Cutting costs

Mark(Oregon, Zone 8)February 11, 2013

(nice new look to the page, huh? Except for the advertising and the wasted space on the sides!)

I realize that some people on the forum may think i'm just here to knock their ideas. I'm sorry I don't offer more positive feedback to go along with my comments.
I have a strong desire to see other growers succeed and I put in a lot of energy here trying to offer advice to help with that. I really believe we all don't have to learn this by ourselves.

What I comment here about the most, is how to cut down costs.
I've spent 18 seasons now growing food for sale as my main source of income. I started as an intern, living in a school bus on an organic farm . I made next to nothing and lived off vegetables plus food I found in dumpsters. Over the years, I grew slowly, with many twists and follys, and now have a very successful 3 acre farm which I manage by myself and with some help from the wife.
I really believe that the reason i've continued to make a good profit while I have watched many, many small farms fail, is because of costs. People grow too fast, buy equipment they could have gotten by without, and spend way too much money on all kinds of things.
I'm a little sick of hearing people stuck in the mentality that "they'll never make any money, that's what being a farmer is all about". It's just not true. If you are working hard and not making a good profit, It likely means that you just need to make some changes.

I won't go on and on. I'm just hoping this group can see that comments and critique are just part of the way we can help each other here. We don't need to keep making the same mistakes over and over again and we all deserve to have a nice tractor by the time we're 50 (if you want one :). The best part is that we're not even competition for each other. I have no problem telling each and every one of you how I do something, you only have to ask....


This post was edited by madroneb on Mon, Feb 11, 13 at 14:23

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jrslick (North Central Kansas, Zone 5B)

Agreed 100%!

I have already seen vendors come and go from my markets I attend and I have only been doing this for 8 years.

I try to cut costs at every corner I can. But I also realize where cutting corners can really hurt you!

What are your best cost saving measures? I would love to hear them.


    Bookmark   February 11, 2013 at 3:06PM
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Mark(Oregon, Zone 8)

Jay, I think you know most of this already. Unless someone else chimes in, i'm just preaching to the choir.

To me this is more about recognizing that by reducing inputs, using our selves and our resources will get us much further than buying the finished product.

I'm not trying to be old fashioned, 'a penny saved...'. Saving money is only the beginning of it. Each time we learn to do something for ourself, we gain experience that perpetuates itself. For example, if you teach yourself basic plumbing to put in a wash station, next time you will be laying irrigation pipe rather than paying "the professionals". Same thing goes for welding.
Every time you tell yourself that you can't do something, it's just shooting yourself in the foot. You CAN do it, but only if you try.

I could go into details like how I grafted each of our 200+ fruit trees in the orchard, cost of each tree was .72 cents, for the rootstock (which I could have grown if it wasn't illegal).
Or how you can splatter mud on the hoop-house in the summer to avoid shade cloth.
Make your own potting soil, grow all your own starts, get free pots and seeds from nurserys, use craigslist, learn to weld, find free manure, fix your own equipment......

I really can go on and on. If someone wants more details, say the word. This isn't just about good suggestions, this is a way of thinking that good growers use to save money and keep their farms not just afloat, but thriving.

From my experience, those with a 'do it yourself attitude' will always profit more than those without. In the short term and the long run. The advice offered by many of us here is only going to help if people learn to ask for it, and listen when it's offered.

    Bookmark   February 11, 2013 at 5:56PM
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dirtdigging101(7 - NC)

It is too bad it takes some of us so long to get wiser. I used to have a Troy Bilt tiller and had 6 or 12" wood sides on my beds. Now it is two double diggings per 100 sq ft bed then the U-Bar. Cover crops provide compost materials and open the soil below with their roots. The chickens scratch and compost the uppermost layer. Soil health and structure is so important. Was never a big compost maker now it is a main focus to store materials and make compost 7 weeks before it is needed. Hopefully one inch per square foot per food crop. Still looking for a cheap and effective fence. There has to be something one can plant and maybe weave together that keeps out deer and critters. If only I had gone down this path long ago.

So no more boards or tiller and much improved soil productivity and drought resistance with the double digging.

What is next? Not sure.

    Bookmark   February 11, 2013 at 6:21PM
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little_minnie(zone 4a)

I don't see myself needing to learn how to weld, but damn am I cheap in general. I do buy row cover (need freshwith no holes for cucurbits) and plastic mulch every year, at least some; that is my money user. I would like to hear a ballpark of how much is average to spend. Some of my expense is for baking and canning. As for garden only I buy one biggish thing every year. Last year was a seeder and this year a planter (poke in kinds). I save a lot of my own seeds but still have to buy certain other kinds I can't save myself. I don't buy mulch, pots, manure, fertilizer; tomato cages were used, I scrounge for cheap stuff like chicken fence and things to make a wash station out of.
My investment piece this year was shade cloth. I think it will bring in way more in just one year since people ask all summer for salad greens.
I make signs and Craig's List ads for old straw and hay and other stuff. I use fishing line as a deer fence. I am always interested in learning ways to save money.

    Bookmark   February 11, 2013 at 9:28PM
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little_minnie(zone 4a)

I was thinking too that sales vary so much but supplies are relatively static by where you are. So you might be able to buy the same stuff as farmers in poor selling locations and then sell at a much higher rate. In my area it is a struggle to get stuff sold for all farmers. And many people are not ready to pay what stuff is worth like more urbane and cultured areas.

    Bookmark   February 12, 2013 at 6:44PM
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Kudos on standing up for yourself, btw. Long time lurker, and first year market grower here. I have a 7 acre homestead, most of it is completely unusable for farming, but the 1/2 acre that is i utilize the best of my ability! My goal is to provide old heirloom and NOT Monsanto patented varieties. It's pricier at first, but I've been saving my seed for 3 years now... Now more than ever people seem to want to avoid that!

I considered dixondale (their website is so misleading on how "organic" they try to be... But instead ordered my seed from Baker creek, and will never go back. I pinch pennies everywhere I can, and would love for my market growing to become my sole income source.

Love reading all the wisdom on here, keep it coming :)

    Bookmark   February 14, 2013 at 10:45PM
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Is there anyway you could give a short rundown of your farms and how you market and what you grow? thanks!

I noticed marketing is everything when I found myself with 60 lb of jalapeno not knowing what to do with. I never grew them to sell, but thought it would be fun if I could have sold them. They never went to waste as I ended up freezing them. Anyway, They sell for 3.99 a pound in the store. So in theory, I had 240 bucks worth of peppers that took maybe 5 bucks to grow. I did the math and I would have to be growing,shipping,selling thousands of pounds of jalapenos to make any real money. So then I looked up some higher value crops like cilantro other herbs and leaf crops. I hear cilantro is at top of the list of high profit crops. The thing is, I go into the store and I see how much cilantro you get for a dollar and it is amazing! It is so much! I dont think I could ever compete even if I had a small farm, not only that, cilantro only can grow well in my area 6-7 weeks out of the year!

