Question of the Week
I sell vegetables at my local farmers market but the short growing season where I live makes it challenging. How can I be more profitable?
Answer: In northern latitudes and high elevations, producing food has its challenges, including low humidity and extreme fluctuations in temperatures, short growing seasons, and challenging soils. Small-scale market gardeners can overcome some of the challenges of profitably producing local foods in cold climates through seed and plant selection, season extension techniques, and niche marketing.
A number of crops actually do well with light frost and cooler temperatures that tend to dominate the early and later parts of a growing season in cold climates. These crops are often referred to as cool-season crops. Specialty vegetables can be considered any variation from the typical market fare. This could be baby, heirloom, or ethnic products. Producing specialty vegetables is a way to set yourself apart in local markets and often command a higher price. For more information and crop ideas, see the ATTRA publication Specialty Crops for Cold Climates at https://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/summaries/summary.php?pub=366.
Season extension techniques are another important strategy to increase profitability in areas with a short growing season. Cultural practices, plastic mulches, row covers, and low tunnels provide growers with earlier, later, and higher-quality produce that can capture more markets and get higher prices. High tunnels or hoop houses, which are essentially unheated greenhouses, have gained increased interest around the country in the past 10 years. Many growers now consider hoop houses essential to the success of their market gardens. For more information, see the ATTRA publication Season Extension Techniques for Market Gardeners at https://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/viewhtml.php?id=366.
To learn more about greenhouse design elements and their effectiveness at extending the growing season in cold climates, read Sustainable Season Extension: Considerations for Design at https://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/summaries/summary.php?pub=370.
Finally, it is important to consider which market is right for your cool-season specialty crops. If you are using these seed selection and season-extension techniques on your farm, chances are that your harvest season extends past the season of operation for a typical farmers market or other seasonal direct markets. Consider selling at (or starting) a winter farmers markets and selling directly to local restaurants or grocery stores. There is potential for finding lucrative markets that will increase the profitability of your market garden.
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