Answer: Farmers market customers, restaurants, institutions, and even grocery stores want to buy local foods. In northern latitudes and higher elevations, however, producing food locally for these kinds of markets has its challenges.
Here are a few ideas:
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. Many upscale restaurants are also very interested in unusual and gourmet fruits and vegetables and are willing to pay a good price for these products.
Ethnic vegetables are a way to set yourself apart at farmers markets, but it is important to research a market beforehand. What ethnic populations shop there? If you are already selling at a farmers market, ask your ethnic customers what kind of vegetable they would like you to produce. Many specialty ethnic vegetables happen to be warm-season crops, such as chili peppers, bitter melons, and eggplants; however, there are a host of Asian greens, ethnic herbs, and Italian vegetables that grow well without season-extension tools in cold climates.
The baby vegetable craze began in Europe about 20 years ago. Many high-end restaurants in the United States have adopted the trend and look to local farmers to supply them. Baby vegetables are also very popular at higher-end farmers markets. The critical production strategy with baby vegetables is succession planting and timing of harvest. For lettuce and greens, you can use your hand as a measurement tool. A common measurement is to harvest baby lettuce greens smaller than your hand. Plant your produce every two to three weeks to ensure that the products stay young and succulent and the optimum size for harvest. For more information, see the ATTRA publication Scheduling Vegetable Plantings for Continuous Harvest.
You can learn much more by consulting the ATTRA publication Specialty Crops for Cold Climates. It discusses the challenges of growing specialty crops in cold climates, crops that grow well, and season-extension techniques to help mitigate the challenges of this type of production.
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