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  • Starting a Market Garden | Market Gardening 101

    February 23, 2024 8 min read 0 Comments

    Two men and 1 woman leaning over a bed greens on a market farm

    A Guide to Starting a Market Garden

    Are you interested in starting a market garden? Jenna from Partners’ Gardens goes through important factors to consider when taking your backyard gardening to the next level. Start making money while doing what you love.


    Market gardening is growing food and flowers intensively and efficiently on a small amount of land, often an acre or less. Growing in a calculated manner with identical beds, high-functioning and multi-purpose tools, and precise planning allows you to produce a lot of food. When done efficiently, market gardening can be highly profitable. 

    Growers typically sell direct-to-consumers in a market gardening setup. This can include going to a farmers’ market, starting a CSA, creating relationships with local chefs and small grocers, and having an on-site farmstand. 

    Those of us who start a market garden do so because we deeply feel the connection to our land, our food, where it comes from, and where it ends up. Market gardeners create a sustainable business that can support their families and even many part-time or full-time employees, all while being good stewards of land and resources.  

    JM Fortier, a farmer, kneeling in a row Harvesting turnip Crops in the Field

    Want to take your Market Gardening journey to the next level? Consider signing up for the Market Gardener Masterclass and learn practical knowledge from the best! 


    If you have access to land and basic knowledge of gardening, you can learn how to market garden. Is your area in need of more growers and access to fresh, organic food? You could be the one to fill the gap. 

    All it takes is diligent planning, the right tools, work-life balance, and the passion to grow food for your community. Farming is more of a lifestyle than a job, and even though it’s hard, it’s very rewarding, and anyone with the right attitude can do it!


    Remembering that you are part of the bigger picture of bringing healthy food to your community helps bring meaning to the sometimes isolating solitary days in the field. 

    Aside from providing fresh, healthy food for members of your community, the benefits include: 

    • Healthy lifestyle for you
    • The satisfaction of being a steward of land and resources 
    • Opportunities to meet like-minded individuals in your area 
    • Creating relationships through direct-to-consumer sales
    • Creating a sustainable system of food access
    • Connection to nature and a better understanding of where our food comes from 
    • The flexibility of working for yourself, making your own schedule 
    • Seeing your produce in action across plates in local restaurants


    Understanding that farming is a lifestyle before diving in is crucial. Having a system for budgeting, record keeping, crop rotation, and knowing exactly where you’ll sell your product will help start every season off on the right foot. 


    You’ll want to save for at least the crucial items that are required to start market gardening, but you don’t have to go crazy. We started our farm on a dime and, over the years, have stepped up our quality of tools, equipment, and infrastructure. Focus on seeds, soil, and basic tools and work up from there. 

    Things to consider: 

    • Renting land OR trading products for the use of someone’s land vs. using your own. What are the pros and cons? If there’s a conservation district near you, reaching out to an agent at your ag extension office is a good place to start.
    • Renting a walk-behind BCS for a couple of hundred dollars for a weekend to prepare all your beds for the season may seem daunting, but it’s a huge time-saver if you can manage it. 
    • Is there a tool and equipment rental option in your area? Contact your local extension office or library to inquire before purchasing. 
    • Join a Facebook gardening or farming group to inquire about buy-ins for soil, seeds, etc. Sometimes going in on items in bulk saves everyone money. 
    • What do you already have that you can use? Get creative, you’ll be surprised at how easily you can make it work with what you have on hand. 
    • Consider trading services with someone nearby. For instance, offer to trade fresh produce or preserved goods later in the season for performing various farm tasks like weeding, moving weight bags and silage tarps, or for the use of a piece of equipment like a tractor to move heavy compost. Or better yet, trade for something you don’t produce, like cheese or meat! 
    • There are a lot of little supplies that go into market gardening that you may not think of on the surface. Some of these items include: 
      • Rubberbands
      • Newspaper for storage and packing 
      • Harvest knives/shears
      • Storage bins 
      • Refrigeration 
      • Hoops, insect netting, and frost blankets 
      • Bags
      • Tables, a tent, a money box, and other various supplies for farmers’ markets

    Don’t get overwhelmed. Just do a little at a time. We started from scratch and looking back, I’m in awe and so proud that we made it work the first year. 

    A Jang Seeder, yellow seeding tool, sitting inside a high tunnel.


    Although market gardening doesn’t rely on heavy, expensive machinery, it’s important to have the right tools for sustainability and to keep your body feeling healthy. There are a few that you should consider purchasing before starting. Look for them used in online forums, gardening clubs, or from farmers who are looking to retire for cheaper options. 

    The essentials: 

    • A broadfork and sturdy shovels
    • Handtools: trowels, weed rakes
    • Hoes: standard, wire, and swivel
    • A seeder: The Jang Seeder and the EarthWayseeder are the go-tos in market gardening
    • Wheelbarrow and garden cart 
    • Good quality seed-starting supplies 
    • Access to land, water, seeds, and healthy soil/amendments
    • A high quality 4' or 6' hoop bender for building low tunnels.
    • Season extension items like frost blankets, silage tarps, and shade cloth, caterpillar tunnels.
    • Personal gear like rubber boots, sturdy pants, pocket knife, harvest knives, sunscreen, and sunglasses, to name a few! 

    You know what they say, work smarter, not harder. 


    Farmer's hand shown seeding 72 Cell Tray with small seeds

    Market Garden Planning

    Record-keeping is crucial to the success of any business, especially in farming. Each year brings different weather patterns, new challenges, pests, and market disruptions (COVID-19 pandemic, anyone?), so having detailed notes to look back on will make planning each subsequent year much easier. 

