WORKING AS A MARKET GARDENER

Market gardeners grow vegetables (and sometimes other plants) for market.  Crops are often grown by cultivating soil and forming into long mounded rows (row cropping) and planting seed or seedlings on the raised rows. The lower rows between each mound are used to access the crops. Some crops are planted over a broad acreage (broad-acre crops), without mounds having been formed. Some market gardeners will grow crops in a greenhouse, and some in hydroponic systems (e.g. tomatoes).

Certain market garden crops are more suited to broad-acre growing, where soil preparation may be less involved, and large machinery (often specially designed) can be used to plant, cultivate and harvest crops on a large scale. Techniques and equipment have been developed to grow potatoes, tomatoes, peas and carrots, along with some other market garden crops this way. The people who work in this large scale form of production will need to understand and operate expensive equipment. They may be growing tens or hundreds of acres of the same crop at the same time (often under contract to supply produce to a processor).

Smaller scale market gardeners grow crops that are not needed or suited to growing on a large scale; their work can be less involved with machinery, and more involved with the plants.

A market gardener needs to plant seed and/or plants, fertilise and water the growing plants, inspect the crops progress and respond to any health or other problems that arise (e.g. weeding, pest control, protection from extreme dry, cold, wet, etc.). They need to identify the right time to harvest, then harvest the plant and treat it properly after harvest (e.g. storing at the right temperature). The job can also involve delivering the plant to market, and perhaps selling it.

Where Do They Work?
Market gardeners who provide vegetables to a processing plant will need to be growing produce in a location where delivery to the processor is easy. This means transport facilities need to be close to the farm, and ideally the farm should be in the same locality or region as the factory.

Market gardeners who supply fresh produce to market will do best if they can grow close to where the end user lives. The cost of land in urban areas usually prohibits the farm being in an urban area (unless it is very intensive and productive farming), but often they will be located on the fringes of urban centres.

Certain products though, may not be able to be grown where they are needed - due to climatic conditions or because the grower wants a greater sense of control over the growing environment. In these cases, a vegetable might be grown in a greenhouse, or to produce an “out of season crop”. It may be more expensive to get to the user, but it may attract a much higher selling price.

Opportunities
Market gardeners often look for seasonal workers to help harvest a crop, or do other jobs at a particular time of year; but might not employ permanent staff. Some larger farms may employ permanent labour, but the level of pay may be minimal. This can provide an opportunity for someone to learn about market gardening though.

Large scale farms, or technologically advanced farming (e.g. Hydroponics, aquaponics, greenhouse production, controlled environment mushroom production), can be lucrative business opportunities.  There are market gardeners who have become very wealthy; and for the “smart farmer” opportunities exist, but those opportunities are more likely to be as a self-employed farmer than working for someone else.

In the past, market gardeners grew into the job, because it was their family business. They often learnt on the job from their parents, and sometimes supplemented this by undertaking a horticultural course somewhere. Today family farms on the fringes of cities (market gardens and others) are often sold to developers, and children of farmers move on to different careers. We still need to eat vegetables though; and increasingly, people who have already had a career elsewhere, but have a desire to work with plants, may set up new farms in new areas.

What is Needed?
To grow vegetables or other market garden produce you need:
• Broad foundation knowledge of horticulture including soils, nutrition, water management, weed control, pest and disease management, etc.
• Knowledge of the specific requirements for growing the species or cultivars you choose to grow and an ability to choose cultivars that are most productive and that extend the growing season.
• Skills to operate machinery and equipment, and apply safe and productive work practices
• An understanding of harvest and post -harvest handling practices
• If you are to be self-employed you need business and marketing skills
 
 

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