One of the best ways for small specialty crop growers to increase their profits is by adding value to their plants by taking an extra step beyond just selling their unprocessed harvest. Using simple value-added techniques can increase your profits by 100 to 1,000 percent!
For instance, my neighbor has grown sedums for years, selling them at the local Saturday market in the standard 4-inch plastic pot. She has done well, but her sales – and her profits took off like a rocket after her husband suggested selling the plants in decorative hypertufa pots.
Every winter, using the standard hypertufa mix of perlite, peat, sand and portland cement, they make hundreds of small and large pots in a variety of shapes, using old tupperware from the thrift shop and scrap plywood and styrofoam for molds. Carol makes fused glass art, and uses the rejects and scraps, which are embedded in the outside of the pots, to add a bit of color. Almost any colorful material – “penny” tiles, for example – can be added to the pots as well.
When the hypertufa pots have cured for a month, they are filled with potting soil and sedums, which are grown out until the first Saturday market in the Spring. Now, instead of a $3 plant, she is able to sell her plants in hypertufa decorator pots for $25, selling thousands of dollars worth every spring and summer.
If you are growing for market and want to get 5 to 10 times more money for your plants, get creative and find ways to add value. Here are a few more examples:
Bamboo – This popular plant brings a good price when potted and sold for landscaping. Several small-scale bamboo farmers have found success and profits by producing traditional products from the harvested bamboo canes as well. One North Carolina grower weaves the small bamboo canes into a traditional Japanese “Otsugaki” style fence, selling them in panels to local homeowners for as much as $100 each.
Another enterprising bamboo growers turns short pieces of bamboo cane into garden art, such as a rocking fountain based on an ancient Asian design used to scare deer out of the garden with a gentle clacking sound. Materials cost under $10, mainly for a small aquarium water pump, and the completed fountains sell for about $100 by mail and in specialty catalogs and at local nurseries.
Food products – Turning your specialty crop into a food products can bring far greater profits for growers. From the more traditional jams and jellies to the more exotic specialty foods, your imagination is the only real limit to what can be created. One garlic grower has found success with a garlic-cherry chutney based on a traditional recipe from Cremona, Italy called mustarda.
Others have re-invented that kitchen staple, vinegar, with new flavors and varieties using plants harvested from their market gardens, such as rose hips and other flavorful flowers. Here are a few of the most popular value-added food products being sold right now at farmer’s markets and specialty food stores:
- Chutneys and salsas
- Dried herbs
- Garlic braids
- Herbal salad dressings
- Jams and jellies
Garlic is a crop that can provide several profitable ways to add value. Garlic farmers can sell the scapes – the young greens – early in the season for salads and stir-frys, and garlic braids and wreaths at harvest time, as well as seed garlic of exotic varieties for customers who want to grow their own garlic. The next level is garlic-based food products, from garlic vinegars and jellies to chutney and sauces.
Herbs – A herb business offers almost unlimited opportunity to add value. Growers have found success selling “window sill gardens” with 4 to 6 different culinary herbs in a window sill-sized planter box. Another variation is a window sill tea garden, with several herbs used in popular teas, such as lemon verbena, chamomile, lemongrass and mints.
Herb products – Many herb growers have expanded their herbal business by producing essential oils for aromatherapy from their herb harvest. Simple steam distillation is used to extract plant oils from the flowers, leaves, roots and bark of herb plants. These essential oils can be used to create bath and body products, pet care products, even medicinal products used in holistic healing.
Imaginative herb growers have created hundreds of useful herbal products that add value to raw herbs, often by a factor of 10 or 20 to 1. Most growers start small with proven sellers, like herbal hand creams, salves and bath products. Finding customers is easier at farmer’s markets, where you can offer samples, then finding retail stores to stock your product after you’ve established a local following. That’s how Burt’s Bees went from $200 in sales at a craft fair to annual sales of over $250 million!
One herb grower had a surplus of unsold catnip one year, and used her sewing machine to produce cute catnip-filled cat toys for sale at local pet stores and vet’s offices. The toys proved so successful, she devoted an entire half-acre to catnip, selling enough toys to put her two children through college.
Another simple, but profitable, herbal product that is a stead seller for many herb businesses is dream pillows. Dream pillows are herb-filled mini-pillows that are used for relaxation, stress reduction, even to inspire romance. Because the scent fades over time, customers tend to re-order every 4-6 months, so pillow makers have a built-in repeat market.
Lavender is a primary ingredient in many dream pillows, as well as dozens of other herbal products. In fact, lavender is the number one herbal fragrance worldwide. Although lavender is a popular and aromatic fresh-picked plant, value-added products such as soaps, sachets, dried bouquets, and seedlings for sale can boost profits dramatically. In addition, the essential lavender oil, produced with steam distillation, is used with even more value-added products.
There are almost no limits to what can be created from a variety of common and not-so-common plants. If you’ve ever thought about growing for market or growing plants for profit with value-added techniques, now is the time to explore this fascinating and profitable gardening niche. Each of the 4 books we offer contain value-added techniques for each specialty crop.