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Best Crops to Grow for Profit and Yield in Small Scale Farming

How to Decide What Vegetables to Grow

Whether you’re growing just to feed your family, or growing to sell at market, there are some factors worth considering to help you decide on the best crops to grow.

In urban gardening and where space is limited, space and crop yield are critical for getting the most produce yield possible, while also growing in order to save  on your foo bill. So what to grow that will produce the greatest yield in the least amount of space is important to know.

Do you know which veggies provide the best yield per square foot of growing space? Start there.

Whether you’re urban gardening for yourself and family, or as an urban, suburban or rural farming business, it’s important to have an idea of what’s reasonable to expect in produce from your gardening and farming efforts.

There’s an old 1978 chart circulating—in fact most stats we’ve found online are using this old data. However those numbers have since been updated and tweaked between 2009 and 2012. An update was really needed since seeds and gardening methods are able to produce more today than when that research was conducted, and there are more urban gardeners today as well.

So here’s some more updated information. If you have even newer data, please let us know and we can adjust and tweak this to be as current as possible.

Yield Expectations for Mixed Stand, Small-Scale Agriculture

Excerpted from Rutgers Urban Fringe Report1)

Whether you’re growing for yourself or for the market, growing space, growing time and crop yield are important to consider. Whatever is selling for more at the market for the smallest amount of space is the best crop to grow for food that you eat as well as for selling.

So for anyone considering small scale farming for a living, whether supplemental at first or full time, it’s important to set realistic expectations based on averages available.

We eat a lot of organic broccoli, yet broccoli takes a lot of space and time to grow, and so far our yield has been puny. So even as expensive as it is to buy organic broccoli at the store, it may not be the best crop for us to grow in our limited space.

As a general guideline, 1/2 lb. per square foot is an average yield for mixed crop, small-scale agriculture.

To decipher profitability you need to calculate estimated costs against the wholesale or Farmer’s Market price you could get per pound on the crops you’d like to grow to sell, wherever you’d be selling.

Let’s go a little deeper into crop yields and price comparisons next.

Small Scale Farming for Profit

For example, a short foray into calculations reveals a yield of .4 lb per square foot for broccoli and 1.8 lbs per square foot for tomatoes.

produce market, tomatoes photo, market garden, buy local image
Gardening is a growing trend as more people dig into becoming market gardeners and small farmers on urban farms and homesteads.

As of this writing, the retail price from our local markets for organic vine ripened tomatoes is $2.99/lb. Organic broccoli is $3.99/lb.

Retail Price Per Square Foot

  • Organic Vine Ripe Tomatoes @ 1.8 lbs per SF x $2.99 = $5.38
  • Broccoli @ .4 lbs per SF x $3.99 = $1.60

So… tomatoes have the potential to earn approximately more than the broccoli at retail. This also means that:

What earns more at market, also saves you more to grow for yourself.

Without even knowing the wholesale and costs for growing, it’s easy to see that tomatoes are more profitable than broccoli. So, if you have limited space or can only produce one crop to start, it would more likely be tomatoes than broccoli.

In the book The Market Gardener, there’s a very handy chart that outlines the typical annual sales profitability and rank by crop the author produced on his farm. Indeed there as well, tomatoes were ranked as number one in sales and high in profitability.

We thoroughly enjoyed interviewing Jean-Martin Fortier, author of The Market Gardener, and you can see and read about that illuminating interview here.

Conversely, broccoli was ranked as nine in sales and low in profitability. Mesculin mix greens were ranked number 2 in sales and high in profitability.

So this should give you an idea to get your mental juices flowing in calculating what’s possible for you.

Urban gardening, farmer's market, market gardening
Farmer’s Markets are a great places for urban gardeners to sell their fresh produce.

If you’ll be selling at the Farmer’s Market, you’ll want to frequent your local one(s) and observe everything while keeping notes on prices.
High Tunnel Crops Yield Chart from Rutgers, New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station
So if you have a small garden, it’s important to plant what will give you the greatest yield in the least amount of space, AND what costs the most per square foot of space.
Growing what costs the most per square foot of space, will save you money on your grocery bill and earn you more money at market if you’re a market grower.
Let’s get growing!

References   [ + ]

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