What is a market garden? Definition and meaning
A market garden, also called a micro-farm, is a small plot of land – a very small farm – where fruits, vegetables and flowers are grown and sold to the public. The crops are cash crops, i.e. grown for profit.
Market gardens are typically from one to a few acres in size. Many consist of large greenhouses, or a combination of plants grown both indoors and outdoors.
Most market gardens grow and supply fresh produce through the local growing season. Unlike large scale farms, they generally have a wide range of crops and are less industrially intensive, i.e. crops are picked or harvested using manual labor, with gardening rather than intensive farming techniques.
According to Cambridge Dictionaries Online, a market garden is:
“A small farm where fruit and vegetables are grown for selling to the public.”
A market garden is typically a family business
Most of the work is done by the market gardener and his or her family. Some of the larger ones may take on temporary workers to pick fruit and perform other tasks.
Market gardeners sell their produce at farmer’s markets, small local grocery stores and restaurants. Larger ones also supply food cooperatives. Many have a shop or stall on their land and sell directly to customers. In the US, there are more than 300 food hubs that help farmers and market gardeners promote locally-grown products.
Consumers are attracted to this type of farming because they typically use traditional growing methods (organic). It is important to remember that unless the market garden clearly states its products are organic, they might not be.
Hard physical work
Market gardening is hard work. Many market gardeners are unable to make a living and rely on incomes from some members of the family who work outside. However, it is possible to make a living with a small plot of land. It depends on how well the owner can assess the market – he or she needs to choose the right produce to grow.
If you are thinking of becoming a market gardener, you first need to calculate how much it is going to cost to get started, and what your earning potential is once your small farm is established.
Don’t forget overheads. If you’re selling fruit and vegetables then you will need to purchase and apply fertilizers for fruit trees and vegetable crops to get the best yield possible.
Initially, you will probably have to hang on to another job. Ideally, you should make financial independence one of the key components of your planning.
The definition of financial independence varies from family to family. A couple with three children have different financial needs than a couple with no dependents.
Some people aim to make their entire livelihood on the farm, while others will view it as a sideline. It is important to remember that if it is a sideline, farming is very hard work, i.e. will you have the energy to farm and keep your other job going?
From immigrants’ first step to alternative lifestyle
In the United States and Australia, market gardening has been rated as a low-status occupation for centuries until recently. It was typically taken up by newly-arrived groups of immigrants for one or two generations, until they had accumulated capital, language skills, and higher-status qualifications.
More recently, however, market gardening has become an alternative lifestyle and business choice for people wishing to ‘return to the land’.
In Western Europe and North America, thousands of high-flying finance executives have left the rat-race of Wall Street in New York or the City of London and adopted what they describe as a greener, humbler, and more rewarding way of life on the land.
According to Permaculture Apprentice, it is possible to earn a good living from a small plot of land. It gives as an example Jean-Martin Fortier and his wife Maude-Helene. They have a 1.5-acre market garden and earn $140,000 annually from it.
The author claims they have a life that other people could only dream of, and challenge the belief, held by many, that a small family-run farm cannot stay afloat in today’s economy.
Video – Setting up a market garden
In this video, a market gardener talks about how he turned an small plot of pasture land into a profitable market garden.