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Market Garden: How Much Land?

 
pollinator
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    I realize that I am asking a very vague question by asking how much land I should devote to market gardening if I want to start out and earn enough money from the operation to support myself financially. I am currently living with my parents, but I still at least need to pay off preexisting student loans and gasoline. I am interested in starting out a vegetable market garden as soon as possible, but I need to know how much land I should start out with. I know of one urban market farm near my house called Dayton Urban Grown that seems to get by on 1/4 of an acre of land, but I can't confirm if the operation gets aditional income by teaching classes. This urban farm also has several greenhouses and poly-tunnels on-site that allow the grower to continue growing green vegetables throughout the coldest part of Winter and shade cloth to minimize heat stress when growing lettuce during the hottest months of Summer.
    I am interested in minimizing water loss from evapotranspiration, limiting the amount of water required for irrigation, improving the soil fertility and drainage of the garden, suppressing the growth of allelopathic and invasive weeds, and maximizing the health of the plants. Hopefully I don't have to spend too much upront money on buying a drip irrigation system and greenhouses. I am considering buying Jean-Martin Fortier's book on market gardening, but I want to check with other readers first to confirm if his book is a good starting reference. I am hoping I do not have to buy too much extra equipment to start out since I'm broke right now. I could check to see if there are any garden grant programs that would be applicable to my situation, but I am hesitant in borrowing any more money if I would only be offered loans.
    In my current situation, I only have 657 square feet of growing soil to work with and I'm already borrowing this entire land from a neighbor. In order to scale up growing operations in my neighborhood, I would need to borrow ten to fifteen more lots from my neighbors in order for me to have enough land to match the production of the nearby urban farm I mentioned. If I can start off with even less land, please let me know.
 
master pollinator
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Are you familiar with Charles Dowding's No-Dig Youtube chanel?  Of his market gardening strategies?

He's not permaculture per se, but he DOES do a lot of videos and comparisons of productivity by area size and square foot, and shares the results of whatever his newest experiment is.  He also does a lot of  multihoming, intercropping, succession growing, etc.   To show how to get the most productivity out of a limited space.  

Do you need to grow for yourself too?  

Have you thought about a niche?  Will you offer things that others don't, or are you looking to straight up compete with the other operation as far as product?

Then, when you say to support yourself financially, what does that look like for you?   That's a pretty widely varying number for individual people,  with tens of thousands of dollars differences!   What does that need look like monthly, and how many months will you have product?

Will you be doing an up-front co-op type box?  That's a nice clean simplified way to get X dollars predictably.  

As far as property size,  I think more about "how can I make this size do what I need"  and also "how much can I realistically handle on my own."   I think the type of crops you plan to be growing matter as well.   I pumpkin field is going to be a lot more space than maybe lettuce and parsley (for example).  

 
master steward
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Ryan, how much time do you want to spend trying to get customers?

Just local specialty organic stores or a chain grocery?

I feel that might be the key to how big a market garden you want.

You or others might enjoy this thread about a market garden:

https://permies.com/t/62783/permaculture-market-garden

 
steward
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The more land I have under cultivation, the less productive it becomes. On small plots, I can devote attention every day to every crop, as the size of the holding grows, I devote less and less time to any particular crop. When I expand to include multiple locations, I might go weeks or months between visiting a crop. Hmm. What's the saying?

The best fertilizer is the sweat of the farmer's brow



My daddy says that the way to be a successful farmer is to go for a walk every day in the garden. Carry a hoe with you and a bucket. You might only use the hoe as a cane, and the bucket as a seat. Or you might use them to kill a weed, or harvest something. The key to great crops is being in the garden often. You see what needs to be done. Even if you don't do it right then, it weighs on your mind until you do something.

It takes tremendous discipline to visit every field every week. I was most successful as a market farmer when I only had one field of 3/4 acre. While I have had as much as 4 acres under cultivation, I can only effectively manage about 1.5 acres, working by myself.
 
gardener
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If you've got the time, Helen Atthowe is teach her Certified Garden Master Course January 2-6 at Wheaton Labs.  Get tickets here:2023 Certified Garden Master Course

Or you can pre-order the garden master course videos and stay comfy at home: Garden Master Course Video
 
Ryan M Miller
pollinator
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Heather Staas wrote:Are you familiar with Charles Dowding's No-Dig Youtube chanel?  Of his market gardening strategies?



