Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Produce I Produce

I've been gardening for so darn many years now that I've got it down to a science as to how much I need to grow of any one fruit or veggie to give us a year round supply. And I do consistently grow enough to make it from harvest to harvest. I either can, dehydrate or freeze our bounty for use throughout the year. I know how many beds of onions will give us a year's supply, how many rows of beans or peas I need to harvest and freeze to get us through the year, how many feet of pickling cucumbers I need to can all the pickles we'll eat in a year's time, etc.

We share our garden produce with our daughter. Neighbors and friends find grocery bags of fresh veggies and baskets of berries foisted upon them whether they want them or not. I think it's because I love gardening so much that over the years I've gradually come to the point where I'm producing way more than we can use. This probably is not the wisest use of my time.

We have an active Farmer's Market every Saturday morning in our small town during the summer season. Hubby and I were part of the organizing group years ago when the market was first set up. I could sell my extra produce there. But I would have to figure in the four to five hours spent each Saturday manning a booth (let alone the extra time to harvest and package produce, plus travel and set-up), and I know I certainly couldn't pay myself anything for those hours. My days are never long enough to fit in everything I want to do, so my choice isn't to spend hours selling produce for a small amount of cash reimbursement. (It's a curious thing that people feel that any food available at a "farmer's market" should be priced more economically than that at a grocery store. Seeing as how the food products at the market are grown locally, are fresher, are most of the time organically grown and free of poisons and definitely healthier, one would think customers would be willing to pay a reasonable price.)

I've sold extra produce to our organic co-op (an organization which has become so successful it functions as a bona fide third grocery store in town) but there again, they say they cannot pay me any more for my produce than that which they pay to their wholesale suppliers from whom they purchase in bulk.

Two years ago we tried some market gardening (I grew even MORE than I usually do!) to sell to a restaurant in town. The owner happily took virtually everything we offered. I did all the growing, harvesting and packaging while my husband did the actual delivering. Bottom line, the trade off of time expended for cash earned was not our wisest investment. If for some reason we were to try market gardening again, we would do it differently having learned a lot the first time around.

Our local "food shelf" has just this past month gained the equipment needed to offer fresh produce. I'm thinking that would be a good place to take extra vegetables from my garden.

I do so love the personal satisfaction and physical exercise gardening gives me and would miss it greatly if for some reason I no longer gardened. But the main reason we choose to garden is to provide ourselves with the freshest, healthiest, organically grown food possible. And to that end, I'm proud to say we are succeeding.

Now it's time to rethink the whole gardening scenario so that I'm working smarter rather than harder and proceed from there. I know it's time to cut back. Can I do it? (Ah, so many seeds; so little time.)

Next garden post: Why I prefer raised beds for some crops and the traditional field garden plot for others.

21 comments:

The Apple Pie Gal said...

Awesome input! Many people have asked me why I don't set up a stand somewhere. Even though I never tried the things you have, my first thought was always that I would never get out what I put in. And you are so right that the average shopper thinks that Farmers Markets should be cheaper. Anyone who gardens knows the benifits and would gladly pay a bit more. It only takes one to spoil the bunch tho, right?

Same goes with sewing things. I'd love to, but no one would 'appreciate' the time involved to make it a worth while business venture.

Looking forward to your next post too!

2 Tramps said...

Anyone who is the recipient of your lovely produce, whether by purchase or gift, is so very fortunate. Such beautiful food you grow!

Susan said...

Well, if you manage, you will have to share the secret of your success in that as well. All I seem to be able to do is .... more. I have added two more raised beds (total of 5 now) and, although I keep saying "you're only a family of one", I end up with enough for a family of six. But I enjoy it, it keeps me fed and healthy, so what the heck. And what is it with people who pay so little for something so good?

Jane said...

I have been trying to hack out a living with this farming thing, and your right - it isn't easy. You're always trying to find a way to do things smarter. It will be very interesting to see how you decide to scale back.

Erin said...

