Updated book outlines everything market farmers need to know
By Chris Blanchard, Flying Rutabaga Works
As I got started in the world of market farming back in the early 1990s, Lynn Byczynzki’s magazine, Growing for Market, was a constant companion. Whether I scrounged back issues from a farmer’s bathroom wall pocket, or matured to the point where I got my own subscription, the magazine’s focus on the fundamental how-to’s of market farming provided an ongoing education on the basics, as well as inspiration and new ideas for how to improve the farms I worked on, and eventually, my own operation.
The revised and expanded edition of “Market Farming Success,” published in 2013, organizes and condenses the information from over 20 years of Growing for Market into a coherent explanation of the basics of market farming.
Lynn Byczynski has been farming since the 1980s, and her magazine and this book have always reflected her farming roots. “Market Farming Success” reflects Lynn’s own experience as well as that of the hundreds of farmers featured in the pages of Growing for Market through the years. She has grown vegetables and cut flowers in the field and in the high tunnel, and sold her produce at farmers’ markets, to florists, chefs, and grocers, and through a cooperative CSA.
“Market Farming Success” doesn’t pretend to provide a model for how to achieve market farming success. Instead, it provides an overview of the things a grower needs to think about in order to achieve it. Most chapters go just deep enough to provide information to help a grower formulate the sorts of intelligent questions that can point to other books to read, questions to ask other growers, and the best workshops to attend at winter farming conferences.
Best of all, the book comes with an extensive, chapter-by-chapter resource listing. A full 24 pages provide a curated guide to information resources and input suppliers around the country.
The book’s organization reflects Growing for Market’s focus on the fundamentals of market farming. A short overview of “getting started in market farming” sets modest expectations for farming’s economic returns, and provides a reality check about the importance of location, and the considerations for locating the ideal piece of farm land. (Hint: “Soil quality can be the single biggest factor in your success as a farmer.”)
Then, unlike so many books on making money from growing vegetables, Lynn takes a long focus on markets. Not the sexy nuts and bolts of marketing—that comes later—but the various approaches to selling your produce that are available to market farmers. Then she looks at the crops you might choose to grow, but not on the normal, all-too-technical crop-by-crop approach. Instead, she considers the different kinds of crops a farm might choose to pursue—the common crops, season-extended crops, storage crops, heirloom crops, baby crops, and more. Hundreds of books have been published with the details of growing tomatoes, and we don’t need another one; Lynn has helped the reader understand why they might choose to grow this tomato over that one.
From there, the discussion moves on to tools, planning, and planting, tending, and harvesting your crops. The section on marketing alone is worth the read just as a reminder of the basics—if you’ve worked farmers markets for years, this section is a great reminder of all of the knowledge that you take for granted about using color, creating an appearance of bounty, using signs, and attracting attention. For interns or market helpers, the marketing section really highlights why some market stands pop while others flop.
The final section covers managing your business, and takes a hard look at record-keeping, employee management, legal structure, and the different kinds of insurance farmers should consider—the sorts of things that aren’t a lot of fun to think about, and which too many farmers don’t think about until a problem arises.
Throughout the book, Lynn provides plenty of practical examples from a variety of farmers, and tricks of the trade that can take a long time to discover on your own, but which are an important part of being an efficient producer.
I especially appreciate the guidance with regards to the tools and techniques that are appropriate at different scales of production; not only does the beginning farmer learn about where to start with a market farm, but they gain perspective on where they might be going.
I work with a number of farmers in my consulting practice, and I often find them chasing after the purchase of this tool or that system as a silver-bullet solution to whatever challenge they face. I love my fancy tools as much as the next farmer, but I especially appreciated the book’s approach to planting and tending crops, which avoids most discussion of the great toys you can buy and focuses on the considerations you might bring to tillage, what you need to know to understand pests, and the basics of drip irrigation. Without getting into the wonders of soil balancing, the promotion of a “plant positive” approach to pest control, or a chapter on a new wonder-technology for irrigation, the book provides some basic information and a firm reminder: you are going to have to deal with this, so get ready to learn some more if you want to succeed in this business.
I’m glad that Lynn wrote and revised this book, and I expect to refer to it again and again as a sort of checklist of the things I want to think about when working with beginning and advanced market farmers. I recommend this book as an essential read for anyone who wants to understand the breadth of knowledge and considerations necessary to run a successful market farm.
Chris Blanchard (www.flyingrutabagaworks.com) is an educator and consultant for farms and nonprofits. As owner-operator of Rock Spring Farm, he raised 20 acres of vegetables and herbs, marketed through a 200-member CSA, food stores, and farmers’ markets.
From the November | December Issue