How to Plan Your Bootstrap Market Garden

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The old saying goes, ‘failing to plan is planning to fail’. We can’t overemphasize how important it is to develop a plan for your market garden, and then work the plan!

These are the steps to follow in developing your plan for a successful Bootstrap Market Garden.

How many customers?
Before you set out to find customers, you need to decide on how many customers you are looking for (‘all’ is not the right answer here!)

You need to determine how many families you want to be able to serve. This decision should be based on your assets – your access to equipment, land, and labour; and your aptitudes – your skill sets and your experience with gardening.

If you are just starting out as a market gardener, and don’t have a lot of equipment or experience, then set a size big enough to:
  • Provide some experience – i.e. to learn how to manage a complex polyculture of veggies and herbs, to reliably produce food for delivery on a weekly basis. You might choose to just ‘recruit’ a few neighbours and friends to help you learn the ropes. But the start-up should be big enough to test the concept, and to provide learning about large scale growing techniques.

  • Cover your costs – your customer base the first year should be big enough to actually produce some net cash after all costs at the end of the year. Use the Cash Flow Planner Worksheet to ‘run the numbers’ i.e. estimate your costs of production, and determine a price per share level will cover those costs and produce a profit (see more about this on the ‘Instructions’ page in the Cash Flow Planner Worksheet.)

You can also do some research to find out if other CSA-type programs operate in neighbouring areas, and what they charge for a share. In our case, our price falls in the upper third of the range of the several CSA’s we checked out. But don’t let this influence you too much. Set your price to make a profit, and find customers who will pay that price.

New Terra Farm offers ‘half baskets’ and ‘full baskets’ (you may choose to call them ‘half shares’ and ‘full shares’ or ‘regular’ and ‘large’, or similar terms you like). We advertise our full basket as being suitable for a family of 4, and the half-basket as being suitable for a family of 2.

What’s important to note here is that your production planning must be based on the number of full baskets you plan to produce. This is not necessarily the same as the number of families you will serve. For example:

Our first year of Bootstrap Market Gardening we decided to cap our production at 10 full baskets. We ended up delivering to 16 families – 4 who wanted full baskets, and 12 who wanted half baskets. This is equivalent to 10 full baskets. (Our mail-out flyers actually got more response than that, but we chose to put several people on a waiting list for the following year).

The other key point here is, this approach lets you manage risk; e.g. if you set a target for yourself of 10 full shares, and only find enough customers for 8, you can cut back your production to suit (or use the excess for freezing, canning, or value added products, or overflow to a market stand). Or you can expand your marketing area to try to find a few more customers to fill your quota.

If you have been a gardener for a while, and you are confident that you can reliably grow transplants and produce a crop, then you may want to start bigger. By carefully following the plan we’ve documented, its possible to start out much bigger than we did. It depends on your experience level, the asset base you start with, and how much help you have or can hire.

NEXT: How much to grow?

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