Market gardening

Market gardening

:"Market garden" redirects here. For the World War II operation, see Operation Market Garden."

In agriculture, market gardening is the relatively small-scale production of fruits, vegetables and flowers as cash crops, frequently sold directly to consumers and restaurants. It is distinguishable from other types of farming by the diversity of crops grown on a small area of land, typically, from under one acre (0.4hA) to a few acres, or sometimes in greenhouses. Such a farm is sometimes called a market garden or truck farm.

Market gardening as a business is based on providing a wide range and steady supply of fresh produce through the local growing season. Many different crops and varieties are grown, in contrast with large, industrialized farms, which tend to specialize in high volume production of single crops, a practice known as monoculture. Market gardening also employs more manual labor and gardening techniques, compared to large-scale mechanized farming. Because production is relatively low-volume, sales are often through local fresh produce outlets, such as on-farm stands, farmers' markets, community-supported agriculture subscriptions, restaurants and independent produce stores.


Traditionally, the term market gardening was used to describe farms devoted to raising vegetables and berries, a specialized type of farming, in contrast to the larger branches of grain, dairy and orchard fruit farming. Agricultural historians continue to use the term in this way. Such operations were not necessarily small-scale. Indeed, many were very large, commercial farms. They were called "gardens" not because of scale, but because English-speaking farmers traditionally referred to their vegetable plots as "gardens". Indeed, in English whether in common parlance or in anthropological or historical scholarship, it is customary to call husbandry done by the hoe as "gardening" and husbandry done by the plow as "farming" regardless of the scale of either. A "market garden" was simply a vegetable plot intended by the farmer for sale as opposed to a vegetable plot intended to feed the farmer's family. Market gardens are necessarily located close to the markets, i.e. cities, that they serve. Nicknames such as "Garden State," New Jersey, and "Garden City," usually refer to the historic role of a place as market gardening.

Contemporary American market garden operations

An example of a market garden operation in North America might involve one farmer working full-time on two acres (8,000 m²). Most work is done with hand and light power tools, and perhaps a small tractor. Some 20 different crops are planted throughout the season. Hardier plants, like peas, spinach, radish, carrots and lettuce are seeded first, in earlier Spring, followed by main season crops, like tomatoes, potatoes, corn, beans, cucumber, onions, and summer squash. A further planting timed for harvest in the cooler Fall conditions might include more spinach and carrots, winter squash, cabbage, and rutabaga. Harvesting is done at least weekly, by hand, sometimes with part-time help, and produce is sorted, washed and sold fresh at the local farmers' market, and from an on-farm stand. A pick-up truck is used for short distance transport of crops and other farm materials. The workflow is a steady cycle of planting and harvesting right through the growing season, and usually comes to an end in the cold winter months.

A somewhat larger market gardening operation, ranging from 10 to 100 acres (40,000 to 400,000 m²), may be referred to as intensive mixed vegetable production, although the essential business and farming tasks are the same. Such operations are often run by a full-time farmer or farm family, and a few full-time employees. The tractor is relied upon for many tasks, and manual labor requirements, particularly for setting transplants and harvesting, are often significant, with crews of 10, 20 or more people employed seasonally. This has led in the U.S. to groups of "transient" or "migrant" workers who follow the harvest seasons to different farms across the country. In cooler climates, greenhouses are generally used to produce transplants, and sometimes greenhouse production is extended through winter or with hydroponics. Harvest and post-harvest handling are more sophisticated at the larger scale, with some mechanized harvest and processing equipment, walk-in coolers, and refrigerated delivery Vehicles.

Market gardening business

Surviving profitably in market gardening relies in great part on direct sales. Farmers selling into wholesale market typically receive 10-20% of the retail price, whereas in direct-to-consumer, they receive 100%. Although highly variable, a conventional farm may return a few hundred to a few thousand dollars (US) per acre ($0.03/m² to $0.30/m²), while an efficient market garden can be in the $10,000-15,000 per acre ($3/m² to $5/m²) range, or even higher. On the other hand, there is a practical ceiling on how large a market garden can get, based on this model, whereas with conventional farming, quite vast areas can be farmed because access to a direct market is not a requirement.

Larger market gardens often sell to local food outlets, including supermarkets, food cooperatives, through community-supported agriculture programs, at multiple regional farmers' markets, to fresh food wholesalers, and any other higher volume channels that benefit from purchasing a range of vegetables from a single supplier, their freshness allowing for a premium over the revenue from the supermarkets, and frequently, other local suppliers as well. By pursuing mixed crop production, a larger market garden can thus maintain a sales alternative to the wholesale, commodity-style channels often utilized by farms specializing in high volumes of a limited number of crops.