    • Keep a daily, weekly, and monthly calendar. This includes sowing seeds, weeding, hardening off, transplanting, row cover usage, pests, irrigation, and harvest timeline. If you’re a paper person, keep a detailed calendar. If you prefer to keep things on your phone, have a system in the notes app, calendar app, or some other planning app of your choice. Just have a plan. 
    • Draw out field maps, taking into account spacing, companion planting, pests, diseases, and annual crop rotation. Change is okay in the moment, but at the very least, knowing which field you’re starting the season in makes a big difference when it comes to planning. 
    • Purchase seeds early so you don’t miss out on something you want. Have a designated storage area. Use labels and have a system to determine when you’re low or out of a certain seed so you can reorder in time for the next sowing. 
    • Create SOPs, even if you’re the only worker. Consistency in processes on the farm helps the busy times seem more manageable. For example, when sowing microgreens, how much soil are you adding to each tray before sowing seeds? It may seem a mundane thing, but if you ever need to pass the task on to someone else, you can easily say, “Add 4 full scoops of soil to the microgreen tray before sowing seeds.” Then you know it’s the same each time.
    • Conclude each season with a “SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats)” discussion. Include everyone you can, including volunteers, employees, friends, family members, and customers. Use this when planning for the following season. Maybe you thought eggplant would kill it at your farmers’ market, but it was a total flop. Or that an incoming potato farmer would be big competition, but instead, you worked together to create a more vibrant market for consumers by growing and offering different varieties. 
    • Take into account the results of your SWOT analysis when planning for the following year so you don’t make the same mistakes twice and you learn from past seasons. 
    Jean Martin Fortier at Farmers Market Booth standing behind wooden crates filled with vegetables


    Finding a market for the produce you are growing can be done is several ways. Whether it's farmers markets, CSAs, community shares, pop-ups, or the local grocery store, the decision ultimately lies with you. However, the key is to align your choice with your farm's size, production capacity, location, and personal preferences. To maximize your reach, consider diversifying your outlets—a strategy that not only mitigates risk but also enhances exposure.

    When selecting a venue, take into account your lifestyle. Committing to a farmers' market an hour away on a Saturday might not align with your daily routine and could leave a bitter taste. Instead, explore nearby markets, perhaps in a town you already frequent. Transitioning from a customer to a vendor in a familiar setting can make the experience more seamless and enjoyable.

    Ask around in your circle of friends and family. Maybe someone is or knows someone on a board of directors and can get you a recommendation. Stop by several markets and see what the vibe is, paying attention to how many produce vendors there are. Ask to speak to the market manager. Personal connections can make a big difference in this world. 

    For tips on how to set up a successful farmers’ market booth, read more here. If you want to focus on flowers, check out our article on Finding Your Cut Flower Market. 

    Greens Growing on a Market Farm


    Grow only what you can sell, so do your market research before purchasing seeds. Look around at stores, farmstands, and farmers’ markets in your area to see what’s on the shelves. Farmers love talking about what they grow, so don’t be afraid to ask them! 

    Start with what you love to grow. If it’s lettuce, try a bunch. Here are a few easy crops to get started with that everyone will love at the market. Once you get a handle on how to grow in your space and what your market customers demand, you can branch out. 

    • Lettuce
    • Cucumbers
    • Tomatoes 
    • Green onions 
    • Summer squash 
    • Peppers, although these can be a little challenging for beginners. 
    • Greens such as kale, spinach, and arugula 
    • Radishes  


    • Start small, and don’t try to do it all. The goal is to be great at some things rather than mediocre at all things. 
    • Create work-life balance from the start. 
    • Keep records and be willing to shift if things aren’t working the way you’d planned. 
    • Change with the market. Grow the trendy crops, but drop them when they’re no longer a hot commodity. 
    • Focus on soil health. It may take several years, but the rest will fall into place. Pest management, weed control, yields, all of it. 
    • Remember why you’re growing and try to enjoy the day-to-day magic of being outside in nature. 
    • Go easy on yourself. Odds are, customers won’t see the little things you stress over, like the “messiness,” broken pallets, or overcrowded greenhouse. It’s magical to them. Try to see it through their eyes and appreciate the beauty of what you’re doing. 
    • Don’t be afraid to ask for help and consult with farmers more experienced than you. They were all new once too! 


    Market gardening isn’t going anywhere, and each year there are more helpful resources. Here are just a few of my favorites: 

    • The Market Gardener JM Fortier and similar books 
    • Growing For Market is a print and online publication featuring practical tips and stories to help growers find their place in the market gardening world.
    • Online Workshops like The Market Gardening Masterclass with JM Fortier 
    • Books and online blogs 
    • YouTube channels; it’s amazing how willing most people are to share their tips for success as well as mistakes to learn from! 
    • Social media accounts that focus on marketing, branding, packaging, selling, etc. 
    • Local gardening/farming groups 
    • Join the board or planning group for a farmers’ market or seed-starting club near you 

    Check out Bootstrap Farmer's bookshop.org list. 


    If you have a passion for growing food, being outside in nature, and having a role in your local food community, the hard yet rewarding work of market gardening is a wonderful way to spend your days. If you have access to land, water, and good soil, have a strong work ethic, and are ready to hit the streets to market your new business, you’re halfway there. 

    Written by:  Jenna Rich