Holiday Farm Sales – An Opportunity Not to be Missed!

Image courtesy of The Misty Manor Mercers

Looking at the Black Friday and Small Business Saturday ads the past few days, the pain that many farmers feel this time of year hits home. The farmers’ markets are mostly closed down for the season, and so is that extra income that comes from them. Even if you’ve had a separate harvest, it’s probably done for the year and you know that money needs to be budgeted carefully to make it work through a long winter. The holiday season is coming and there’s an expectation for presents, family visiting and travel in the air. How are you going to get in a little extra money coming in for the season? Holiday sales! Here’s a quick look at a few options you can consider to bring in some additional money over the course of the holiday season.

  • Celebrate the season – on the farm! Offer one or many opportunities for people to come to your farm for a seasonal event, such as offering hayrides around your property, pick-your-own options and similar possibilities. Agri-tourism has been growing by leaps and bounds over the past decade or two as people want to get closer to their food source. You have the opportunity to grow a larger, more loyal customer following as more people learn about your operation and family. This is also a great time to bring in more customers to next years’ farmer’s market booth by promoting that as part of your overall process.
  • Add value. You may sell the most amazing tomatoes during the market season, but with a little work, you can offer preserved items through the rest of the year, such as tomato sauces, salsas, sun-dried tomatoes and similar options. This will require a certain amount of research into what’s allowed in your state, county and, should you choose to bring them to market, in the farmer’s market as well. However, organizations that have certified commercial kitchens available, such as churches and community groups, are often happy to rent them out during their downtime provided that the facilities are cleaned up well afterward.
  • Organize a farmer’s market holiday market. Some farmer’s markets will provide their vendors with the opportunity to reach out into the community after the season has closed down for one or two special events to move a little more produce, value-added products, CSAs or similar aspects that help promote both the farmer’s market and the farms themselves. These events are often planned indoors if the weather isn’t just perfect or can’t be anticipated for that time of year. Though this may require a certain amount of advertising and a bit of word-of-mouth to get a good turnout, but can be an excellent source of extra holiday income.
  • Diversify your offerings. Though you may provide plenty of produce during the summer, what about your beautiful end-grain wood cutting boards that you’ve been churning out during your downtime, the amazing quilts or crocheted blankets your daughter turns out so regularly or the wonderful homemade soaps and candles your aunt puts together? Adding a few crafts to fill out your booth, especially when produce is starting to let up, provides you with a great way to bring in more customers who may not be looking for produce while bringing in more income for your farm as a whole.
  • Advertise for free with other forms of media. If your market has officially closed for the year, that doesn’t mean that your opportunities for selling produce or value-added products are over! Facebook’s Marketplace, Craigslist and Etsy all offer options for moving a few more items after the main farmers market season has ended, though they’ll require a little more work to get the ads worded how you want for the best effect. You’ll also want to check with your local, state and county laws about whether you’ll require a business license to sell from your farm, though there are exemptions in many cases and several states have exemptions in place for farms that are selling “at the farm gate”.

By taking a few of these off-season market farming approaches to improving your income and opportunities, your small farm can remain sustainable and growing throughout the entire year, making your holidays merry and bright and the new year more promising than ever. Whether your family farm’s focus is on hydroponics, avoiding genetically modified organisms, organic or natural production, greenhouse opportunities or simply staying sustainable, making your operation more efficient in terms of recordkeeping, crop management, farm planning and production management, you can ensure that your family farm will stay strong to be passed on to the next generation. Have an amazing holiday season and a fabulous new year as 2019 comes rolling in!

Cathleen Vought, Jane of all trades, is a farmer, educator, blogger and more!
Cathleen Vought

Cathleen Vought is a freelance content and copywriter living on a small farm in southwest Missouri with her husband and daughter, two dogs, a few dozen Shetland sheep and chickens, too many cats and a Morgan-Arabian mare with serious attitude. A strong believer in social entrepreneurship, she has over two decades of experience as a volunteer disaster and medical responder, living the quote, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” She spends her free time working with wild edible and medicinal plants, fiber arts, playing with hot glass at her torch and renovating the family’s historic farmhouse.