The very fact that market gardening tends to rely on cities for its markets can have its drawbacks, however. For example, in the United Kingdom, south Sussex was famous for growing tomatoes for the London market, with delivery by train in order to get the produce to the market. The arrival of railways in the 19th century initially stimulated the growth of market gardens in certain areas because of the quick access to the city it afforded, but this also eventually led to commuting residents moving to the area, causing many market garden areas to develop into suburbs. Indeed, urban sprawl still eats farmland up in urban regions today. This problem was solved in Suffolk County, New York by buying the rights to develop farmland from the farmers.

Social role of market gardening

In some more affluent countries, including Australia and the United States market gardening is rated as a low social status occupation. It is typically taken up by recent immigrant groups for one or two generations, until they can accumulate capital, language and trade skills. The succession of dominant market gardening groups in Australia, for example, was - from the early 1800s Anglo-Celtic, people from German-speaking countries, Chinese [following the peak of the goldrushes in mid-late 1800s] , then southern European migrants from Italy and Yugoslavia [prior to its disintegration] , then Southeast Asian migrant and refugee communities following the Vietnam War, such as the Vietnamese and Cambodians. Currently Somali migrants are the main group taking up market gardening.

Involvement in market gardening provides immigrant groups who otherwise have few marketable skills, apart from their labour, with an opportunity to become actively involved in the market economy. Benefits are that it is not reliant upon education or language, it adapts well to providing work for extended family groups, and in large market growing regions even wider community support networks. Sharing of knowledge and experience within communities reduces risks, and supports a network of other trades such as carriers, market agents, and heavy machinery contractors, as well as contract farm labour. Market-gardening land is typically relatively cheap and allows immigrants to purchase land, often with an accompanying residence, far more readily than in urban settings. However, like all agriculture it risks crop failure, market collapse and competition from industrialised broad-acre farming and 'fresh-frozen' imported produce. Other risks are from hazards such as pesticide use, especially where the market gardeners are not trained in their use or able to read product information. Another consequence is marginalisation of the succeeding generation where they are relied upon as the fittest and strongest to succeed in continuing the farm rather than pursue other ambitions and opportunities.

Market gardening as alternative lifestyle

Market gardening has in recent decades become an alternative business and lifestyle choice for individuals who wish to "return to the land", because the business model and niche allow a smaller start-up investment than conventional commercial farming, and generally offers a viable market, especially with the recent popularity of organic and local food (and the fact that "everybody has to eat"). It is in some instances considered hobby farming, although market gardening is a recognized type of farming with a distinct business model that can be significantly profitable and sustainable. Although in some cases the distinction may be arguable, market gardening should not be confused with the efforts of amateur gardeners, who sometimes sell from home or at markets, as an extension of their pastime.


* [ Market Gardening: A Start-up Guide] - comprehensive, practical introduction (North American orientation)

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  • market gardening — noun the growing of vegetables or flowers for market • Hypernyms: ↑gardening, ↑horticulture * * * noun : gardening for market especially with the use of a relatively extensive area * * * market gardening, the business of operating a market… …   Useful english dictionary

  • market-gardening — market garˈdening noun • • • Main Entry: ↑market …   Useful english dictionary

  • market gardening — noun see market garden …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • market gardening — noun The relatively small scale growing of vegetables for market. Syn: truck farming …   Wiktionary

  • market gardening —   highly intensive (in capital terms) farming of flowers, fruit and very perishable vegetables on a commercial basis. Usually located close to urban areas as an immediate market, but large enterprises may also distribute at national and regional… …   Geography glossary

  • market gardening — See marketgardener. * * * …   Universalium

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  • Gardening — is the practice of growing plants for their attractive flowers or foliage, and vegetables or fruits for consumption. Gardening is a human activity used to produce edible foods and use plants to beautify their local environmental conditions. Its… …   Wikipedia

  • Market — Mar ket, n. [Akin to D. markt, OHG. mark[=a]t, merk[=a]t, G. markt; all fr.L. mercatus trade, market place, fr. mercari, p. p. mercatus, to trade, traffic, merx, mercis, ware, merchandise, prob. akin to merere to deserve, gain, acquire: cf. F.… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

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