the impact of modern tools and technology, and the use of the Internet as an information resource, it’s clear this is a great time to be a market gardener!
However, as with any opportunity, there are some approaches that work better than others. I will let you in on a little ‘secret’ about an incredibly powerful method to start-up a market garden – Community Supported Agriculture (CSA).
What is Community Supported Agriculture? The government farming organization ATTRA (Appropriate Technology Transfer for Rural Areas) – has this definition of a CSA on their website:
“In basic terms, CSA consists of a community of individuals who pledge support to a farm operation so that the farmland becomes, either legally or spiritually, the community’s farm, with the growers and consumers providing mutual support and sharing the risks and benefits of food production.
Members or shareholders of the farm or garden pledge in advance to cover the anticipated costs of the farm operation and farmer’s salary. In return, they receive shares in the farm’s bounty throughout the growing season, as well as satisfaction gained from reconnecting to the land. Members also share in risks, including poor harvest due to unfavourable weather or pests.”
It might be easier to say, ‘customers subscribe to the farm, paying in advance to receive a share of vegetables each week throughout the growing season’.
Why is this a powerful model? Here’s a few key points:
Since customers pay in advance for the season, the farmer gets a guaranteed cash flow to help pay for start-up costs e.g. seed, supplies, equipment;
Customers are ‘locked in’ for the season – once they sign up with your CSA, no other marketing required;
This ‘captive market’ may also buy other products that you can provide
No price competition – it doesn’t matter what your neighbouring gardener is selling his produce for – yours is already sold (in advance!)
This is an incredible approach to launching a market gardening business. The advance cash you receive from customers could allow you you ‘bootstrap’ your business, with no money out of your pocket (except for the costs of finding those customers in the first place.)
How do you start a CSA? There are a few steps you should follow before you throw some seed in the ground.
Plan your business – set targets for number of customers you want to have, your desired income, and estimate your start-up and operating expenses.
Plan your garden – how much of each crop will you have to grow to satisfy your customers? How big will the garden have to be?
Market your garden – find a likely pool of prospective customers, and get your message out
Manage your garden – put in place the tools, methods and labour to grow and harvest your crops
Manage your business – set up a system to keep good records, track income and expenses, and garden production. This will help with planning for next year.
If this is your first attempt at market gardening, its a good idea to ‘start small’. Perhaps just approach a few friends and neighbours, and ask them if they would like to receive a basket of farm-fresh veggies from you every week. Then follow the steps above to start up your own bootstrap market garden!