 

6 Market Farming Crops That Tap Into the Healthy Holiday Cooking Trend

When you’re trying to make the most of limited greenhouse resources, trying to plan your crop scheduling around culinary trends may sound futile. However, a willingness to at least try and keep up with long lasting trends in cooking can make the difference between success and failure at market farming. With traditional holiday foods featuring high levels of saturated fat, sodium, sugar, and refined flour, there’s been a decade-long shift towards healthy holiday cooking that you can tap into. Try at least one popular farm vegetable crop listed below that can help boost your sales during the holiday season.

  1. Cauliflower

With the increase of adherence to vegetarian and vegan diets, many home cooks have recently turned to roasting whole heads of cauliflower in place of meat main dishes like turkeys and hams. Mashed, pureed, or even riced cauliflowers has been a trendy replacement for starch heavy potato and rice dishes for nearly a decade now. This is one of the more time and labor intensive cruciform vegetables to grow, but the higher price per pound for a quality head makes it worth the work of adding it to your marketing farming efforts. Smaller side shoots and miniature varieties ripen fast and are easily marketed as quick roasting and easy to slice after cooking whole.

  1. Lentils

Lentils won’t work for greenhouse or hydroponics growing in most cases, but it’s a great rotational crop for small farms with open field acreage and a relatively long cool season with mild temperatures. Locally grown lentils demand a high price per pound as a specialty organic crop, while they’re also replenishing the soil where you grow them since they’re a legume that fixes nitrogen. Make sure you’re willing to invest in small scale winnowing and threshing equipment if you add this crop to your routine. Brown, green, red, and yellow lentils are all commonly used to create tasty vegan and vegetarian meat-free lentil loaves for holiday meals that are packed with flavor, protein, and fiber.

  1. Sweet Potatoes

Growing in a hot and humid climate or a heated greenhouse environment instead? Try sweet potatoes for a double crop that is in high demand for all sorts of holiday dishes. While many market farmer customers are primarily familiar with eating the roots of the sweet potato, they’ll be happy to learn that the greens are mild and nutritious as well. Sell your trimmings from exuberant growth in your greenhouse or hydroponics system to make money on salad mixes in addition to sweet potatoes sold to make Thanksgiving casseroles and Christmas pies.

  1. Root Crops

Root crops often go out of vogue for decades at a time, but they’re enjoying a renaissance for now and deserve attention since many of them grow quickly and produce a harvest within one to three months. From specialty radishes to colorful carrots, tiny tender turnips, creamy parsnips, and even unusual sunchokes, you have plenty of options to find root crops that fit your chosen market farming method and climate. Many root crops like parsnips are lower in carbohydrates than potatoes and other holiday standards, so they’re popular even among market shoppers following paleo and low carb diets.

  1. Winter Squash

While butternuts and acorn squash were once primary in demand only for holiday meals, now these squash are easily sold from long-term storage all year round. Unique and unusual hybrids of spaghetti squash mixed with sweeter kabocha and pumpkin are in high demand for trendy holiday dishes that also happen to fit into many diets and satisfy healthy eating concerns. Be sure to outline the exact features and benefits of specific winter squash at the market since many varieties feature high levels of important vitamins and nutrients with low fat and moderate carb content.

  1. Kale

Kale’s time as a superstar has come and gone, but it remains a staple for healthier eating for many people. It’s one of the easiest greens to mix into stuffing, salads, appetizers, and even vegetarian and vegan main dishes like nut and lentil loaves. While it’s no longer quite trendy enough to plan an entire season around, most markets will support a steady sale of many dark and bitter greens during the holiday season. Commit to a little space for the most popular varieties of kale in your farm vegetable crop planning for a easy to grow holiday crop that remains in-demand from year to year.

