Value Added Projects
One way that small-scale farmers and market gardeners increase the profitability of their harvest is through something called value-added processing. Many entrepreneurial youth programs are using this strategy to make and sell products like jellies, jams, salsas, sauces and even hand lotions and lip balms that they create from produce grown in their own gardens. If you are hoping to sell produce for a profit, it may be worth considering writing value-added products into your business plan.
This page will help you understand what you have to consider when including value-added products in your gardening project. This page will help you consider what is involved in a value-added venture, and get you started on building a plan to produce and sell the best product for your garden. We also provide you information about other youth-driven projects that have explored the possibilities of value-added processing.
To learn more about basic marketing and sales strategies, see our Marketing and Sales page.
From the Bottom Up: Developing a Plan
What should we sell?
Considering what to sell involves a bit of research to find out what type of products will sell well in your area, based on what type of foods or products are popular, what type of foods or products are desirable but hard to find, and what types foods or products are staples or basic necessities. You should also consider what can be grown and/or produced for a relatively low price. You may want to conduct a basic market analysis to find out the best products to sell: to learn more about how to set up a value-added marketing analysis and business plan, see this excerpt from the Food and Agriculture Organization document Setting up and Running a School Garden.
Here are a few examples of value-added projects that could be sold from your garden:
- Jams and Jellies
- Sauces (bar-b-q, pasta, ketchup, etc)
- Salad Dressings
- Salsas and Chutneys
- Sun-dried Tomatoes
- Dried fruits
- Baked goods (pies, breads, etc)
- Garlic Braids
- Dried herbs
- Dried flowers or potpourri
- Flower arrangements
- Dried gourds (as bird houses, bowls, etc)
- Luffa sponges (grown from a squash!)
- Skin care products such as lotions or lip balm
- Seed packets
Who will buy it?
Another part of your value-added strategy is to consider who will buy what you are going to produce. Knowing this will help you decide where and when you should sell it. For example, if you would like to market a garden product, such as mulch, compost, seeds or seedlings, you can be assured that your customers will be gardeners. Check listings for local gardening shows or garden related events where you could set up a booth for sales. Or check with local nurseries to see if you could sell products to them or even set up a booth in their parking lot during the busy season. And make sure that your products are ready for sale in the spring, when most gardeners will be looking for them. Different audiences will require different strategies: knowing your audience will help you figure out where and when you will be able to sell the most products.
How will we produce it?
Knowing how you will produce your value-added product includes much more than just knowing the best times to plant, harvest, weed and water your crop. Different products may require additional tools, skills, and materials to process, and knowing exactly what is involved will be an important consideration when figuring how much it will cost you to create it. Some products, like dried flowers or luffa sponges, may require little more than an area for the drying and storage of the product, and may not require any extra tools or materials. But a product like lip balm will require special processing, packaging and equipment, as well as additional ingredients. The price of the equipment and additional ingredients should be factored into the final cost of the product.
The production of value-added food products will require more planning and organization than most non-food items. If you are creating a product like a salsa or jam, most states require that you process these according to strict safety guidelines. This may require that you create and package products in a certified kitchen, where all processing equipment is sterilized before production. In most cities, you can rent the use of a certified kitchen on an hourly basis, and the cost of this rental should be factored into the final cost of the product. For tips on factoring the cost, see this excerpt from the Food and Agriculture Organization document Setting up and Running a School Garden.
How do we market and package it?
To help the sales of your product, it helps to market it and package it in a way that makes it appealing to customers. In marketing your product, you should consider what make it unique and superior to other products. For example, people may want to buy your product because it is:
- Locally or organically grown
- Not available anywhere else
- Grown by you!
- The proceeds contribute to a worthy cause
You will also want to give your product a unique name that can help convey a little about where and how it was created. For example, the Green Corp project of the Cleveland Botanical Garden has created a line of salsas named "Ripe from Downtown" to let their customers know what is unique about their product.
Packaging is another consideration that you will want to consider as you decide how to sell your product. The basic function of packaging is to protect and preserve the product it is designed for, but it will also play a role in how customers perceive your product. Packaging does not have to be expensive or extravagant, but you should know that it will convey a strong message to customers about what your project is all about. Think about the differences between a product that is sold wrapped in brown paper and a handmade label, and a product that is sold in clear plastic packaging and a slick printed label. Packaging will impact how people perceive your product, and you should make sure that the packaging compliments your overall marketing strategy.
Examples of Value-Added Projects
Added Value and Herban Solutions, Inc.
"Youth ages 14-19 in the Red Hook neighborhood are active participants in the local economy and community through projects that reclaim vacant urban land for organic agriculture and marketing. The group has established an urban farm on 2 acres of a rarely- used city baseball field. The youth initiated and now manage a farmers' market that caters to the growing, economically diverse population in Red Hook, including recipients of WIC Farmers' Market coupons."
"This organization works with low-income Latino neighborhoods, especially youth, in reclaiming vacant lots for agricultural enterprises in vermiculture, aquaculture and community gardens. Youth projects include growing and selling value-added chili peppers, as well as worm castings fertilizer."
The Food Project
"Our mission is to grow a thoughtful and productive community of youth and adults from diverse backgrounds who work together to build a sustainable food system. We produce healthy food for residents of the city and suburbs and provide youth leadership opportunities. We market our own Farm-Fresh Salsa, holiday pies, and other value added products "
FoodShare Community & Agriculture Project
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
"Project participants include mental health clients, youth at risk, and urban and rural farmers working in partnership to contribute to the building of a local food system. Through innovative agricultural projects such as urban farming; community supported agriculture programs emphasizing ethnic foods; neighbor-hood farm stands; and value-added product development, low-income communities in the Toronto area receive access to high quality food, job skills development and opportunities for training and marketing."
"Area high school students, chosen for the program through a highly competitive process involving applications and personal interviews, are paid to plant and maintain urban gardens under the tutelage of Cleveland Botanical Garden staff. They grow their own vegetables and herbs and turn a portion of their harvest into Ripe from Downtown™ Salsa and other products, which they sell at farmer's markets and through local stores as well as market to area restaurants. The skills that participants learn on the job are enhanced through classroom instruction and field trips to green businesses and institutions of higher learning. Participants are tested periodically to ensure that concepts have been absorbed and skills have been learned. A certificate is awarded at the end of each successfully completed year."
Growing Recruits for Urban Business (GRUB)
"The GRUB (Growing Recruits for Urban Business) Program at the South Plains Food Bank is designed to teach young adults, ages 14 to 21, life and job skills using our farm and community gardens as a backdrop to this education. As GRUB develops, the youth will produce and market a value-added product, giving them experience in marketing and small business operations."
Politics of Food
Rochester, New York
"Politics of Food operates the Rochester Roots School-Community Garden, which is an urban agriculture program located at Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. School #9 in Rochester, NY. Our program is a hands-on, experiential, school-based model of learning that links students with organic gardening, culinary skills, nutritional education, the environment, culture, and entrepreneurial and work force development. Rochester Roots students participate in sustainable living and work skills development workshops, organic farming conferences, hands-on organic garden work, CSA participation, community and cultural events, and fundraisers. The students process and market Petal Power and Green Power skin salves and lip balms at local businesses. Rochester Roots students, volunteers, and the interns maintain four organic produce gardens within and outside their school."