can you make money selling tomatoes?

jenniedhsApril 22, 2009

My first love is gardening, and when you want to make money they say to do what you love. My husband lost his job last September and has found a new job but it pays 25% of what he used to make. Plus it is long hours and a lot of travel. I have been a stay at home gardener for years, was a former CPA (before personal computers). is there any kind of money in selling produce? I need to help out. I can get a large tract of land for next to nothing (a friend). But is it

profitable? Any insights would be most appreciated.

Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Yes you can make money selling to restaurants and farmers markets.


    Bookmark   April 22, 2009 at 11:36PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
carolyn137(z4/5 NY)

YOu can also make good money selling seedlings to others as well as fruits.

I note you're in TN. Had you planned to do this this summer? If so, had you planned to raise your own plants from seed? I ask b'c it's getting quite late to sow seed in your area and that worries me a bit, and I mean for fruits to sell.

And you'd have to start making contacts now as to where you might sell those fruits and check about a local farmer's market to see if you need any licenses, etc.

I don't think there will be time to ask chefs about what kind of varieties they might be interested in, maybe you can do that sometime, and you should know what the folks local to you might prefer, and I mention this in terms of deciding on which varieties you want to grow.

I think it's great that you want to help out and doing what you like to do, gardening, is a wonderful way to go about it.


    Bookmark   April 23, 2009 at 2:53AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Restaurants! I had not thought of that. Carolyn, I have about 40 tomato seedlings hardening off which should go in the ground this weekend, plus lots of herbs ready to be planted and dill and parsley coming up from seed in the garden. (Plus all the perennial herbs, which I will get more of) I wasn't planning on planting all the tomatoes. I have space for about 15 tomatoes and the herbs. The rest I was going to give away or ....choke....throw away. But I can make space in other areas for this year and think on a larger scale for next year. I only started two varieties this year, Super Sonic which did great for me last year, and Giant Belgium which was a "bonus" seed packet from Tomato Growers. Have not tried the Giant Belgium. I used to grow heirlooms, but when we moved to TN I didn't have any luck with them. Low production and disease every year. The super sonic taste great and were very prolific last year. So that's all I ordered this year. Resstaurants!! What a great idea! I make and freeze pesto (still have left over from last year). They might be interested in that also. Thank you both!

    Bookmark   April 23, 2009 at 8:33AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
carolyn137(z4/5 NY)

I only started two varieties this year, Super Sonic which did great for me last year, and Giant Belgium which was a "bonus" seed packet from Tomato Growers. Have not tried the Giant Belgium. I used to grow heirlooms, but when we moved to TN I didn't have any luck with them. Low production and disease every year. The super sonic taste great and were very prolific last year. So that's all I ordered this year. Resstaurants!! What a great idea! I make and freeze pesto (still have left over from last year). They might be interested in that also. Thank you both!


Supersonic F1 is one of three hybrids that were bred by Harris Seeds early on, the other two being JEt Star F1 and Moreton Hybrid, and it's a darn good tasting hybrid. But I wonder about selling those fruits to a chef or at a farmer's market when so many others are selling red hybrids as well.

Giant Belgium is a large pink heirloom and I find it's OK but it sure wouldn't be on my list of large pinks that I'd grow, for taste alone.

I know several folks in TN who have no problem at all growing heirloom varieties, so I'm not sure why you got low yields and disease. The most common tomato diseases in TN as elsewhere are the common foliage diseases and no variety, hybrid or not, has any significant tolerance to those, with just a few exceptions that right now wouldn't be of use to the home gardener.

Do you know how many others in your area are growing heirloom varieties and selling either plants or fruits? It's good to know the competition and also looking towards creating a niche market for yourself, and selling essentially round red fruits isn't going to create a niche market for you in terms of the possible competition.

So do the best you can this year and start planning for next year in terms of herbs and tomatoes and whatever else you might want to try. And make those contacts suggested above so you know what is going to be most marketable.