Regardless of the crops you choose to grow for holiday markets and CSA delivers, you’ll need the right farm planning software to manage recordkeeping and rotational information. Check your fall and winter growing and sales plan at a glance by using Farm Production Manager to keep everything under control and boost productivity at the same time.

Jessica Kolifrath farmer, educator and blogger

Jessica grew up eating homegrown tomatoes and showing rabbits at livestock shows, so it’s no wonder she has her own 3 acre organic hobby farm today that will soon be home to a small licensed nursery for valuable trees and native shrubs. When she’s not busy with her own gardens and chickens, she enjoys helping build greenhouses and weed the blueberry fields at her friend’s 30 acre organic fruit and vegetable plant farm.

 

Using Companion Planting to Eliminate the Need for Herbicides, Insecticides and Pesticides

Companion planting began as a simple way for Ancient civilizations to improve their crop harvests by planting two or more different plants next to or near the plants they were growing. When the organic gardening movement took hold in the 1970s, companion planting reemerged as a viable way to eliminate the use of herbicides to kill weeds, pesticides to kill pests, and insecticides to kill predatory insects.

The concept of companion planting is not a new phenomenon. The ancient Romans learned about it along with allelopathy, which helped them discover what plants added beneficial goodies or took needed nutrients away from the grape vines they grew for making wine. Over 1,000 years ago, if not longer, Chinese farmers used companion planting when they discovered that planting mosquito ferns near their rice crops because of their ability to fix nitrogen, and to block plants that might steal precious sunlight from the rice crops.

Companion planting involves using plants (herbs, flowers, other vegetables, or green plants) to benefit farm vegetables, hoping this natural and sustainable practice in farm planning will help the growing plants and ultimately help every small farm in the harvest(ing) of their farm vegetable crop so their dream of market farming can continue.

 

Companion Planting Methods and How They Work

Climate Companions

Climate companionship is best described as planting crops that fulfill the climate needs of nearby and neighboring plants. An example of climate companion planting involves using taller sun-loving plants to protect plants that do best in shade or young seedlings that might not tolerate the intensely hot sun all day. This technique lets farmers free up greenhouse resources and take advantage of every inch of available growing space on their land.

Plant Trapping Companions

The concept behind this kind of companion is quite simple. The trappers should attract insects and pests that would otherwise attack the plant that you want the trapper to protect. The role of trapping plants is to serve as a decoy and to prevent harmful insects and pests from wreaking havoc on the farm vegetable crop you’re growing.

Use Companion Plants for Nitrogen Fixation

Nitrogen is a vital plant nutrient, and although it’s present in modest amounts in the soil, vegetable crops rely on nitrogen fixation that some plants do through their ability to use nitrogen in its ammonia form (which it takes from the air) and convert the proteins and other nutrients into absorbable substances that help crops grow and thrive. Nitrogen fixation may be more difficult with hydroponics.

Plants like beans, legumes, and peas are natural nitrogen fixers because they transform nitrogen from the atmosphere, into something that can be used by nearby vegetable plants.

Companion Planting to Attract Beneficial Bugs

The practice of planting companions to lure beneficial insects is referred to as “habitat influence.” Companion plants attract beneficial insects so that those bugs can turn around and feed on bad, predatory and destructive pests and insects that would otherwise destroy the vegetable plants you want to protect. By using plants that will bring beneficial bugs to prevent harmful ones from wreaking havoc on growing crops, you eliminate the need to use chemical insecticides and pesticides, both of which create environmental hazards and can destroy the microbial balance of otherwise healthy and fertile soil.

Taking Advantage of Plant Characteristics With Companion Plants

To take advantage of plant characteristics and to use those characteristics to your benefit by planting suitable companions together, you come out ahead in several ways. An obvious example of taking advantage of plant characteristics is the famous Three Sisters combination that dates back to indigenous people living in the Americas as long as 5,000 years ago. The designation “Three Sisters” refers to squash, corn, and beans. This combination not only takes advantage of every inch of available space; it uses the growth characteristics of each of these plants to the benefit of the others.