I want to hear more. Cost, economics, are huge interests of mine when I grow plants.

    Bookmark   February 18, 2013 at 1:34AM
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I have to say after 19 years of doing this for a living I am still not making a lot of money but i stay out of debt, I am able to easily pay down the farm's mortgage (will have a 30 year note paid off in under 10 years), I eat very very well and I am gainfully employed.

But like Mark I am cheap and that is why I am still a farmer. I have found farm auctions to be one of the best ways to get good to excellent equipment cheap (but definitely buyer beware as there is a lot of crap out there too). We spend under $12K a year on the farm and we do buy some things new like row cover, drip tape, greenhouse poly. We have many home made hoop houses/high tunnels that cost us under $800 to construct from scratch and they last 10+ years, barring a weather disaster ($5K high tunnels can do more but not so much to get us to buy one). We reuse stuff as much as possible such as row covers that get 1 to 2 seasons as row covers than are used for many other things like insulation, chicken box bedding, erosion control, etc.. We do the same for drip tapes (which make dandy cutworm collars and decent battens for greenhouse poly repair).

Some of our better deals have been the $120 BCS walking tractor (new would have been $2500), the $800 3 door reach in commercial fridge (new would be $8K), the 2 glass front fridges for $500 (one does not work but has been turned into a drying area for onions). $20 for a 3 tiered light stand for starting seeds/seedlings (Lists at $1500), $5 for a smaller stand (lists new for $450).

One place I am rethinking spending more money is advertising as I have come to realize despite being in the main highway around here and I have a large sign on the road that says who we are, people still don't know about us, even after being here since 2005. So I am putting money into ads in the local paper (and it is working, we have picked up a couple of CSA members from the ad in its'1st weeks' run). I suppose I should write up some press releases as well, though I have found in the past, that articles do not generate much business.

It is also important to have on-line marketing and that can be done for free or really cheaply. I spend $5 a month for an ad free website through angelfire (I do the content myself, if someone else does the HTML and content expect to pay over $500 a month) plus I have free listing on Local Harvest (not very productive) and a Facebook page for my farm which is super productive as long as I do several posts a day to that page.

    Bookmark   February 18, 2013 at 6:14AM
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I also re-use almost everything. I'll buy something a little better if I can re-use it for the same use or another.

I've also picked up at FFA auctions and other greenhouse auctions LOTS of my supplies. Even used, after a thorough cleaning, can last for several years.

I've picked up quite a few things from others that thought they were going to 'make it rich' and failed. The banks don't want the stuff and sometimes are willing to get rid of it for just picking it up.

You have to be 'cheap' to survive and debt free makes it even easier. If I had not inherited my land, I probably would not be doing this or even thought of it.

    Bookmark   February 18, 2013 at 9:48AM
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Mark(Oregon, Zone 8)

I'm glad others have joined in as I hoped this thread wouldn't just be me ranting....

Boulderbelt, Congrats on keeping your mortgage in check, that's the one thing you can rarely 'get a deal on'.
And thanks everyone for sharing their cost cutting ideas.

Mastergardener, your jalapeƱo experiment shows why wholesale farming is so difficult to do. If you stuck with selling $240 in peppers for $5 input, that would be a great profit. If you can continue to diversify, and grow 50 crops with that kind of profit, you would make $16,000!

Thats the way I've chose to base my business; lots of diversity, and most of my sales at farmers markets for retail prices.
Cilantro may be a very valuable crop, but I can't sell more than 25 bunches at a market. By planting cilantro, radishes, arugula and tatsoi every 3 weeks in small planting, I have these things for sale every week for most of the season. Some row cover in the spring and fall goes a long way to expand the season. Over time, sales from these little plantings add up and I keep customers coming back week to week.

Competing with larger growers makes sales tricky at times. I'm just a small fish in a big sea. For this reason I stopped trying to sell main season indeterminate tomatoes. Instead I put 50 determinate plants in the hoophouse as early as possible. The varieties are not as exciting as heirlooms, but I get $3/lb for 2 months of sales. This generates thousands of dollars from just 50 plants. I do the same with greenhouse cucs and zucs.
I try to be the booth with early crops, late crops, out of season veggies, strange things, expensive options and cheap ones too. If no one else is growing it, i'll give it a shot. Who knew there were so many Russian folks that would buy Celeriac? I didn't until I sold out the first season growing it. Now I plant a 100 ft bed and sell it at the winter market.

Certain crops I think have a broader than retail market and still can generate a good profit. Every year I plant way more garlic than I can sell locally. A craigslist ad for 'seed garlic' attracts attention from all over the country and I spend a lot of time boxing and shipping much of the crop. It's worth the effort and now I have repeat customers from as far away as NY.

Anyway, I have to get going so need to finish this up. Let me know if you want any more details.
I will say this and hope people see it as sharing info and not me being arrogant. My weekly winter markets have become the backbone of my business. For all the weeks from Oct. thru Jan. my sales rarely dropped below $1000. When you look into it, the diversity of crops that can grow with little or no protection is amazing. In the winter people are much more likely to try something new or different.
Anyway, my website lists all the veggies I grow and has more details on the farm. Later this evening I'll try to get back to this.

Here is a link that might be useful: flying onion farm

This post was edited by madroneb on Mon, Feb 18, 13 at 15:41

1 Like    Bookmark   February 18, 2013 at 12:05PM
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Thanks so much! I am very glad I found this. Thansk for the fast response!

I noticed tomatoes could be a good crop too. They are expensive in the store. I am seeing that now your right about planting many different crops. I see now my most expense, and I am sure yours too, is fertilizer and seeds. What do you use for fertilizer? Organic? Synthetic slow release or soluble?

    Bookmark   February 18, 2013 at 12:14PM
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Mark(Oregon, Zone 8)

My soil building and fertility comes from the use of rye, pea, vetch cover crop and liberal use of animal manure/plant residue compost which I make by the ton. Most of the manure I purchase ($140/ 10 yard load) and some I gather for free from neighbors. I also splurge sometimes for lime and mineral mix.

1 Like    Bookmark   February 18, 2013 at 3:32PM
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jrslick (North Central Kansas, Zone 5B)


I am so happy to hear that someone else "Understands" how to make money at Farmers Markets. For me, diversity is the only way to earn more. No matter what, I can only sell so much of one thing. I could plant 1,000 of tomatoes every year, but I know that I could never sell that many.

I have 3 main markets. One in a larger College town of 50,000 (with students) on Wednesdays, My home town of 4-5,000 on Saturday and my online market with about 50 customers. The online market runs year around. Last year was the first year to have a winter market. We had them once a month. This winter we had them once a month again. I hope we can move it to at least twice a month in November and December. 3 of my top 5 sales days were in December and twice in January!

I could make more on Saturday by going back to the larger town, but in my hometown I am the "Big Fish" and in the other town, I am one of the top 10 biggest. It is easier to be the Big Fish in a small ocean.

