The following information comes from Five Acres and Independence by M. G. Kains. Five Acres and Independence is also available to purchase in print.
To be most successful the small scale farmer may well adopt as his slogan the old advice: “Don’t hurry and don’t worry, but keep moving and make every stroke count,” especially the last!
Ways to live up to this dictum are: 1, To plan the whole general scheme well in advance of any action; 2, to decide which are the major features or crops and get them established first; 3, to fill in details in logical order; 4, to review the experiences, especially the mistakes, of each season and modify the plans when necessary or advisable for the following season so as to emphasize the one and avoid the other; 5, to make important changes only after deliberation.
The general plan should take into consideration what branches of farming are best adapted to the land—those which will probably produce the best yields; what ones will be in sure and great enough demand to pay well; what ones are least risky, either because of hardiness, ruggedness, fewness or insignificance of enemies; what ones may be disposed of in the greatest variety of ways; and so on. After making this decision, if fruits or perennial vegetables are to be grown their planting should be done the first year of ownership, even though no money return can be expected for several years. The cost of stock and development may seem excessive on the start but after the investment gets under way, being permanent, it should pay well and for many years with only the annual cost of upkeep. To offset this expense until the permanent crops pay, annual crops may be grown between the trees and bushes, and certain kinds even between the plants of perennial crops as outlined in Chapter 29. These though planted for profit should always be such as never interfere, but through their careful culture actually aid the permanent investment.
However, even under ideal conditions, with hotbeds and coldframes to start, and with proper storage to extend the season it will rarely be possible to have “fresh” vegetables to sell during the whole 12 months, usually not more than 7 or 8, and with fruits not so many. So other branches of farming, yes, and manufacturing, may well be added to fill in the gaps. Among the best are dressed poultry, eggs, honey, plants for transplanting, flowers (Chapters 19, 20, 21), canned fruits, and vegetables, soups, jams, jellies, pickles, and fruit syrups.
The principal advantages of adding the preserving branches to the list of departments are first, that unsold, surplus and cull fruit and some kinds of vegetables may be converted from waste and loss to saving and profit; second, that sales may be made every day in the year. Though all the fruits may be worked over in one to several of these ways (and others), many of the vegetables are either not adapted to such preservation or are too “cheap” to allow a fair margin of profit. For instance, out must go the salads and the potherbs such as spinach.
The ones best suited to canning and for which there is greatest demand are tomatoes (canned, preserved, catsup, juice, cocktail, pickles), “baby” beets and carrots, little onions and cauliflower (pickles), and rhubarb (canned, conserve, juice and wine). With the exception of the last, all these, also celery, pepper, leek, garlic and flavoring herbs such as parsley, sage, summer savory and thyme in multifarious combinations may be used in pickles, relishes, chutneys, sauces and soups.
Lest anybody doubt the demand for such edibles let me say that during the past five years three women of my acquaintance have sold every container of marmalade, jam, jelly and soup they have offered for sale through the woman’s club of their village or otherwise and have had repeat orders, even a year in advance—when new crops would come in! Had their supplies of raw materials been larger and their equipment better adapted to manufacture they could have marketed everything they could put up.
Another woman, suddenly left without support, started in, but soon outgrew her kitchen, migrated to an outbuilding, outgrew that, built a small factory, enlarged it, contracted for freshly gathered fruit by the ton direct from growers of desired varieties and at the time of my last visit, though the season was scarcely half over, had her storerooms packed with more than $100,000 (!) worth of preserved, canned, jellied, jammed and other classes of goods! Most of her products are sold through “fancy” grocery stores, though much also goes direct to regular, personal customers.
If the goods are only good enough—as hers were and are—they need only be tasted to assure a steady demand at reasonable prices. But the quality must always be kept up to standard.
One of the greatest opportunities on the small farm in the years ahead is to specialize on a few crops that are universally liked. Literally millions of city and town families will drive into the country to buy farm products from roadside stands. On a small-acreage farm a family can make a reasonable living.
There are only two qualifications. The soil must be good—full of humus and with a fair depth of loam. And the second point is of equal importance. Irrigation must be available when necessary. The writer in his experiments over many years has proved that ample water at the right time will increase yields of strawberries and raspberries from one-third to one-half. Irrigation also has a major effect on melons and squashes. With electric power increasingly available, it is possible to have water under pressure for irrigation purposes.