Squash grows on vines that spread out over the surface of the ground. The squash plants create a ground cover that will suppress weed growth, maintain consistent soil temperature, and help keep moisture in the soil longer. The thick, sturdy corn stalks are self-supporting, but they eliminate the need to use supports for the bean vines that grow vertically. Beans help the other two crops because they provide critical nitrogen fixation that benefits the other farm crops. And simple practices like this can help a small farm develop better crop management practices.

Use Biodiversity to Support Companion Planting Strategies

Most diseases, insects, pests, and other things that can wreak havoc on the health of vegetable crops are like people. They have personal preferences. Your planning and scheduling and overall production management practices are vital to the success of your harvest. Instead of planting all of one crop in one place, spread things around. A farm management app can help ensure that you spread crops around to minimize the chance that an insect attack will infest your entire crop or disease will kill your best selling vegetable.

Susan Klatz Beal has been an avid organic gardener and plant collector for over  45 years. She grows everything from houseplants to vegetables, flowers, herbs, and native plants.  She maintains a hummingbird habitat that brings several species back to her gardens every year. Susan is an active  member of the Association of Garden Communicators (formerly known as the Garden Writers Association.) 

 

Sources

https://www.motherearthnews.com/organic-gardening/companion-planting-guide-zmaz81mjzraw

https://ag.umass.edu/home-lawn-garden/fact-sheets/companion-planting-in-vegetable-garden

https://www.almanac.com/content/companion-planting-chart-vegetables

https://www.almanac.com/content/companion-planting-herbs

https://www.swansonsnursery.com/blog/companion-planting-vegetable-gardening

https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/edible/vegetables/vgen/companion-vegetable-garden.htm

https://garden.lovetoknow.com/wiki/Which_Vegetables_Grow_Well_Together

https://www.simplemost.com/plants-grow-side-side-thriving-garden/

https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/home/gardening/a20706481/companion-garden-planting/

http://www.vegetablegardener.com/item/4715/the-definition-of-companion-planting

http://www.southernexposure.com/blog/2017/04/7-benefits-of-companion-planting/

https://www.maximumyield.com/the-science-behind-companion-planting/2/1364

https://modernsteader.com/benefits-companion-planting/

https://permaculturenews.org/2011/12/02/companion-planting-information-and-chart/

https://www.firsttunnels.co.uk/page/Companion-Planting-Guide

https://www.naturespath.com/en-us/blog/the-benefits-of-companion-planting/

https://www.countryliving.com/uk/homes-interiors/gardens/a1496/companion-planting-guide/

http://chemung.cce.cornell.edu/resources/companion-planting

https://extension.psu.edu/programs/master-gardener/counties/susquehanna/penn-state-master-gardener-articles/good-neighbors-make-good-gardens-companion-planting

https://www.organicauthority.com/live-grow/planning-a-garden-companion-planting

https://www.heirloomgardener.com/organic-gardening/techniques/planting-a-three-sisters-garden-zm0z17wzcwil

 

Wake Up and Smell the Flowers

Flower Salad

Restaurant chefs and gourmet bakers have long been proponents of unusual herbs and flowers to enhance food flavor and add visual excitement. Most cooks have little experience with edible flowers, however, and growers have traditionally kept flower gardens and vegetable plots well separated.

Even if you understand that some types of flowers repel pests, and that produce often benefits from a symbiotic relationship with other plants, flowers and vegetables are often at opposite ends of the growing spectrum.

That may be changing, if modern trends are any indication. Will it last?

Proponents of eco-gardening note that edible flowers and the use of multiple parts of a single plant are somewhat forgotten arts that are worthy of being revived. The practice is common in many cultures, and there is ample evidence that some edibles, including fragrant, digestible flowers, also have healing and mood-changing properties.

Sunflower sprouts and edible flowers salad

Growers in numerous “foodie capitals,” including the Dallas-Fort Worth area, report a surging demand for blossoms. Many well-known chefs prefer locally-grown produce, and eagerly purchase lettuces and microgreens, heirloom tomatoes, carrots, peppers and beets, exotic mushrooms, and flowers from individual farmers and from local farm stands and farmers markets. Restaurant customers welcome the flavors and the unexpected dining experiences. Edible flowers add new dimension and spice not only to salads and entrees, but also to craft cocktails, specialty teas and desserts.