My sales in my home town drop off in September-October, but that is also true for my Wednesday market. It is also ok with me, to an extent. I am a full time teacher too, so I have to pull a lot of late nights and early morning to get ready for these markets after school starts! Nothing like up until 1 am picking and prepping, up at 5:00 am to load everything up in coolers, get the kids on the bus, teach at school all day, leave at 3:00pm and set up by 4:00, sell til 7 pm and then drive the 45 minutes home and unload. It can make for a hard couple of months, but I do enjoy it as long as sales stay up!

I have worked hard to match Production with Sales. Sometimes you win, sometimes you run out and wish you planted more!

Spending less is the way I make more. I build most of my own equipment or modify existing stuff to fit my needs. My big splurge this year is the tractor. Yes I had to get a loan to pay for it, but it will be paid off in no time. I had enough cash to pay for most of it, but It was too good of a deal to pass up. Also, it is on an interest only loan on a 6 month payment schedule. I only owe about $125 in July if I have a disaster with the farm, I can still manage that payment.

Tomatoes are my biggest money maker. It is because I have them from early June until December. I get the customers trained to buy mine and then they very seldom switch. This year I am going to try something different. I am going to add in more succession plantings. I always plan to have a spring and a fall crop and leave the middle open and just pick what I have. I always sell out, but this year I am planning to plant 2 smaller plantings for the middle part of they year. I hope I don't get too many tomatoes and can't sell them, but if I do I have a standing order at a grocery store that they will buy mine if I want to sell them.

My other money maker crop is Cherry tomatoes. We keep bumping up our numbers.

I am hoping the personal sized melons will be a big hit again next summer. They sold well this year.


1 Like    Bookmark   February 18, 2013 at 5:41PM
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little_minnie(zone 4a)

When you have a bumper crop of something you can try the local grocery store. I sell to the one where I work and the same one in my town. It is best if you tell them ahead you will have a lot of peppers or whatever next week so they can stop ordering. Generally they order their produce every day though, before noon or so.

I am trying one more year at my local market, especially since I am on the steering committee now. Then I will try to get in somewhere more profitable. Maybe St Cloud which is 35 min away.

Wouldn't it be cool if there was a matchmaker website to match up a vendor and a market? Markets could post the vendors they are looking for and vendors could post what they have available.

Lucy, so that is why you make so many facebook posts! I will have to try doing more.

    Bookmark   February 18, 2013 at 8:05PM
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little_minnie(zone 4a)

Nice website Mark! Everything is spelled correctly and you have a pic of that cute Englishman and his giant onion I like so much! You sure can grow more different crops than here.

    Bookmark   February 18, 2013 at 8:12PM
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Yea really great job on the websight. This is really inspiring.

    Bookmark   February 18, 2013 at 11:08PM
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I stopped growing the large, organic heirloom tomatoes. Couldn't compete with the large non-organic producer that grows very south of us. No one at our market cared that my tomatoes were organic, and very few cared that they were heirloom and/or rare. I switched to strictly grape and cherry tomatoes for our fall crop, and sold out every time. I'm a bit wary to bump up the numbers because I can't seem to get my pest management under control (I don't use any pesticides, not even organic).

Besides, my niche is cucumbers (and basil) when everyone else has tomatoes coming out of their ears! We always get a bunch of tomato only growers in May-June, then they disapear into the sunset.

I'm always the first and last with cucumbers, and no one wants to grow them for some weird reason. Because of that, I always sell out of cucumbers early no matter how many I plant. This season I'm dedicating a whole new section to keep up with the demand (if that is even possible!) The variety I grow does very, very well in my climate, and is absolutely delicious! People are naming me the cucumber lady..which is strange for me to be known by only one item. Oh and besides superior products...signs are everything ;)

Now back to cutting costs...make your own seed mixes, maximize space with natural trelises (ie: I used old okra trees for my sugar snaps to climb, dead basil plants also worked), use rain barrels connected to your drip irrigation (very regional, as our climate barely gets rain in the summer, but rains all winter and spring), grow your own compost materials-very important in order to produce more and better quality (integrating that into our growing this year), never buy anything on credit period (if my late grandmother could farm during the depression and made it out in one piece...we all can)

    Bookmark   February 19, 2013 at 12:11AM
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jrslick (North Central Kansas, Zone 5B)

With the exception of Cherokee Purple, I have also cut out all of my heirlooms. They are too prone to cracking and don't keep very long. Yes they taste good, but for many people at my markets they buy with their eyes. They must look good. With that said, people come back every week and tell me I have the best tasting tomatoes at the market hands down. I have done a little research and I believe this may be because of the high P and K I have in my soil. I am not sure if this is correct, but I am not trying to change it!


    Bookmark   February 19, 2013 at 9:58AM
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One thing I've done to save cost and sanity is the order enough seeds for more than 1 season. the more you order the cheaper per seed is. Of course, this only applies to seeds that have a longer shelf life.

Never fails, the seed I find that I just simply love will have a crop failure of seeds for the next year.

Also, shop around for seeds. Many seed companies will furnish seed from another source, but it's the exact same seed. Also ask for commercial catalog and prices.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2013 at 10:00AM
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@myfamilysfarm, where do you buy your seeds?

    Bookmark   February 19, 2013 at 9:53PM
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It depends on what seed, I check several different companies, then choose the cheapest on whichever variety.

I've found that if I pay the shipping, the total price is usually cheaper than the companies that offer free shipping. Of course, this is good for light weight seeds like tomatoes.

Until this year, I bought from Jordan Seeds, out of MN; Hummert Seeds, from MO. This year several of my regular seeds were not available, I think due to the drought last year. Jordan's is online, Hummert seeds have a catalog for the majority of their seeds, online for everything else.

Very glad that I didn't NEED to buy those seeds this year, because I bought enough for 2-4 years.

    Bookmark   February 20, 2013 at 10:14AM
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Very interesting thread, thanks all those more experienced than me for sharing.

I've only done 1 very small year of market gardening and then moved. I'm now making plans to start again next year and trying to do enough preparatin and planning to make it successful.

In considering saving costs, I have been working on a business plan with a lot of details. I'm keen to make sure I decide to spend money where it matters. I'd like to make sure that I track my expenses versus my income so that I know where the limitations in my system are. Isn't it true that sometimes if you spend money (say on a tractor for instance) you change what is possible on your farm and may make it more viable?

In my situation I anticipate I'll be working alone a lot and in order to farm more than about 3/4 an acre I expect to need a tractor with bed shaper and mulch layer. Labour will be my biggest expense so if I can setup a system to optimize my labour inputs, I could save a lot on costs.

I may not get the bed shaper and mulch layer in year 1, but I have the tractor and tiller and I'm working to set everything up with future expansion in mind.

For the more experienced growers here: what purchases have had a huge impact on your ability to make money? What things have most leveraged your labour / market possibilities.


    Bookmark   February 21, 2013 at 1:58PM
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A tractor is a very nice piece of equipment. I wish we had had one during the first years. Since we live on 28 acres, we probably NEEDED one much earlier.