    Bookmark   April 23, 2009 at 9:43AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Now my brain is churning with ideas I had not thought of before. Not exactly on topic, but tomatoes are in season for only a fleeting moment it seems. Years ago, before he moved, I used to help out a good friend who catered parties. ( He would cook all of the food, except dessert, on site while entertaining his guests. He payed an astronomical fee to a baker for the dessert. My very good friend, who is Dutch, taught me how to make her wonderful and unusual Apple Tart. We have a lot of small chef owned restaurants in Nashville who might not have a pastry chef in house! Could I sell my apple tart in the off season? And to expand further, could I sell my Hazelnut Fudge Sauce that I make at Christmas to give as gifts? So sorry to get off topic, but wanted to thank you for planting an idea that I had not thought of before! I promise I will only discuss tomatoes in the future!!

    Bookmark   April 23, 2009 at 9:55AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Hi jenniedhs,
Suggest you check both Garden Web forums "Market" & "Harvest".
You'll get orientation on your USA regulations & feedback on ideas.

    Bookmark   April 23, 2009 at 10:02AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo


I had terrible problems with blight, which I had not ever dealt with. Compounding that problem, I couldn't rotate the crop to another area. We sit on rock so the only way to garden is with raised beds. After trial and error over the years I finally found that putting down a heavy layer of newspaper and then mulch and removal of lower branches kept the blight from splashing up on the tomatoes. About that time I started with Super Sonic. I also had cherokee purples, that I love, but they didn't do as well. From research I have learned these aren't great producers, so it was just the variety I chose. Probably had I taken the measurers I now use, the other heirlooms would have done better. Next year I will expand to hierlooms again. After I got the Giant Belgium in the mail I researched and found that they are not on too many people's "favorite" list as they are too sweet. So I didn't have too high of hopes for those. Thanks for your thoughts Carolyn. I know it is just a "seed" of an idea this year. But maybe next year I can start contributing some. What are your favorite heirlooms if you could only grow four varieties?

    Bookmark   April 23, 2009 at 10:13AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo


Not sure about TN, but in OH the hassles one has to go through to sell processed foods commercially is daunting, nearly impossible for D-I-Yers. In addition to regulations and inspections, I believe no business will buy processed food unless you have some kind of insurance.

It pays to look into the laws to see if what you are considering is possible.


    Bookmark   April 23, 2009 at 10:23AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
jll0306(9/ Sunset 18/High Desert)

We have a poster on here who makes great money selling sundried tomatoes. Do a search to find her thread and you'll get even more excited about the possiblities.

Seems to me, it's not too late to order paste tomato starts and grow them in buckets.


    Bookmark   April 23, 2009 at 2:03PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I grew 2500 seedlings in western kentucky. approx 20 different heirlooms. If you decide you want to try seedlings,most everybody around here wants Jetstar, Big Boy, Beefsteak, Rutgers, Cherries and a few other local varieties. Hard sells are anything purple or pink(besides Brandywine)or non-red. Try to explain to country folks about Black Krim or kelloggs or even Cheokkee Purple. Its pretty much the same story, my familly raises only....yada yada. I'm still sitting on a few dozen of them along with a huge lot of others. I had 100 black cherries and have sold 10. Its starting to pick up now tho. I've had to reduce my prices to 1.50 a 4-pack and 1.50 for rare varieties to move them. I traveled around to local flea markets etc and didn't do very well, but out in front of my house does pretty good. I'm hoping my tomato stand will do better this summer. I'm concentrating on large red tomatoes, not too big and not too small. And also some cherries as well as a few veggies. I don't know where you are from , but McKinnon Tn. is the greenhouse capitol of the world i'm told... i may be complaining about sales, but to tell you the truth i've had a blast doing it and made a bunch of new friends among my neighbors i didn't know before. Good Luck! John

    Bookmark   April 23, 2009 at 2:28PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I think you all are right, I need to do a little more research into local ordinances and start contacting local chefs and markets to gauge interest. I have a good friend who rents a commercial kitchen to make her chutneys which she sells on the internet and at the local farmers market. She can probably help me out with local ordinances. We used to be "regulars" at two small upscale restaurants and I think I could approach their chefs (and owners) and pick their brains.