I absolutely agree. I have had many people ask why I don't sell at the farmer's market, since I have an "in", so to speak. The time and cost involved is just plain not worth it, not to mention factoring in the whole "stand in 100 degree heat with my kids in tow" for several hours, LOL. Most people think it's much easier than it actually is, and in larger cities the permits required and FDA inspections of the kitchen (required to sell any jams, honey or baked goods) are near impossible to keep up with. Strangely enough it is those items that can fetch a decent price, but people are still unwilling to pay for the fresh, unprocessed greatness...sigh...

I'm like you, I'll continue to foister boxes of produce on unsuspecting people that happen to venture near my door :)

Jane said...

Those vegetables are so pretty! I don't think I would want to grow and sell them,for the same reasons you mentioned. We only grow for our own use. Blessings jane

becky3086 said...

Well, I have to say,I usually go with what is cheaper, however, I believe I would definitely pay more for some decent looking yellow squash and green beans since the stores sure don't have any that look edible.
I would LOVE to be able to produce more of ANYTHING than we could eat in a year. Just not enough garden space--yet, lol, there is still some lawn that I haven't wrestled out of his grasp yet. I don't know why not, he hates to mow it and doesn't care about weeds. ..

Sue said...

I just think you enjoy the whole being-outdoors thing, and you're doing what you should be doing....providing for yourself, and producing some wonderful wholesome food.
I would never "sell" any of my produce, but I do give a LOT of it away--the pleasure I get from seeing their faces means the world to me. I just love what I'm doing. And I'm hoping that this is the year I FINALLY get the garden organized to the point I want it...after 3 years I feel I should be there. My problem is adding flower beds everywhere at the same time. I have to pace myself.
I so enjoy seeing your garden-you've done an amazing job. I only hope my veggie garden produces as well as yours does. Now THAT would be success.
So don't slow down too much. You have some lucky lucky recipients that would miss those treats. I know I'd kill to be your neighbor!

Leigh said...

Since this is a new area for us, I'm still trying to figure out how well my veggies will do and how much I need to plant. Dan and I debate selling our excess, but the government is making it harder and harder to make a living on one's own. Like you, we need to figure out how to do things smarter, but still get the results we need. I'll be so glad when we aren't still turning and building soil. I'm looking forward to your thoughts and experiments on this!

Mama Pea said...

APG - Yep. I've just about given up on my baby quilt business because there are so many (many, many, many) people out there who are selling quilts (of an inferior quality even) for just enough money so they can go buy more fabric.

2 Tramps - Thank you so much, dear reader.

Susan - That's just it! There are so many luscious fruits and veggies out there and I haven't tried all of them yet. Help!

Jane - I think raising and selling berries (raspberries or strawberries) could bring in a profit. If you didn't count the hours of your labor, of course. People seem to be willing to pay a premium price for that type thing.

Mama Pea said...

Erin - But, m'dear, if you cut back on your garden, you would have more time to quilt. And knit. And drink wine. Just sayin'.

Jane2 - I should just count my blessings in that I'm able to grow as much as we need for our own table! And have some to give away.

becky3086 - Get that lawn area plowed up! As far as I'm concerned, if you need more garden space, it's downright wasteful to have land in lawn. Maybe you could suggest to your husband that you get a couple of sheep. More garden space might seem the lesser of two evils then.

Sue - Please don't laugh, but I have this fear that if I cut down on growing vegetables it will free up time to concentrate on flowers finally! Out of the frying pan and into the fire???

Leigh - Oh, Leigh, getting enough good garden space worked up is SO much work and seems to take years no matter how hard you work at it. You've made me realize that learning to cut back on planting so much is a good "problem" to have! I've come to think that just because I have the space, it needs to be planted! (I know, you wish you had my dilemma!) Hang in there though, it's a wonderful feeling to know you can grow as much of your own food as you need.

Melissa said...

I am so impressed by your lovely onions and other produce. We are also thinking of cutting back on the garden and the critters this summer. We usually have more than enough for ourselves and put in more hours than we need at the expense of other family activities. Keep the flower bed in mind, though! A few fresh cut flowers in the house always perk one up in no time, don't they?
I appreciate your worlds of wisdom regarding the prices at farmer's markets as well. Keep up the good work!

