Co-Op Farm: Vegetables

The 10 most popular and most purchased vegetables:

  • Potato
  • Tomato
  • Onion
  • Lettuce
  • Sweet Corn
  • Green Beans
  • Carrot
  • Peppers
  • Garlic
  • Cucumber
  • Peas

That's 11.  There are some fluctuations in the list depending on when, where, and who compiled the list.  The price of a crop has some volitility.  In the deep south, sweet potatoes, collard greens and acre peas are popular.  In the northeast, root crops.  Western States tend to favor hanging crops such as peppers and eggplant.  No matter where you go or what year, potatoes and tomatoes outshine all the rest.

The typical American consumes some 60 pounds of potatoes each year.  Over 25 pound fresh, 20+ pounds frozen, usually in the form of french fries, several pounds of chips, and a couple of pounds as an ingredient.  These are averages.  In a group of 200 families, our potato cosumption would be pretty close.  An average family of 3 people would go through an average of 75-100 pounds of potatoes.  200 families suggests 20,000 pounds of fresh potatoes would last us a year.  That's 10 tons.

We are starting out with a small farm.  I have no doubt we could raise 10 tons of potatoes, but we don't have massive refrigeration to keep these potatoes marketable for a year.  There are tactics we can employ to spread out the harvest.  Staggered plantings every week or two gives us a steady harvest rather than every plant in the field all at once.  Here in Florida, the annual harvest can be split between a spring and a fall crop.  We can store some for a couple of months.  If not treated with a growth suppressant (nothing I'd want on my plate) the potatoes will start to bud.  They are still good eating, but folks may not be as warm to buying them.  Still, a cooperative farm would have a few months of handsome potatoes on the shelf.  We'd be able to supply a third of our own demand at least.

With a store in the plan, we'd be able to offer our potatoes to the general pulic.  Red, white, yellow, german butter, purple viking, fingerlings, new potatoes...we'd have a handsome display.  How many pounds the public would purchase can be estimated, but this is a different kind of store.  Is your mother going to buy from your farm?  How about your buddy?  I think we have a solid chance to develop customer loyalty
as long as we run a good business, treat people right and offer a good value for the money.  We may be able to sell every potato we can grow.  

We also have that kitchen to work with.  Without a supercooling freezer, processing potatoes into french fries is not a viable option.  With a deli, we'll use some volume:  mashed potato, boiled potato, potato salad, potato soup, potato pancakes, baked potato, steamed new potato, scalloped potato, roasted potato, and if we have a fryer...french fries cut fresh.  

Our potatoes are not your typical run of the mill potato.  We won't be treating them with budnip, they will be grown without pesticides, herbicides, synthetic fertilizers, fungicides-None of it.  This is good food.  Those supermarkeet potatoes may sell for 50-60¢/pound.  Ours are better.  We can seek a Certified Organic designation, and our product will bring a premium.  Demans outstrips supply across the nation, has for years, and looks like this trend will continue.  The Maine Organic Farmers and Growers Association (MOFGA) puts our price reports as reported by organic farms they certify.  A quick check of their latest report shows $2/pound being typical.  If we don't go for organic certification, the customers can decide for themselves if this is the food they want to feed their kids.  I am not organic certified but my methods are as good or better.  I sell potatoes right out of the field for $2/pound.  At supermarket prices, our potatoes are a $10k project.  A premium price of a buck a pound makes this a $20k project.  At $2/pound, we're looking pretty good.  

Statistics show we consume 32 pounds of tomato per person each year.  12 pounds fresh, 20 pounds canned.  Fresh tomatoes are used on sandwiches, in salads, as an ingredient, and as a side dish.  I'll eat one now and then as if it were an apple.  The stats suggest our 200 families would use more tomatoes than we would fresh potatoes.  

Cherry tomato, beefsteaks, and roma are commonly found in the supermarket, but if you want a tomato that tastes like a tomato, grow Brandywine.  Instead of regular old cherry, try a Riesentraub or Golden Fig.  If its sauce you want, there is no such better tomato in the world than Amish Paste.  There's more variety out there than you may know.  Thousands of cultivars in every color of the rainbow.  With so many cultivars, crop selections can bring different types to harvest throughout the growing season.  What more, they grow well in a greenhouse, putting year round production in our grasp.

We've got a need for fresh in all varieties we can grow.  In the kitchen we can put the into use at every level.  Being a high acid food, we'll be able to process and can our own tomatoes, redirecting a massive amount of purchases from the supermarket to our own store.  Whole, crushed, diced, stewed, pureed, tomato sauce, juice, and paste are the tip of the iceberg.  They can be used in tomato pie, sun dried and packed in oil or ground into a powder.   Tomatoes are perhaps the most versatile crop we can grow.

Supermarket prices will range from $1-3/pound depending on the season, type, and how it is packaged.  Organic prices range from $2.50-5/pound.   20,000 pounds?  That's real good money.  Getting into specialty items offers potential for artisan food prices.

