How to Make Money With Organic Gardening

Intensive gardening techniques allows for organic gardening to produce more food and profit.

| March/April 2015

Former county extension agent Clifton Slade has been raising commercial vegetables for years. But it wasn’t until he attended a Sustainable Agriculture Working Group workshop a couple of years ago that he started learning how to do more with less—less land, that is. At the workshop, Slade spoke with farmers who were grossing $1 per square foot in greenhouses. “I thought if it could be done inside, why not outside?”

So Slade went back home to Surry County, Virginia, and started intensively farming a quarter acre with the goal of raising a pound, a bunch, or a head of produce in every square foot. “It worked so well that first year, I thought, ‘Oh, I can make a fortune.’”

Slade began calling area CSAs (community supported agriculture) to see what types of produce their customers wanted that the CSA was not providing. Soon he was harvesting carrots, beets, turnips, romaine and other lettuces, kale, onions and cabbage, filling niche markets no other local vegetable producers were filling. His first year he established 20 beds in a quarter acre.

The secret is in the soil

The secret to such prolific plants is in the soil, of course. Farmers and gardeners have to be active with liming, drip irrigation, and planting of winter cover crops, all of which Slade does. He admits it is labor intensive farming. But it’s not that hard to get started. “All you need is a 100-foot length of twine and two tomato stakes,” he says. He plants rows a foot apart. One can do it by hand, hoeing along the twine tied between two stakes, or fashion a tiller with pieces of rebar attached to the back to dig the rows with less labor.

Slade was so excited by how proper soil management increased his harvest and enabled him to produce more in less space that he took the “$1 per square foot” idea to his boss at Virginia State University and Virginia Cooperative Extension, where he works part-time for the school’s Small Farm Outreach Program as a vegetable/produce specialist.

“Clif came to me and said, ‘I can make $43,560 off one acre of land,’” says William Crutchfield, director of the Small Farm Outreach Program. Slade asked for 2 acres of university land to prove it. Crutchfield thought the idea was a good one for the small and often socially disadvantaged and economically limited farmers the program serves. When they started the initiative, Crutchfield says, “We were building the airplane as we were flying it.”

3/6/2015 5:05:37 AM

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