I also think a small greenhouse is one of those necessary items. It will pay off very quickly, just by growing your own plants. It can also add some additional income by growing a few extra plants OR growing some plants inside to get those early dollars.

If I had to start over, and had plenty of money, those 2 things would be on my buying list.

    Bookmark   February 21, 2013 at 6:46PM
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Chris -

I think the best way to look at what produces the most bang for the buck is to look at what factors bottleneck your operation. I heard this annalogy a couple weeks ago and like it a lot and as it applies to this I'll share it. Imagine an old fashoned wooden barrel with wood staves. Each stave represents an element of your ability to make sales (amount of land, labor, weather, transportation, your market, ect). In the barrel is water (your total sales potential). Since each stave is a different height your total sales potential is no higher than the lowest stave. Lets say for aguement sake you grow tomatos. If you have 20 acres to grow on you have a pretty high stave in that slot but if you work that 20 acres by hand with a shovel and hoe it's going to take a lot of labor so that stave is pretty short. The other staves may be somewhere in between. However, if that 20 acres takes all your labor to work that's your total sales potential. If you already sell all the tomatos you can produce with the maxed out labor you have at given market then adding another market will not add to sales as that stave is already higher than the stave for labor. Does that make sense? What you have to do is look at your specific operation and see where the bottlenecks are. Improving these will raise the stave and increase your total potential. In our example, if labor is a limiting factor then what can be done to increase it. Say you go from using all hand labor to prepare your ground to using a tractor. Now you can do the same amount of work in much less time and easing your labor shortfall. That raises the stave for labor and since it was the lowest it raises the level of the water (your sales potential). Now you may hit another bottleneck - say you are selling all the tomatos your single market will carry (now your lowest stave). Adding another market at this point will raise that stave and increase your sales potential. You continue to evaluate your barrel and add to the staves as you need to grow your business. What this does is give you a model to look at where you can modify your operation to increase your sales potential.

All that is a mouthful. In our operation, we used to hand wash and sort all our apples (in a good year we might have upwards of 400 bushel). That's a pretty good sized chunk of labor (not to mention a lot of time with your hands in cold water). I found a used TEW produce washer localy for a pretty good price and bought it. With that we can wash and sort a bushel of apples in about 10% of the time. For us that was a huge benefit for the labor savings - now we can use that time for other work. We raised the labor stave and it allowed us to use that time saved to do other things that increased our total productivity hence our total sales potential. At that point we ran into another problem (low stave). We were using just our pickup to take good to market and as you know there is a limit to what you can cram into the back of a truck no matter how much you try. We looked around and eventually found a used 26' box trailer. We bought that - at the time Dad was fit to be tied as it looked as big as a house in the driveway - and found that we could haul a lot more produce to market. At that point we could increase the amount of land we were growing on as that became our new bottleneck. We also found a local source for mellons we could purchace from (our ground is just not good for mellons) and sell at the market. However we soon found that we were filling the potential of the market we were selling at on Saturday mornings. There was a new market starting up, also on Saturday AM, in the same town but at a different location and pulling a different set of buyers. We started attending that market as well and as that had been our low stave our sales (both potential and actual) went up.

OK, all that being said how does it apply to you? Like I said look at our operation and see where your bottlenecks are. It looks like you already realize that labor is going to be tight. You mention looking for a tractor. I agree 100% at that. In my book one of the places where you get the most bang for your buck is with a tractor. Once to get used to it you will never understand how you got by with out it. Tillers, bed shapers, mulch layers are all great peices of equipment to have but you have to examine them on the basis of will they increase your total sales potential enough to justify their cost. That's the bottom line.

I know this is a little abstract and long winded (way too many Econ classes in my past) and really does not give you a concrete 'buy this' answer but I hope it gives you a framework to evaluate options and go from there. It's a process and one that changes from year to year but can be very beneficial when looking at capital investment.


I included a pic of the trailer just for kicks. It's amazing what you can carry in it.

1 Like    Bookmark   February 21, 2013 at 6:54PM
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Tom, you need to build shelves, or stack those boxes. I used to use a 12' cargo van and filled up to the top with produce. I barely had enough room for the tables. I also bought coolers that stacked on each other, so I could get more in the van. I got lucky and found this van for $2000 and used it for about 7-8 before I stopped using it so much (the gas was killing me at 14 mpg). It's still on the farm, and is a great storage area on wheels.

I'll remember you when those Econ classes come up.

    Bookmark   February 21, 2013 at 7:31PM
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Mark(Oregon, Zone 8)

(Wow, I really hate the new advertising. Right now, there's a GNC ad with a mostly naked man to the right of my post.....grrrrrr) Anyway....

My first thoughts are similar to Marla's, tractor and greenhouse. The greenhouse certainly, because in my climate where wet springs slow down valuable hot weather crops, an earlier crop makes a lot of $. My 30x100 was paid off the first season.

The tractor i'm not as sure about, as I still did really well before I had it. For years I got by renting a tractor for initial tillage and using a BCS for follow up work. Honestly though I have to admit it, it's been a huge asset to increase my scale and along with it, my income. It's also my absolute favorite tool on the farm.

Many other pieces of equipment have helped me increase production like my manure spreader, or seeder. But as Tom said, look carefully at what they can do for you and compare that with their cost and ease of use. They may be more trouble than they're worth.

I know it's not really what you're asking, but knowledge is the one thing that's made the most difference to my bottom line. For newer growers I can't recommend enough the value of working at a successful market farm for at least one season. It's a great investment. You learn a lot, and they pay you to learn it!

Not only is your barrel lesson a great one, it's nice to see someone that can be as long winded and passionate about what they do as myself (and others here). It's a great way to break down the elements and find what works best and what needs improvement.

The only thing I could add is to be sure and leave a stave open for happiness. I know it sounds corny, but if there something I hate doing or or a crop I hate growing, it is always going to be my lowest common denominator. Like when I stopped picking cherry tomatoes. I don't mean to put them down but I really hated it. I don't grow them anymore for market and it freed me up for growing things I like more. Is my barrel holding more water because of it? It sure feels so.

Another thing I consider less than fun is transplanting. Your comments the other day about how long onions take really hit home with me.
So I happend to come upon a "stave lifter" today and went for it.
It's a Holland 1500 that came with the small spacing wheel. Look familiar?


This post was edited by madroneb on Thu, Feb 21, 13 at 21:22

    Bookmark   February 21, 2013 at 9:18PM
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Looks to me like it's almost a twin except you have the fancy seats. From the pics she's set up with the narrow spacing wheel already. One thing we found was it was easier to reduce the number of planting fingers and increase the sprocket size to give more room for human fingers. IIRC we use ten fingers but I can not remember the sprocket number. The toolbar looks like you can adjust it pretty far to the side. It looks like the extra sprockets are hanging on the toolbar - I think there should be a bolt under the seats to hold them so that they do not get lost. If not I would consider welding a peice of thread-all on the frame so they are both convienent and secure. There is little worse than loosing one in the garden and having to search all over for them. Holland is a great company - if you did not get a manual with it give them a call and they will send you one for free. It gives you all the spacing charts and grease points. I would call that an good buy.