About 30 pounds/family/year, 6000 pounds needed to meet our own home needs.  Used abundantly in cooking, and we'll be doing a lot of cooking.  A great advantage to onions is their shelf life.  They keep well for weeks at room temperature, months if refrigerated.  Supermarket prices are in the 50¢ area.  Organic: $2-3/pound.

Used to be iceberg was the top seller.  Romaine started making strides, then came the colorful reds andd speckled lettuces, the frilly leafy styles, deep cut oakleaf and tender bibbs.  Fast growing, can be grown throughout the year with a greenhouse, fits in a tight little spot offering excellent planting density.  Our operation puts fresh lettuce in the store every day with the kitchen and deli drawing from the store for all it's needs.  Shelf life is limited, especially when cut but the chickens will wail on anything we send back.  Prices are all over the place for conventional and organic, ranging from a buck a head to several bucks a pound.  

Corn on the cob is a favorite in the summer.  Slice the corn off the cob and use it as one would any other vegetable.  Corn is a challenging crop.  It is a heavy feeder and requires constant moisture, but can offer excellent yields.  Can be contaminated with wind blown GM pollen.  Safe seed is out there if you shop with attention.  Corn ear worms can be a serious issue, making organic corn on the cob a postential disaster.  Take a bunch of labor to shuck and process.  I'm not a fan of growing corn.

Easy to plant, abundant yields, easy to tend and harvest and popular when available fresh.  This is an excellent market crop, can be a Pick Your Own crop.  

Annual consumption of about 15 pounds per family.  Best when cooked fresh.  Durable and long lasting in cold storage.  Cultivars offer a wide spectrum of colors.

I've seen these in the supermarket for $1.50 EACH for red, yellow and organge sweet bell peppers.  When I grow 16 peppers on a single plant in a season I try to reason how they justify the price.  It's supply and demand.  If that's what they demand, I say we supply it.  I've seen organic green peppers selling for $5...for one pepper.  1 pepper, 5 bucks.  No foolin.  Top quality gets top dollar.  Sweet, spicy, screaming, plants can be productive all season, started early in a greenhouse, moved back into the greenhouse for the winter and moved back out the next year.  These are astounding plants which perform when nothing should.  I've seen half the field dried and blowing away, but the peppers are pumping out fruit like it's their job or something.  Incredible variety of cultivars available.  New plants sell well from the greenhouse.  Highly versatile in a kitchen.

A long shelf life combined with strong demand and fair prices.  Takes up little space, is a light feeder, needs little attention, and has few insect problems.  A standard 4x50 bed would produce a couple thousand marketable bulbs.  Absolutely indispensible in a kitchen.  I've seen folks pay a buck a bulb for organic without batting an eye.  It is a cash cow.  Garlic Braids can be fashioned from hardnecks, bringing eye appeal to the display.  

Mostly, folks want slicers and picklers.  I've had excellent results with White Cucumbers.  Pick em at the right size, the plants keep producing.  Quick, productive and dependable.  Mostly fresh use in salads, sandwiches, potato salad.  Can be processed into relish and pickles of all shapes and sizes.

Fresh peas blow the doors off canned peas.  Can be frozen with a standard freezer and packed by the pound or more.  Being a cool season crop, the bugs are not a problem.  Best grown on a wire fence.  Shelling is labor intensive.  Machine shellers can be had starting at a couple hundred bucks which offer acceptable throughput capacity.

This is by no means a complete list of what we can grow or what we should grow.   There are easily a couple of hunded crops suitable for growing on the farm, with several cultivars of each type of vegetable.  Squashes alone have scores of varieties: summer, zuchini, acorn, butternut, pattypan, spaghetti, turban, hubbard, footballs, spheres, oblong, tubes, and plates.  They range in size from a few ounces to dozens of pounds per fruit. 

Sweet potato, eggplant, leeks, mushrooms, brocolli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, asparagus, spinach, mustard, collards, kale, arugula, tatsoi, mizuna, bok choy, cabbage, those little corn on the cob in chinese food, pumpkins, watermelon, cantelope, honeydew, ground cherries, horseradish, radish, ginger, parsnips, rutabaga, turnip, kohlrabi, daikon,  cress, beets, endives, artichoke, microgreens, wheatgrass, okra, grains, raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, logannberries, gooseberries...

There are vegetables we can grow that are simply not available at supermarkets because of shelf life, transportability and sales volume.  They don't sell hubbard squash in the supermarkets in Florida.  They don't sell okra in stores in Maine.  Regional differences and preferences were determined by what grows best in a particular soil and particular climate.  Okra needs heat, New England does not have much to offer.  Rutabaga like a good chill to bring out the sugars and improve the flavor, but the south does not cooperate.  Those big commercial farms can't offer the attention needed to grow okra up north and rutabaga down south.  I've grown both in the north and south.  It can be done, and when it is done, it draws a premium.  People have moved all across the country, becoming a more homogenous demographic, yet still retaining the regional food preferences.   I've sold rutabaga down south to a guy from up north and he had no problem paying TWO BUCKS A POUND!

If you grow it, you can sell it.



Cooperative Enterprise, Plan Outline