Grow a Business in Your Garden

by Thomas N. Tomas

Growing vegetables on a small scale can lead to a successful enterprise for a farm. It can also be a good way to involve your kids in the farming operation, and to teach them entrepreneurial skills that they will use for the rest of their lives. I have two words of advice for aspiring entrepreneurs: start small, and start young.

START SMALL

An acre of sweet corn can produce 18,000 ears of corn. That’s 1,500 dozen. If we sell them at $2.00 per dozen, that’s $3,000. Now if we raise 100 acres expecting to get $3,000 per acre, that’s where we get in trouble.

An acre of sweet corn can be a profit center for the farm. One hundred acres of sweet corn will be a profit center for the machinery dealer, the banker, the shipper, the packaging salesman, and the retailer, among others. They will get their money up front, and you will get the same worries you would get with 3,000 acres of field corn.

An acre of sweet corn can usually be produced and marketed with resources you already have. It can usually be sold within your surrounding community. The risk is low and the potential for a cash profit is high. If you start small and grow to the potential of your market, it may become a significant profit center for your farm.

START YOUNG

This can be an ideal way for young people to get entrepreneurial experience. I know of one family where the two grade-school boys marketed three acres of sweet corn each summer to finance their school clothes and a ski trip to Colorado each winter, plus set aside money for college. Of course, Dad and Grandpa worked with them in the field and Mom got them set up selling from a stand in the front yard. But that was part of the real "profit" in the enterprise, the family working together.

The boys had to learn to deal with the customers, keep records, and do the banking. It can be a real big deal for a boy that age to walk into the bank and deposit $350 in cash from a good weekend of sales. Since they earned the money, they got to pick out their own school clothes and plan their ski weekend based on how much they made. They learned how to plant and produce a crop, market it, handle money, and spend that money wisely.

Any high value vegetable crop that a kid is interested in will do. A half acre of melons or pumpkins or a few hundred tomato plants could produce similar results. The enterprise should start small to allow time to learn. It should be a crop suited to the potential local market. It should not require any large investment in specialized equipment. The risk should be small enough that it will not break the finances of the farm or the spirit of the young entrepreneur if it is not a success.

A small vegetable enterprise can be a real profit center for the farm and a real business education for young people. Pull out those seed catalogues and give it some thought this winter

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