Marla - that's an old picture before we picked up the second Saturday market. Now you have to imagine twice that load. I think instead of shelves I am going to install some more Z-strip along the sides so we can use ratchet straps to secure stacks. I have a ramp for it (OK it's been sitting next to the garage for three years but this year I will get it installed). The plan is to make stacks for the two wheel dolly in the cooler, run them onto the trailer (we built it the same height as the trailer so a strait shot), strap them to the walls and then down the ramp all without having to move them by hand. Keep you fingers crossed.


    Bookmark   February 21, 2013 at 10:43PM
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I've thought about having the dolly or shelves on wheels. With my van I couldn't get the ramps to work well enough. My van was equipped when I bought with LOTS of hook-ups (like a hoop with a plate for the screws) to be able to use ratchet straps. I bought it from a company that repairs motors and they needed to strap them down. Plus they insulated the entire van, makes it easier to keep the produce cool.

That poor old van has had 3 watermelon crates full with boxes of tomatoes on the top of them almost to the ceiling. It was 'fun' trying to unpack it. Stupid van got better mileage with that type of load. again, designed to carry a load, and happy doing it for almost 300,000 miles.

    Bookmark   February 22, 2013 at 3:32PM
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One thing I bought years ago that has saved us so much time was plastic harvest crates from Buck Horn Inc. they stack and nest. They look good enough to use at market and you can stack them 5 high in my cargo van. They have meant I can get 3x more produce in my refrigeration as well as more produce in the market van and they are tough. They are also nice for washing certain produce (we need a barrel washer but I cannot convince my DH that this would be a huge, huge, time saver, especially with all the roots we grow for our winter CSA)

Mine are 12 years old and I might have to replace 2 or 3 in another 5 or 10 years. the long asparagus cutter is another time saver-that simple tool saves me probably 100 hours over using (and ruining) pocket knives.

1 Like    Bookmark   February 23, 2013 at 5:36AM
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Lucy, do you have a contact for them?

    Bookmark   February 23, 2013 at 9:24AM
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Mark(Oregon, Zone 8)

I use these which I found at a local nursery going out of business. They seem to be common around here and I think they cost me .50 each.
(Btw, those are Yacon i'm digging.)

    Bookmark   February 23, 2013 at 9:47AM
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Mark, that's what I really want, but nobody will let go of them.

    Bookmark   February 23, 2013 at 10:36AM
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jrslick (North Central Kansas, Zone 5B)


Did you see my post about the barrel washer I built?

I built it out of old 26 inch bike tire rims. I did put a motor on it, but I still am not happy with the motor set up. The pulley and belt slip too much. However, with that said, it turns so easy my hand, that I may not even use the motor. The last time I washed carrots by hand, it took me about 1 minutes a pound. With this barrel washer I was able to wash 150 pounds in about 15-20 minutes. Talk about a time saver. If the motor worked right, it would have taken about 10 minutes. Even less if I had someone putting in dirty carrots and I working at the exit end.

My biggest limiting factor is time. This one tool has given me hours back and I have only used it 2-3 times! It doesn't require a lot of tools to build. Tell you DH, he needs to build one.

I would love to get some stacking and nesting crates, since I haul lots of my stuff in my truck, I want them to have lids.

I use these clear plastic sterlite tubs they are about 14 by 20 and 6 inches deep. I can usually put 25-30 pounds of tomatoes in each one. These were over filed because I was running out of tubs.

I can stack them 3 to 4 high in my truck and small truck bed trailer with a topper. They also hold 15 pints of cherry tomatoes. I wish I could find something like this besides at Walmart. I bought 40 plus of them at a going out of business sale at a pizza place. They proofed pizza dough in them. A little washing and sanitizing and they were good as new.

I did buy a tractor this year. I am hoping it will save me time. I want a tiller attachment, but I found a place that will rent one for $80 for 24 hours. Once the tractor is paid for, I will try to find one this fall. I am also building a mulch layer. Laying plastic mulch is the next most time consuming job at our farm. If I can get it to work, I will be one happy farmer! I am waiting on bolts to be shipped before I can put it all together.


1 Like    Bookmark   February 23, 2013 at 11:40AM
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The crates I have and the ones Mark has come from Buckhorn Inc..15+ years ago I bought direct from the company and they had a minimum of 50 crates. It looks like this may still be possible but if the minimum has gone up to 500 or more than Nolt's produce supply carries them.

Here is a link that might be useful: Buckhorn

    Bookmark   February 24, 2013 at 4:00AM
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Shame they don't have prices on the website.

    Bookmark   February 24, 2013 at 4:56PM
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The black crates are bulb crates. There are two sizes (heights). Lilies, tulips, hyacinths, etc are shipped in them. If you can find a local wholesale grower of these flowers, they may be willing to sell you some. Here in PA, they sell for about 2 dollars each. Freight charges would cost you more than the crate would.

1 Like    Bookmark   February 24, 2013 at 8:37PM
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I'm still in the process of doing my taxes, I did go through all my receipts (except for gas - those are still in glove compartment of truck), but I haven't sorted my income into categories to see what brought in the most money, what gave the best income per sf, etc.

I did see that in general, at the market I've been selling at for 2 yrs, not many sales in June, even though this year I brought plant starts (most people had started their gardens by June 1) and salad greens. Sales picked up in July when I had berries, dropped off a little after the blueberries were done (I didn't have a ton of blackberries this year b/c of the drought - all dried up and hard), the new potatoes seemed to sell well but not sure it was worth all the labor hand-hilling and hand-digging, washing. Had squash but I don't think that was a big money-maker considering the real estate it takes up. Experimented with edamame and that sold well, planting a lot of it this year, green beans also sold well but not as high-value as edamame.

Sales picked up again in August with the tomatoes (heirloom and cherry). Sold a lot less jelly this year (didn't have the berries, and profit margin is higher on the fresh berries anyway so I didn't make much jam). But still had some slow-down after Labor Day, surprised to see it pick up a little in Oct but most of the markets are finished by then so may have had some extra traffic if people found this one market was still open. The advertising was not good, though, and with a new MM I don't know how this year will be.

My main expenses (besides probably $500 in gas - that's what we spent in 2011 and prob. the same or more in 2012) were fencing both years (PVC conduit and net deer fencing, T posts, cedar 4x4s and wire for trellis in 2011, $480 for T posts and CRW to use as fencing/trellis in 2012), drip hose both years (not too much in 2012, most expense were rain barrels and fittings plus $150 drip hose for them in 2011), some of the soaker hoses I bought in 2011 to use near the house blew out so I had to replace them in 2012.

I did spent $250 for seeds and plants in 2012 but $125 of that was for berry bushes/canes, I did start most of my own seed.