Part of the popularity can be traced to the public’s demand for fresh, natural ingredients, and the growth of farm-to-table venues. It also speaks to a desire to return to a time when backyard gardens were the norm, and when home cooks practiced self-sufficiency, sustainable lifestyles and enjoyed kitchen experimentation.

But it doesn’t end there.

Flower Power

Today, casual gardeners and professional growers alike have discovered the joys — and the profit — produced by crops that are as beautiful as they are fragrant and flavorful. Gardeners today grow flowers to enhance the home landscape, and those same flowers can add spice to family meals. There is a growing organic market for floral mainstays like pansies, nasturtiums, marigolds and lavender. There is also newfound interest in plants at one time considered weeds — dandelions and purslane, as examples — and for root vegetable greens that were once simply discarded, carrot tops and colorful beet greens among them.

Stuffed squash and zucchini blossoms are not unusual in the South and Southwest, and other flowers are used in Asian dishes, but salads made with nasturtium leaves and blossoms have been uncommon until recently. Dandelion bread pudding, lilac scones, pansy pancakes and red poppy pasta sauce may not be on your home horizon yet, but such recipes are widely available. Professional chefs at local hotels might grow their own edible flowers, but farmers markets shoppers also want unusual products. There is a new desire to “get back to the earth,” to focus on health and wellness, and to prepare and enjoy healthful, nutritious food.

Delicate violets and candied rose petals have for some time been favored wedding cake decorations, but they are now joined by a wide variety of other blooms. Whole flowers make attractive fresh garnishes, but flowers of all kinds may also be dried, boiled, baked, battered and fried, used to infuse teas and other drinks, added to soups or used to flavor meat and fish cooked on a grill. The perception is that naturally grown food, including tasty flowers, will contribute to lasting well-being.

There are myriad options. As you may know, herb flowers often taste just like their leaves, but they’re prettier. They add subtle flavor without overpowering other ingredients; they also add sophistication to simple meals. The bottom line is that flowers are no longer just supporting players. They are becoming stars in contemporary kitchens.

Get Acquainted with Flowers

It’s important to know your flowers. Some of the prettiest are not so good to eat; others will send you to the doctor with symptoms that range from rashes to stomach or intestinal upsets, even stupor and, in rare cases, death. But the same is true of all plants. Simply “weed out” plant options that can cause problems. As with anything unknown, if you’re uncertain, always err on the side of caution. Never sample any part of a plant unless you know it’s safe.

Container gardening is especially suitable for growing edible flowers, because many of them are annuals. But flowers can also be interspersed along the rows of your vegetable garden. Experimentation is the key to success. Gardening should be creative, and it is a constant adventure, whether undertaken for fun or profit. Managing your crops requires not only the basic knowledge, of course, but also the will to improvise.

If a crop of edible flowers is something you’ve been considering, now may be the perfect time. The harvest is likely to be rewarding.

Adrienne Cohen
Adrienne Cohen

About:  Adrienne Cohen is a full-time freelance writer with a passion for travel, good food, urban agriculture, school gardens, and architecture and design. She writes about them all and is happiest when her travel plans allow her to visit with farmers and educators, restaurant owners and chefs in far-flung places. Although her forebears were farmers, she claims to struggle with her own garden, but loves plucking fresh flowers from their stems and harvesting fresh herbs to use in new recipes. She is a member of the North American Travel Journalists Association, maintains a couple of personal blogs and contributes to travel, agricultural and lifestyle magazines, both online and for print versions.

Sources

https://www.sunset.com/food-wine/kitchen-assistant/10-dishes-featuring-edible-flowers#garden-chai-recipe

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https://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/earthkind/landscape/poisonous-plants-resources/common-poisonous-plants-and-plant-parts/