Jan, I remember reading the posts on sundried tomatoes last fall! She was even generous enough to share her "recipe". So many things to think about! John, I wish I had more space for growing more seedlings than I would need to sell. I had a basement when we lived in Ohio and it was perfect for growing LOTS of plants from seed under racks and racks of grow lights. I had a small business then of doing dried flower arrangements for weddings which were all the rage back then. We don't have that luxury here. I have a sunroom off the kitchen that gets morning and afternoon sun and a few of the old grow lights for my personal tomato needs. I'll have to invest in more! You're right though, one of the best parts of growing tomatoes is sharing them with neighbors and friends and making new friends in the process! That's why I have always grown so many plants for just two people!

I may not get this off the ground this year, but will invest time and energy so that I have a firm plan going into next year. Thanks so much all. It would sure beat going back to the 9 to 5!

    Bookmark   April 23, 2009 at 4:20PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo


    Bookmark   April 23, 2009 at 5:55PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

To sell processed food legally, except at a farm stand on your property, you have to attend a "Better Process" school, takes 4 days or so and they're held twice a year at various colleges around the country. Google "usda better process" to learn about it.

    Bookmark   April 23, 2009 at 9:38PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
vegomatic(z5 BHSD)

I like your enthusiasm! Since you're starting from scratch at this, I'd recommend trying to keeep expenses down. The grow lights, for instance. Those and associated flats and shelving can be a huge expense if bought commercially.

Since you have a year to plan, look for garage sales, scratch'n'dents, etc. I've found the low-cost shop lite variety to work just fine for plants. Generic fixtures for $10 and tubes for $1.30 each can be bought instead of the spendy "gro-lite" bulbs. "Better" stuff can always be bought later if you're successful. You probably already have most of the associated "garden" things you'll need, so that's a plus.

Be realistic and crunch some numbers. If you spend $1000 on startup costs, can you reasonably expect to raise $1000 worth of tomatoes to break even? At $4 a pound, that's 250 pounds of tomatoes. Is that doable in your garden? If you can only fetch $2 a pound, you must raise 500 pounds. It all depends on actually growing saleable fruit, then being able to get it to market when it's ripe and the market accepting your product. Certainly doable, but still a lot of "if's."

Or, if you sell seedlings, that's 667 plants, assuming $1.50 per plant, which I what I asked for this year. Figure 10 flats of starts, more or less. I built a 2'd x 4'w x 4'h shelf unit from 1x2 lumber and thin sheeting and equipped it with six dual-tube 48" shop lites (three light fixtures per shelf) for a cost of about $120. It will hold 8 flats with the top shelf open for larger plants that only get window light. Two or three of these would be enough to get started. The rest of your $1000 would go towards soil, seeds, flats, utilities, car expense, marketing, phone, etc.

I start seeds in 72-size flats, but pot up before selling into larger individual pots. Once I do that, I can only fit 18 pots per flat. Keep that in mind, as it takes a whole lot more space, both horizontally and vertically, as your plants get larger before going to market. Overcrowding young plants only leads to disease and weak stems. (I know that problem too well, but I have only so much space for seedlings!)

Let's say you're really frugal, and keep total cost down to $500. So, for your first season, you show a net profit of $500. I'd anticipate a minimum of 8 weeks from start to finish if only selling seedlings. That a profit of $62.50 per week. Um, that's before taxes. :-( You probably won't actually owe taxes, but remember that self-employed people pay about 15% Social Security tax once your earn more than $400 in a year.

I guess it looks a little dismal from that perspective, in which case you need to scale the numbers up a bit. Grow more seedlings, get a higher price, reduce costs further or rethink what can be reasonably expected.

Myself, I'd love to grow things for profit. I'm dabbling with the concept and sell a few extra plants each season. I sell maybe 30 plants and feel content making enough to pay for the bags of soil I buy to ammend the greenhouse.

It might be that if you intend to grow and continue this venture, your costs and the space used in your home would be deductible. In which case, you may be able to offset your husband's income a bit by showing a loss as you get started. I'm sure I don't need to advise you on the IRS and the distinction between "hobby" and "professional" deductions! For the others reading this, suffice it to say you do need to show a profit within a few years to take all those startup cost deductions.

Since your husband's income is so suddenly and drastically reduced, maybe look at income averaging for his tax picture. Your CPA experience may net a bigger gain than your gardening enterprise and may be more immediate, since you may be able to file an amended return. Perhaps you've already taken some steps in this regard, but it's worth looking into if not. Meanwhile, you can continue to look into the myriad details of a gardening enterprise.