The unexpected expenses were $130 in 2012 for an EZ up after the cheap ($60) shelter I bought in 2011 (and didn't use that year) collapsed in a gully-washer in June, plus repairs on the tractor (water pump,muffler, tire in 2011) and truck (front hub and rear brake line in 2012). My dad and DH did the repairs but it was still $200 in parts in 2011 and $250 for 2012.

I don't make my own seed mix, did spend about $50 each year but I don't think I could save much making it myself.

I did spend quite a bit on jelly jars (bought on sale, with coupons), I'd have to break it out, I am not getting them back from customers but since I have some unopened cases I think I'm set for a year or two (depending on how the berries do and i I sell most of them fresh).

So what can I do to reduce expenses? I am stuck with the market fees ($100 or more each year) and insurance ($100 plus $50 for each named insured, so I try to keep it to 1 market per year). I think most of my expenses the past 2 years were "startup" expenses I am not likely to repeat, but with a 40-yr old tractor and a 10-yr old pickup I'm afraid I will have to budget $250/yr for repairs.

I think most of the problem is that I am not selling enough at market, seemed most weeks were only $50 in sales, had some bad weeks that were half that (or nothing due to market being canceled due to weather, or even negative like when my shelter collapsed after it should have been canceled) but had some good weeks nearly 2x that. I did have some wholesale sales but after asking me to grow more than tomatoes for them in 2013, the store all of a sudden stopped returning my calls when I tried to ask them what they wanted so I could order seed, so I can't count on wholesale this year. Corporate policy required GAP certification and I don't have it, produce manager told me not a problem but maybe it turned out to be?

I have no frontage, my only options are market or wholesale, the 3 markets nearest me are 1) not doing well, no parking on busy road (have to park on side street) and under new management this year 2) brand new last year and only 12 week season, very small area for vendors, not much parking and 3) 5 yrs in business, again very small area for vendors but good customer parking, I've been on waiting list for 3 yrs now, they may want berries this year but I told them I need to sell veggies too.

What's a girl to do??? I've got some steady customers at DH's work, neighbors are starting to know me, I was thinking CSA? If I could do more advertising in town, maybe I could steal some customers from big CSA in town (people complaining about prices going up and loads of stuff they don't use like kale and tons of carrots), but I have to figure out what to grow to keep going for a good 20-week stretch and also how many shares I can supply. Since we're on the edge of town I'd also have to figure out a place to do drop-offs, since my insurance won't cover people coming to the farm (and most won't want to make a 20-mile round trip to pick up their shares).

I really am thinking of giving up (I *was* going to give it 1 more year to make a profit, see if I can get the 3rd year, then 4th and 5th to meet hobby loss requirement) but unless I can get into a good market NOW I don't see how I can, I might as well donate everything to food pantry.

    Bookmark   March 4, 2013 at 9:02AM
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jrslick (North Central Kansas, Zone 5B)

In my opinion, your problem is sales. If you are only selling $50 a week, you need to find a better outlet or better market.

You could consider a market site. If you have people who would be interested, then you can put up what you have for sale and then people can place an order and then figure out a drop off point at a central location. I use a parking lot at a centrally located park. We do this year around and do drop offs in my hometown and another town I attend Farmers Market at 40 minutes away. The only problem is if nobody orders, then you would be stuck with lots of produce. We have about 50 members and we vary in sales from $100-150 to $300 plus a week.

I also use this as my "insurance" policy for driving to the larger city. We deliver on the same night as the Farmers Market I also attend, but this way people can order early, get the best stuff and not have to hurry to leave work to get there on time. When I travel to this market I know I already have $XXX amount of sales, so if it is a bad week as a market, I at least have some sales to pay for the expenses. It also gives me an idea at what people are wanting to buy. If sales on a certain product are up, then that week they are usually up at the Farmers Market and I can try to bring more (if I have them).

Just an idea.

Here is a link that might be useful: Our site on Locally Grown

1 Like    Bookmark   March 4, 2013 at 2:43PM
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Any consignment options? I have done well price wise on consignment. Around 70%-80% of FM price. It's not always an option or even a main goal but it has helped at times.
What wasn't sold was still mine....but that didn't happen much.

    Bookmark   March 4, 2013 at 5:55PM
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Mark(Oregon, Zone 8)

For years I didn't keep track of any costs and just hoped for the best. The fact that you're keeping track and have details to offer, say's a lot.

A few question for you:

On most days, did you have more produce to sell, but there were no customers to buy it?

How much space are you growing in? (You may be in the difficult space between gardener and farmer.)

How far away is a bigger farmers market?

Where I used to live I would drive an hour to avoid the small local market if favor the wealthier college town farther away. It was definitely worth it, and on the same day I was able to deliver to a few restaurants. Where I am now, I know a bunch of farmers that drive about 3 hours (1 way) to get to the big city market.
I know driving is no fun but as your pickup is only 10 years old it shouldn't be a huge problem (my small pickup is 29 and my chevy is 44 years old!)

Also, the CSA option sounds like a great fit. Keep working out the details and likely you'll have more customers than you expect.


    Bookmark   March 4, 2013 at 11:10PM
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little_minnie(zone 4a)

I think a big problem is getting into another market. Many of the good ones are not accepting new produce vendors.

    Bookmark   March 5, 2013 at 11:21AM
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Thanks for the link Jay - is that like a CSA, or just weekly orders (no obligation)? I am listed on LocalHarvest (just updated this AM, check it out Briarwoods Farm in CT), had to say TBD for market right now.

rustico (sorry, forgot your name), where would I consign? Small mom & pop grocery was interested in my berries a couple of years ago but wanted basically to consign, "return them if they didn't sell", I told them "what am I going to do with week-old berries that have gone moldy?" (since they don't refrigerate their berries). I don't know if they're interested in anything else (maybe Asian greens? Think they have suppliers for tomatoes, etc.). I *did* think of going to Chinese restaurant next to them (and some others in area) to see if they'd be interested in greens, zukes, etc. I might have enough edamame for a restaurant this year if I don't sell at market, but it will be a 1 (or 2) time thing since I don't have the space to plant a lot in succession, it takes too long (90 days).

Minnie- you are so right, that one market (Sunday morning, goes til end of Oct, no worries with babysitting, would be perfect!) has only been in operation 5 years and I've been on the waiting list for 2 now.

Mark - there are some larger markets around farther out, I may look into those. 1 direction isn't too bad (going toward Hartford), parking is OK but vendors set up on asphalt, at least 6 other local producers there so more competition, they're all way bigger than I am and do multiple markets. Another 20 miles away in other direction is pretty big (from what I hear) but lots of low-income so I don't know how sales would be. Still farther away is a year-round indoor market but I don't know if it's worth it (at 14 mpg). Might have to grow more to make it worthwhile, and have winter harvest (meaning I'd have to not only get the tunnel up, but may have to heat it or even for greens find a way to get to it when we have snow). You're right, I've got something of a large market garden vice a "farm". Not counting the berries (spread out, lots of wild blackberries), I've only got about 5000sf prepped and fenced for veggies. We try to expand a little each year. And yes, at the market I never sold out of everything, though often sold out of 1 or 2 items. Advice I got here was to take more than I thought I'd sell. But some things like chard (sold 1 bunch) never sold, while others (like berries, when I had quite a few in 2011 - too dry in 2012 - and to some extent cukes and cherry tomatoes) sold out. Most things (lettuce, "salad" and beefsteak tomatoes) I ended up bringing home roughly half what I brought to market.

