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Small Scale Farms – Growing Edible Plants

Edible Plants

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If your acreage is small it is very unlikely that you will want to grow large-scale crops like wheat, potatoes or sugar beets. Here are some ideas for crops that bring a high yield from a relatively small scale farm.

Market Gardening

If you have only a small acreage of arable land you might consider market gardening, even in an urban area (maybe especially in an urban area).

Market gardens have a smaller startup cost and allow you to focus on filling specific gaps in the market.  Commercial farms might not be able to fill such gaps because they normally focus on growing a single crop whereas market gardens typically grow a wide range of different produce.

As the organic movement continues to grow, fresh vegetables that have been raised sustainably and organically are very popular. And certain vegetables raised organically, like lettuce, tomatoes, and kale, can be sold for a lot more than others. Even if you only focus on growing a few different vegetables, you should consider selling organically raised produce from your farm at:

  • Farmer’s markets
  • Road-side stall
  • To shops
  • To restaurants
  • To the public calling at the farm

Microgreens

Chefs love using them both as a garnish, in salads and as an ingredient in cooked meals. They appeal to the health-conscious as they are packed full of nutrition and flavor. They have a high cash value and can be sold for as much as $50 per pound to restaurants (depending on the variety) so they are considered a highly profitable investment.

Salad Greens or Baby leaves

The leaves of young salad plants, mostly but not exclusively lettuces of various sorts are referred to as salad greens or baby leaves. They are harvested when the leaves are two or three inches long and are incorporated into gourmet salads at high-end restaurants for their lovely texture and varied colors and shapes.

Many people (apart from chefs) love salad greens and seek them out. They are one of the easier vegetable crops to market. They are easy to grow and have a fast turnover. Pound for pound, they are a high-value crop.

Seeds

Most homesteaders will already be saving seeds from year to year and most have more seeds than they will be able to use.

“Heirloom” seeds, which have been passed down from generation to generation without a hint of genetic modification, or “natural seeds” are growing increasingly popular with gardeners and organic farmers. (You must remember to take good photos of the plant flourishing, ready for when you are coming to sell the seed, as well as making careful observations of the methods and conditions needed for the successful growing of your seed.)

Exotic Versions of Ordinary Produce

Why grow and sell the same variety of crop as all your neighbors? You could develop a niche market for the seeds for an unusual flower, fruit or vegetable. For many ordinary types of produce, like tomatoes or onions, for example, there are hundreds of old-fashioned varieties with unique appearances and tastes and uses. You should be able to fetch a higher price for your striped, green-when-ripe type of tomato when everyone else is selling ordinary red ones.

african horned melon
African Horned Cucumber (Cucumis metuliferus)

Mushrooms

Edible mushrooms, particularly rare/specialized forms rather than ordinary button mushrooms for sale to:

  • Farmer’s markets
  • Road-side stall
  • Shops
  • The public calling at your farm
  • Restaurants

Mushrooms can be grown indoors in a controlled environment for a much larger harvest. They are high yielding and there are multiple ways that you can grow them. It only takes an average of six weeks to grow and harvest mushrooms that are ready to be sold.

Mushroom farmers harvest an average of 25 pounds of produce per square foot every year and sell them for at least $12 per pound. Gourmet mushrooms such as oyster and shiitake are some of the most sought after varieties of mushrooms.  Oyster mushrooms currently sell for about $6 dollars per pound. In a growing area of just a few hundred square feet, you can easily produce thousands of pounds of mushrooms per year.

Those who want a more natural and low-maintenance approach can grow shiitake or oyster mushrooms outdoors on logs. Inoculated logs can produce mushrooms for years with minimal inputs.

Investigate also growing mushrooms and other forms of fungus for medicinal purposes.

Fruit Trees

The old Chinese proverb says “the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”

With that being said, go ahead and plant fruit trees now so you can be ready to start selling fruit in the future. Fruit trees such as apples, plums, pears and peaches require investment and a great deal of labor up front and you may not get a harvest for several years. But once your trees start to produce fruit, you will have a food and income source for the life of the trees.  If you are in a warmer climate with frost-free winters, you may even be able to grow more tropical fruits such as oranges, lemons or figs.

No matter what variety of fruit you are growing, we recommend planting dwarf fruit trees. These have a maximum height of around 8 feet, which makes them much easier to harvest from. They also produce fruit faster than larger trees. If you plant 1-year-old dwarf apple trees, you could start to get some fruit the very next year.

As with all farming endeavors you make the highest profit if you supply a fruit that is a rare delicacy in your area. It is likely that the fruit is rare because it is difficult to grow and/or transport and you will have to calculate the costs and complications of trying to enter this niche in the market.

There are, however, some relatively simple ways to beat the difficulties of, for example, frost-sensitive fruit trees in areas subject to frost. The avocado pears in the photo, for example, are growing in their own purpose-built mini-greenhouse.  The trees are draped with old-fashioned Christmas tree lights that come on automatically when a sensor indicates that temperatures are dropping to freezing level and this creates a tiny, warmed environment around the trees.  The trees will eventually grow out of the top of the structure but their graft point will remain in a protected environment.

avocado house

Fruit Picking Farms (U-Pick, You-Pick, Pick-Your-Own)

Once your fruit trees have matured and are yielding harvests of fruit every year you can choose to harvest your fruit yourself or you could consider capitalizing on the fact that fruit picking is a popular weekend activity for families.  Small farms have found a model, where people come and pick their own fruit and pay by the basket, to be a lucrative venture. This model has the advantage of saving you the cost of hiring fruit-pickers and of transport to markets.

This type of business will largely depend on direct interaction with customers.   Ensure that:

  • Your farm is safe and clean;
  • Your staff is efficient and helpful;
  • Parking is available;
  • Clean toilets are available.

You could also take advantage of customers on your property by providing light refreshments or the sale of other goods produced on your farm.

Also counted in the U-pick arena are seasonal crops such as pumpkins.

Berries

Raising and selling berries (such as strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, raspberries or elderberries) can be a good way to make money on small acreage. Locally grown berries seem to always be in demand, especially if they are organically grown.

Nuts

Like berries, nuts are always popular – and they have a longer shelf life. If you have nut producing trees on your property collecting and selling nuts can be an additional way to make money farming. If the nuts have hulls, you will probably need a de-huller. And then you will need to decide if you want to sell them as whole nuts in the shell or without the shell. You will need to investigate your market to see where the greatest profits can be made.

walnuts
Walnuts – hulled and not

Hops

Locally grown hops can provide a nice added touch to locally produced beer. Make contact with local breweries and find out if they would be interested in purchasing hops grown on your farm.

Growing For the Homeopathic Market

A further niche in the growing market is producing plants used in homeopathic preparations – whether for human consumption or use in Agricultural homoeopathy.

 

Please see the Earnings Disclaimer associated with these articles.

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