Few beginners realize the possibilities of profit in the specialty crops. Read the following quotations. From Strawberry Growing in Massachusetts, Massachusetts State College Leaflet No. 29: “The grower who can get 8 or 10 thousand quarts to the acre can grow strawberries at prices ruinous to the man who can get but 3 thousand quarts.” A crop of 8 thousand quarts at 30c a quart is a gross of $2,400. Expenses for fertilizer, baskets, picking, etc. will not exceed $1,000. From U.S. Department of Agriculture Bulletin No. 887, Raspberry Culture: “Records of red raspberry growers in New York indicate that the average yield is between 1,300 and 1,400 quarts per acre, while the best fields go as high as 4,000 quarts.” Raspberries are sold in pint baskets. Eight thousand pints at 25c is a gross of $2,000 per acre. Again, total expenses will not exceed $1,000 per acre. From U.S. Department of Agriculture Bulletin No. 1468, Muskmelons: “Yields of 200 standard crates of muskmelons per acre are not exceptional.” The standard crate holds 45 melons. A yield of 9,000 melons per acre at 15c means $1,350. Expenses for fertilizing, picking, irrigation, etc. will not be much more than $350, except in very unusual seasons. A yield of 3,000 pounds of asparagus per acre is not unusual. At 25c a pound this is a gross $750, and $250 will cover the acreage expense.
This gives an indication of the profit possibilities. Such high yields, of course, depend on good soil, available water, ample fertilization, and good care. It also indicates that on the small farm the logical method of increasing profits is to strive for higher yields of fancy products per acre rather than to spread one’s energies over a larger surface. There are other crops that may fit into the picture of an individual farm. A yield of 10 tons of squashes per acre is not uncommon. An acre of peaches, sold in small baskets at a roadside stand, can give a profit of $300 to $500. Some small farms find tomatoes, cauliflower, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts profitable. The attractively colored French horticulturist beans usually sell for a good price. The farmer who can control the corn borer can make up to $500 an acre from sweet corn.
Besides all these are specialties such as lily bulbs, everbearing strawberries, pussy willows, Japanese lantern plant, ornamental gourds, madeira and cinnamon vine tubers, straw flowers, culinary herbs, holly grown from cuttings, bittersweet vine, winterberry (Ilex verticillata), tigridia, snowberry, montbretia and many others.
Now that good roads are spread over the nation, and city and town dwellers are forming the habit of driving into the country for foods, small farmers have an opportunity to sell them produce at a retail price. No longer need the small farmer operate under the harsh economic handicap of selling his products at wholesale prices and buying his needs at retail levels.
The writer has just completed a survey of farm roadside stands and several important facts were disclosed. The best and most efficient roadside stands adhere to a few basic principles. Most important is that the produce sold be of good quality. Repeat customers through the season are what counts. From asparagus time through strawberries, raspberries, muskmelons, sweet corn, squashes, and the other vegetable crops, it is evident that customers will come week after week to the stand which always offers dependable produce.
Interviews with customers showed that many of them appreciated the freshness and reliability of the produce in contrast with their purchases in city markets. That’s the main thing to keep in mind when selling direct. Above average quality all the time gives a farmer a reputation for reliability that means a growing trade.
A farmer doesn’t need an elaborate stand. A plain, unpretentious, and neat building will serve. It should be large enough so that perishable fruits may be kept in the shade and protected from rains. An awning or roofed porch gives customers a chance to get under cover. A few shrubs and perennial flowers strategically located will enhance the attractiveness of the stand.
By all means locate the stand far enough back from the road so that the customers can drive in out of the traffic. Except for Saturday and Sunday traffic, a great majority of the customers will be women drivers. The survey mentioned disclosed that the women did not like to stop on a busy road. They wanted a chance to pull into a parking space.
Make the stand large enough. One sees many very small buildings used for stands. But if one is picking 2, 3, or 400 quarts of berries a day, cutting 50 pounds of asparagus, or selling 30 to 50 dozens of sweet corn, space is needed. The stand needs shelves and counters to make an attractive display. If, for example, a small farm has an acre each of asparagus, strawberries, and raspberries, the stand needs a floor area of at least 15′ by 10′.
Running a roadside stand is, of course, a confining task. But the point is that it offers the farmer a chance to increase his income to a marked degree. When a box of berries sells readily at retail for 30c, the wholesale price may be 15c. On an 8,000 quart crop that means $2,400 from the stand as opposed to $1,200 if the crop is sold at the lower price.
Customers say that they like a farm atmosphere. If a stand is too large, ornate, and dressed up, city people wonder if the produce may have been bought on the city market and brought into the country to be sold. A man in a clean pair of overalls, clean shirt, and with clean hands fits the farm picture. Neatness, cleanliness, and simplicity should be the keynote.
One other point is important. During the spring, summer, and fall many families are out riding until fairly late into the evening. Therefore the stand should have lighting fixtures. Dusk is often an excellent sales time.
A neat, attractive sign is helpful. But the best advertising of all is good produce and a generous measure.