I'd like to hear more ideas on CSA - or the weekly orders like Jay does. Like I said, I'm a little afraid of promising more than I can deliver, but 1 of DH's coworkers will take 10 lbs of tomatoes (not for canning, for fresh eating she just loves them) plus various other items each week, another coworker is not so steady and of course he has the problem of keeping things cool all day. But my cousin and his wife have belonged to a work-share type CSA for a couple of years (and never asked me or bought anything from me!), I think they like the berries and I'm afraid I won't have enough to supply other customers if I let her (and the kids) come pick. I've been trying to "talk up" the farm to people I meet in town (other parents at school/Scouts) but again no one has asked for/bought anything. I've even seen a few people from church at market but none of them have bought from me, they go to other vendors, though when I would stop at a church dinner after Friday market I did have some (other people) buy off my truck.

    Bookmark   March 5, 2013 at 12:11PM
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jrslick (North Central Kansas, Zone 5B)

I call it a CSA, but it is more like a Buyers Club. There is no obligation to buy week to week, but if you wanted to set it up differently you can. I charge a one time $10 membership fee and ask to put $20 on account that you can spend down. Once you spend that $20, you can put more on account or just pay your amount each week when you pick up. I have some customers that pay me $100-$150 at a time to put on their account and they just spend it down. The site calculates all that and you don't have to do any of that. I thought about offering a 10 or 15% discount if you put money on your account this spring, example they pay 100 and I would credit them $110 or $115 that way I would have more $$ to use during the spring purchase time. I just haven't done it.
The site is just an online platform that you can use as you wish. Are there other growers in the area that may want to partner with you to offer more diversity?

What day is your market? General rule of thumb is Weekday markets do a little less business than a Saturday morning market.


1 Like    Bookmark   March 5, 2013 at 12:35PM
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I haven't found a Sat market close by (I guess there is one somewhere in this county or next one over, I heard one of the big growers mention it). The Sunday market is the best. All the others I know of are weekday (and the "healthy" one at the YMCA I was interested in, thought it's only 12 weeks, is Tuesday 3-6:30 but they want you there at 1:30 to set up, and you have to stay for the whole thing).

My cousin and great-uncle, though not a "farm" have PYO blueberries (I sold some at market for them last year when it was too hot for PYO) and quite a large garden, I could get some different things from them if they have excess (though she preserves a lot, grows potatoes, winter squash, things she can cellar).

Your Buyers club sounds like what I was thinking of doing and another (big) organic farm here does - though I could never figure how they could afford to promise more than they had, not only do they credit you more than you paid, but they "guarantee" you value - if they have a bad year they buy in from other farmers - including honey, jams, goat cheese, etc. I also haven't figured how (in this state where most markets are "producer only", I got an exception from MM to bring my great-uncle's berries to help him out) they can offer things from other farms. Esp. processed foods, since state says farmers can make jams in their home kitchens only for sales at their own stands or certified markets - no wholesaling. Maybe the people making the jams and cheeses have commercial kitchens and are allowed to wholesale (must be since I don't think anyone is allowed to sell cheese made in home kitchen even i they raise goats).

    Bookmark   March 5, 2013 at 2:04PM
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It's easy to get around the 'producer only' rule. Have the producer sign your contract with you. Or just have them sign it and then you're just their sales person.

    Bookmark   March 5, 2013 at 2:19PM
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I'm a firm believer in advertising and getting your name out there. We hand out business cards and post them everywhere we can. We have hats, shirts, and green bags with our name, email address, phone no., and logo on them. I ended up with a whole new avenue of sales through LocalHarvest that accounts for at least a third of our business. Believe it or not, word of mouth got our name out and really got things rolling. It helped that my first customer was a beautician, who handed out our business card to all her clients. Before long, we had several regulars who purchased weekly. I usually put out a weekly letter, letting them know what's available and how things are progressing. I want to connect them on a personal level to our farm and keep them abreast of the birds we feed and watch, the pond construction, our bees, wildflowers, butterflies, etc. They like reading about what we're doing and often want to visit. I've now got regular customers in 8 different counties.

Another great income for us is restaurants. One of the restaurants I sell to includes our name weekly in its menu, and its customers then became our customers. They put out a newsletter and featured us last summer. Within a week, I added over thirty new folks to our list. Now, most are not regulars, but I did pick up several new people, one of which was a car dealership. The next thing I knew, he had me bring a truckload of melons there to sell to his coworkers. I'm hoping something like that will become a weekly or at least bi-monthly event for us. Surprisingly, at my last dental visit, the office there told me they want the same thing. All it took for that to get started was the assistant asking about my hat, which had our name on it. I also must say something about service. We conduct business in a quaint kind of way that people don't expect anymore. I still deliver at their doorstep and take payments whenever. I leave coolers of goods and later come back to retrieve the empty w/a payment. I also leave their goods on my porch and let them pick them up themselves at their own convenience. People like that kind of old fashioned service and tell others. By the way, I've never once been shortchanged or cheated. I'm amazed that they usually include extra--though I encourage them not to.

It simply takes time for people to know you and what you're about. If you can create an interest, I think you'll get customers and not have to rely so much on markets.

1 Like    Bookmark   March 5, 2013 at 3:08PM
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Brook - very interesting, I had printed up some cards on my computer/printer and had them available at market (some people took them) and also at the Historical Society Tavern Night I had donated jams and jellies to twice. The small local newspaper came to 1 Tavern Night and interviewed me, they also took some pictures of my stall at market but I haven't gotten any phone calls from any of these. I am leery of printing up hats/T shirts/ totes due to the cost (though I'm considering a laminated road sign to put up at the corner of my road and the state highway). But maybe I can get some plain totes (or sew my own, I'm fairly handy) and stencil them at lower cost? Not sure how many to start out with.

I also have gotten zero leads from LocalHarvest - I'll only stay listed as long as it's free.

I am all about service - I love to talk to people about growing the stuff, what the differences between varieties are, the health benefits, and though I'm not a great cook (we don't eat fancy with a picky 9-yr old), I offer "ideas" (one of the winter projects I didn't get around to was scanning recipes I've been clipping from the newspaper featuring produce I grow). I am also a fanatic about safe canning practices and have referred people to the NCHFP website and to our county extension office.

I am not sure about setting up an "honor system" stand because I do know farmers who have been shortchanged - or even had things basically "stolen" - I think some of them are on this forum.

But this thread was about cutting costs - and here we are talking about incurring more.