No I haven't. Thank you for introducing me to this YouTube channel. I am highly in-favor of intercropping and cover cropping methods whenever possible. I especially want to try growing ultra-hardy green vegetables over winter to minimize the need for cover cropping.

Heather Staas wrote:Do you need to grow for yourself too?



At this moment, I do not absolutely need to grow for myself, but I would like to set aside a portion of the land for myself in case there are vegetable recalls due to E. coli contamination and also to minimize my exposure to herbicides and genetically modified grains. I also notice that gluten-free flour tends to ve expensive so I also want to be a

Heather Staas wrote:Have you thought about a niche?  Will you offer things that others don't, or are you looking to straight up compete with the other operation as far as product?



There seems to be a significant Indian and Mexican community in eastern Dayton and Beavercreek so I'm considering growing some specialty crops that are not commonly available at local supermarkets. This would also give me an excuse to intentionally grow lamb's quarters and market it as bathua greens as well as amaranth and lablab beans. I would also be given an incentive to intentionally grow dried corn for hominy and tortillas.

Heather Staas wrote:Then, when you say to support yourself financially, what does that look like for you?   That's a pretty widely varying number for individual people,  with tens of thousands of dollars differences!   What does that need look like monthly, and how many months will you have product?



By supporting myself financially, I mean capable of being financially independent from my parents such that I can live by myself as long as I adopt minimalist practices and that I don't have to rent a landless appartment where I wouldn't be allowed to grow food.

Heather Staas wrote:Will you be doing an up-front co-op type box?  That's a nice clean simplified way to get X dollars predictably.



I wasn't originally planning a co-op box. I'm not sure how I would arrange that. I was going to start out by asking local independent restaurants in my area. If it turns out that I'll have to start a co-op box program in order for me to get enough customers, then I will look into what will be required for me to set such a program up.
 
master pollinator
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If you decide to go the market garden route, make sure that the markets are not full of vendors. I listened to a podcast horror story from a new farmer. After purchase of land and seeding, and all, he found out that all the markets in two hour drive were full up. He had nowhere to sell his goods.

He did find a way to sell his goods, but I don't remember what he did.
 
Ryan M Miller
pollinator
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Heather Staas wrote:Are you familiar with Charles Dowding's No-Dig Youtube chanel?  Of his market gardening strategies?



Now that I remember, I actually think I may have watched one of his videos on Winter sowing fava beans in the past. Right now, I'm watching his lasagna garden videos.
 
Ryan M Miller
pollinator
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Joylynn Hardesty wrote:If you decide to go the market garden route, make sure that the markets are not full of vendors. I listened to a podcast horror story from a new farmer. After purchase of land and seeding, and all, he found out that all the markets in two hour drive were full up. He had nowhere to sell his goods.

He did find a way to sell his goods, but I don't remember what he did.



I'll check Second Street market downtown to see if the area was ever filled up during this growing season. The market is open year-round so I might have less competition during Winter months once I invest in building a greenhouse or cold frames to grow vegetables over Winter.
 
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Hey ! So one thing I've come to realise following all the various pedology and fertilisation classes I've been following is that whatever size you determine large enough for your growing needs, you should probably double or triple it. The way land prices are it's not going to cost you twice as much and it's going to make rotations, green manure and just general soil management much simpler.
 
pollinator
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Hi Ryan,
For some inspiration you could watch some of Conor Crickmore's videos from Youtube. He owns Neversink Farm and claims to make 350k on an acre and a half. I don't know that he is permaculture, but is is no till, and the videos I have seen, seem to be organic practices.

Also, I would suggest some of Curtis Stone's earlier youtube videos. His more current stuff is not something I would recommend. However, he did exactly what you are talking about doing. He would lease land around the city and farmed people's yards and sold the produce. He was involved with permaculture voices and seems to be all organic. He even has a video titles something like "100k on a quarter of an acre".

Both of these people had a lot of hard work to get where they are now, but it could be some good info.
 
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