I'm a passable gardener, I'm not a CPA by any means and I've only driven by a Holiday Express. ;^) I have operated a self-employed business of one type or another since 1973, so I do have a little experience there. I always crunch some numbers first, before opening the checkbook, to see if my expectations can be met without straining the budget in the meantime.

Good luck, notwithstanding my little "reality check" above, I'm there in spirit right beside you!


    Bookmark   April 24, 2009 at 12:15AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Hi Jennie, if you would like to shoot me an email at my username at, I would like to send you a link that may help you out. It includes what Carolyn has said, but also really good info from others as well. Good luck!

    Bookmark   April 25, 2009 at 12:34AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

yes of course you can make money by selling tomatoes and that too even by working at home
Make Money From Home

    Bookmark   May 7, 2009 at 12:05AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

basil wants warm to germinate. It is fine to seed basil now and later. Restaurants will take all the basil you can grow. It is tricky and labor intensive to get good leaves without stems. they want the leaves not the stems and seeds. or small stems that are more tender.

They will take tomatoes.

Sweet corn is good if you have a large acreage because you can do a lot with a tractor. less labor.

If you had like 30 acres you will make most money from sweet corn. then tomatoes. but you will have 29 acres of corn and one acre of tomatoes.

Strawberries can be good but you need an extra year.

There is a market garden forum for people who grow to sell.

some do well with lettuce.

With anything you have to learn how to do it well and efficiently and develop the market. selling direct to customers is easy. restaurants are good if they come to you. takes a lot of time and gas to deliver. You can burn up your profit with free delivery. You must charge for delivery.

The easy way to go is to have a farm stand on your property on the road so people stop and buy.

This is not an easy way to make money. labor intensive looks like it makes more money but you can run out of time.

If you get one dollar a pound on tomatoes and sell a hundred pounds you only have a hundred dollars. you can do a summer of work for that hundred dollars.

selling plants is fast good money. But you will want a greenhouse.

Like any other business it takes money to get started and a ton of work. And you can fail real easy. You must carry through to the end.

Pumpkins can be easy at times. Maybe watermelons for you. I am up north where things are different. How many acres can you get and can you get a tractor with the land. Can you get cheap labor to help you out.

You might want to contact a county ag agent to help you choose what to grow. You want to understand things better so you can wind up with a profit for your labor. It would help if you had 10 years under your belt growing a big garden so you would understand.

What other options do you have to make money.

Can you put out an acre of tomatoes.

your county agriculture agent should be able to give you some figures on sales per acre. and labor per acre and cost per acre and profit per acre.

Onions are very good profit. You grow them over the winter. But not everyone can grow onions well. Tricky difficult crop. garlic can be excellent also. garlic is an over winter crop.

too cold up here for onions. onions do not want it too cold over the winter. you do not want them to die over winter. spinach is over winter should work for you.

flowers can sell well. flower plants do well. go to some market garden sales and see what other farmers do in your area. talk to them too. do you know some farmers.

berries can be good like strawberry raspberry etc.

you can add value by making jelly etc. you can pickle things. mixed veggie pickles sell well around here. Overall it is probably a job for more than one person. Not sure you can do it all by yourself. Your husband and kids would help a lot.

Here is a link that might be useful: market garden forum

    Bookmark   May 7, 2009 at 12:42AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Can you make money? There's actually a variety called "mortgage buster". I wonder how he picked that name?

    Bookmark   May 7, 2009 at 11:50AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I heard of mortgage lifter, but not mortgage buster.

    Bookmark   May 7, 2009 at 3:26PM
Sign Up to comment
More Discussions
How many cherry tomatoes can I put in one 10 gallon pot?
Can I grow 3 or 4 plants together? It's to save me...
Black Pineapple Tomato (aka Ananas Noire): Verdict
Just picked my first black pineapple tomato and ate...
Better Boy or Brandy Boy?
I have Better Boy seeds and considering Brandy Boy....
What are you growing for 2015?
Hi all! I'm a fairly new gardener (this will be my...
You people are a bad influence
I went and bought seeds for mortgage lifter, big beef...
People viewed this after searching for:
© 2015 Houzz Inc. Houzz® The new way to design your home™