I just got my latest copy of HMI's In Practice - good article on the front about "The Business of Growing" and actually managing your business rather than letting it manage you. More good stuff inside, esp. surprised to see in "The Data Mine" that according to USDA Census (which may be skewed to large producers - I know they sent my dad a census form and he didn't fill it out, seems like a lot of small farms aren't), there are definite economies of scale in production - they say that "farms below $10,000 in gross revenue operate at an unsustainable loss." (graphic shows -98%! which I guess makes them hobby farms - and these are the ones that bothered to participate in the census!).

On the same page there is a book review about "Farms with a Future: Creating and Growing a Sustainable Farm Business".

I guess I have to get back to my HMI training - I never did understand how to write a business plan. Thanks for the ideas on how to grow the business (any ideas on how to do it on the cheap?). I don't usually have problems growing plants (though of course the past 2 years - the time I've been in business - the weather has been the worst I can remember). But I know nothing about managing a business.

And I did possibly gain 1 -3 new customers today. I stopped at local pizza shop/convenience store for milk, and saw they had new egg supplier, asked about the old one (right in town) and was told he was unreliable. I mentioned my cousin's eggs, and that led to a discussion about Araucana chickens and farming with 2 customers, 1 of whom was interested to hear that while I didn't have chickens (yet, trying to figure if it would be profitable), I did grow "organic" veggies. I wrote down my name, address and number for him, he's interested in coming to the farm once we've got spring greens. I may go back to the store owner and ask if he wants to add some produce to his offerings of milk, OJ, local eggs and some shelves of dry goods (typical convenience store stuff). Maybe we can work out a consignment deal?

Though I think he was more interested in hiring me or DH for part-time "financial services" work (selling financial products and insurance?). He was well-dressed, anyway. I told him I had 2 kids in Scouts and also did a lot of charity work in my "off-season" and that DH worked too many hours at his regular job to add a part-time job.

    Bookmark   March 5, 2013 at 4:10PM
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Jay, thanks for the link to your buyers club.. I am in central nebraska and going to try selling for the first time. Your area seems very like mine. and gave me some ideas as to price acceptance. I see these big urban area prices and think "people around here will not pay that"

    Bookmark   March 6, 2013 at 11:20AM
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jrslick (North Central Kansas, Zone 5B)

Bruce2288: Where at in Nebraska are you?

Pricing is a very touchy, especially when you are selling to people who have their own gardens and their stuff just isn't ready yet!

It has taken 8 years, but i am starting to get higher prices and not much hassle. I am also starting to see people who use to put in a garden, not do it and just come to the market and buy my stuff. I keep hearing that more and more. They say it is just cheaper and easier to come buy my stuff because it looks better and tastes better.

Don't sell yourself too short on prices, just be willing to explain why you have higher prices.


    Bookmark   March 6, 2013 at 1:01PM
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I had 1 lady last year complain about $4/lb for Brandywines (but she bought 1, and came back the next week for more). But recently a lady at the Sr. Center asked me why farmers/stores charge that much since "tomatoes are like weeds, they come up in the compost pile, you can break one off and stick it in the ground and get a new plant, they don't take any work at all!"

All I could answer is that it IS work to start the seeds, pot them up, harden them off, transplant them, prune them, trellis/stake/cage them, water them (in my case by hand since I have no irrigation out back), pick off the hornworms (since I don't spray), harvest them, sort out the "ugly" ones, and bring them to market (along with paying market fees and insurance). I haven't actually figured out how much it costs to grow a pound of heirlooms, but I can attest that in general start-up costs for any crop that needs fencing and trellising far outweighs the income. Tomatoes were my best seller the past 2 years (OK, 2011 was a disaster, so we won't count that), and they grossed 25-30% of what my expenses were - I spent about as much on gas for the pickup as I grossed on tomatoes last year (was a dry year so maybe yield wasn't what it should have been)!

    Bookmark   March 6, 2013 at 2:02PM
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Your tomatoes should make money, maybe not alot, but should at least break even. On the stakes and other equipment, you should be able to use them for years, so you don't take the entire cost into the figures on year 1.

You must realize that this equipment costs are not a 1 year cost, but several years. Yes the start up costs are outrageous, but after awhile, it's much easier and more profitable.

    Bookmark   March 6, 2013 at 6:11PM
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It doesn't help that gas keeps going up all the time - even though I just use the truck for hauling water (as little as possible), going to market, and getting big supplies (burlap, pine branches, wood chips, manure, fencing), and use the car to bring soil samples to lab, go buy seeds, potting soil, etc. (and I usually forget to write down the mileage on the car so I don't claim it), it just seems gas (and oil) is a major expense that I can't see how to reduce. Add in insurance and repairs, that's a major chunk of my expenses.

    Bookmark   March 6, 2013 at 7:17PM
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Jrslick, I am 35miles northwest of Grand Island

    Bookmark   March 12, 2013 at 11:21AM
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Jrslick, I am 35miles northwest of Grand Island

    Bookmark   March 12, 2013 at 11:30AM
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I learned a long time ago that buying cheap is not always the best option. Buying quality has always made me happier in the long run. You can not do it all in one year, but when you have the opportunity buy quality quipment that will last.

If you do your planning correctly, you should make money the first year.

We now average 100% return on investment every year if not more. I would not farm if I did not make this kind of return. I do buy new equipment when I need it and if the numbers make sense. If a piece of equipment can not be paid off in the first year, it does not get bought until I have the cash to pay it off in full.

Be frugal when necessary, but always remember that quality will carry the day. Take plug trays as a simple example. If you buy the cheap styrene plug trays that require a 10x20 carrier underneath you have spent $1 to $2 per tray depending on the quanity you buy. That will last you one maybe two years. Or you can buy plantel, dillen, etc. heavyweight polypropylene trays that will last 15-20 years for $4-$6 per tray. The SMART money is on the more expensive tray. You will LIKE them more as well.

Always look at the long termin picture when choosing where and when to spend money, not what is the cheapest possible solution to my current problem.

    Bookmark   April 7, 2013 at 7:10AM
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A couple of ideas on the subject though not so much as a market gardener myself.

- Try connecting with your local 4-H office to partner with them. I know I asked our local youth coordinator for a name and ended up buying half a cow. When I picked up my meat, I also saw his year-round farm stand including high tunnel crops.
- Try to connect with senior centers, private schools (of the Sunnyfields Country Day School with local, organic lunch offerings type), cooking schools, etc. that will have longer running needs.
- Somehow start a local connection with canners in the area. Maybe offer farm tours in canning season? I can and our local market farmers are only too happy for me to call them and say "Can I have 15 pounds of pickling cukes on Wednesday?"
- Ask your recycling center to save materials for you. If our recycling center knows you need a particular type of material, they're happy to divert it. Here, people drop off their egg cartons for local growers.
- Contact the local people who organize things - the ones who have the spaghetti supper for the cub scouts and the PTO breakfast. Explain that you can't donate veggies for free but in exchange for advertisement (your farm name on the paper placemats, signs at the entrance, etc.), you're willing to get local product to them fresher than the store at a good-neighbor price.

1 Like    Bookmark   April 10, 2013 at 11:21PM
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