When you start an urban farm, you inevitably have to decide which crops you want to grow. It can be a daunting task, especially when you read the literature that suggests you should have 20-30 different crops, and grow enough for your membership plus 25% or more to allow for losses and failure. When you start looking at the sheer volume of plants, you begin to get nervous.
This article lays out some basic guidance for choosing your crop menu. It isn’t the only way to choose, but it offers a basic framework for filling up your crop roster.
First, list the crops that you and your family enjoy. You’ll probably have between 10 and 12 of these. Don’t worry about whether or not you can grow them or if you even know how. Just make a list.
Next, invite input from your friends and some of your potential customers. Again, don’t filter anything. Your goal here is to get a large list, because you’ll start marking items off soon enough.
If you have a webpage or mailing list, send out a notice to your subscribers and visitors asking them to let you know what crops they would want to see in their basket.
Now, it’s time to filter the list and decide on the crops you want to grow. Here’s the filters you can apply – do this in order, or you’ll end up with a pretty small list!
1. Delete duplicates
2. Take plants that don’t grow in your climate or soil types and put them aside. You’ll revisit this in a moment.
3. Delete plants that require more care than you are able to give – be realistic in your time assessment. Farming takes more time than you think – especially in the first few years. If you love microgreens, but can’t tend to them daily or maintain a steady supply, then it’s best to not keep them in your list.
4. Delete plants that take more space than you have. Squash, pumpkins, watermelon, potatoes, and cucumbers are always on the list, but they are space intensive. If you don’t have the space, don’t grow it. Is better to not promote a CSA with watermelons than to advertise and not deliver!
5. Pull out that list of plants that don’t grow in your climate. See if there are any of those plants that have a variety or similar plant that will grow where you are. Add these plants back in your list cautiously. Perhaps run a one or two year trial before committing too much space to these crops.
Most CSA farms offer between 10 and 20 varieties of crops each year. You may always choose more or less, depending on your focus and theme. Perhaps you are a green-bean expert and offer four varieties of beans and nothing else. Maybe you want to be the produce-aisle of CSAs. Whatever size you plan for your farm, using this filter technique can guide you toward choosing the best plants for your climate and clientele.