Dmarie said...

once we have either used ourselves or given family all that is wanted from our garden, the remainder goes to a local charity, Centro Latino. At this Latin center, everything donated is free for the taking to any migrant/immigrant in need. Feels so good to help the farm workers in any way...Kentucky would have a hard time harvesting all its crops without these peoples!

Mama Pea said...

Melissa - I've always interspersed flowers in the veggie garden but have always wanted to learn more about them (especially cut flowers) so I think this is something I'm going to pursue in earnest one of these years. Thanks for your kind words.

Dmarie - What a good, good idea for your extra produce. Blessings to you!

Fiona said...

I look forward to the day when I have this garden thing 'figured out'! I know it takes years of practice, but it's daunting when you're just starting out.
I think it's interesting what you wrote about the Farmer's market/co-op/market gardening. I'm still wrestling with how to make the farm more fiscally productive and wondering where's the line between 'sounds good on paper' and reality. We moved out here to be more self-sufficient but it's tricky finding that balance between generating an income and reducing our spending. We still have a long, long, long way to go in figuring that out! Thanks for another great, informative post. I look forward to reading more!

ThyHandHathProvided said...

What pictures! I envy a bit your ability to predict accurately what you'll use. I seem to use more of something one year than the previous just due to my whims and recipe preferences. I can't wait to read your next post!

Mama Pea said...

Fiona - I do think you could make money by specializing in what you raise and sell. For us it hasn't worked out to be what "the books" on market gardening say are the most profitable crops. As I said before, raspberries and strawberries would be good in our area. Not blueberries because wild blueberries are prolific in our area and many people go wild blueberry picking themselves.

ThyHand - Oh, you better believe I've run out of one thing or another or had an over-abundance of something just because I do give in to my whims when it comes to cooking, too. But, at this point, I'm glad to say that most of the time I find I put by too much rather than too little!

Jenyfer Matthews said...

I say do what makes you happiest - you work hard enough without complicating things by doing things you don't like and aren't worth the effort.

And I know what you mean about the baby quilts - I pretty much only make quilts to sell if someone special orders one now. Most people just don't appreciate the time and skill that goes into doing it well.

abc123 said...

We also learned that it wasn't worth our precious time or resources to sit for hours at a farmers market or sell to grocery stores and restaurants for pennies. The tipping point for us was when a restaurant turned away a box of our beautiful produce because they "had too much". Even though we had contracted with the restaurant and delivered on time, their food service truck still delivered the day before. I'm sure the truck's produce came from Mars!

Another point: a farmer needs to feed their family first. When we did market farming, we had to set aside our own valuable food growing space to grow vast amounts of less nutritious, luxury crops to sell such as frilly lettuces, cucumbers and exotic herbs. A big "Duh" set in by mid season.

I'm with you, Mama Pea. I'd rather grow for my family first and then give away the excess to friends, neighbors and especially to the needy.

odiie said...

The pictures of your produce look wonderful!
I often think of doing a CSA or a farmer's market, but come to the conclusion I don't have the time or energy. I give a lot of produce away and that's the right thing to do for now.
Happy gardening thoughts on this white and wintery day.

Mama Pea said...

Jen - When all is said and done, I know that's what I'll come to concerning the garden.

Our values system is so screwed up that it's hard to make sense of it. I can't get paid $10 an hour for producing a beautiful baby quilt that will last years but people will pay $100 for a meal out with a bottle of wine that is gone in an hour.

abc123 - Welcome! And thanks for commenting. We're definitely thinking alike on this topic. But the fact remains that there SHOULD be some way to make some money off the homestead/farm without killing yourself doing it. I sure don't know the answer . . . and perhaps there isn't one while our society is so messed up. [How's that for a dark outlook?? :o)]

odiie - Thanks for your kind words. The only CSA that I've known of that "made it" was one that used interns for the gardening season. They worked free for the education but were provided with room and board. The wife commented to me that she swore the interns had never eaten a decent meal in their lives because they were all always chowed down like they were stoking up for the coming winter! And, of course, occasionally they'd get a young worker (or two) who didn't really want to work. So even though they didn't have to pay the interns a wage, I'm thinking they didn't get them without shelling out a LOT of extra food! Plus the time for "mom" to prepare it!