From: Paul Geary, ENN
Published April 1, 2005 12:00 AM

For Small Farms and Garden Entrepreneurs, Challenges Abound

Many of the challenges that the gardening enthusiast will face are mirrored by the challenges of small farms. Even if you don't sell your wares, you have to buy many ofthe same supplies that businesses buy. And of course if you're gardening has taken on a scope bigenough that you're selling the fruits of your labor at farmers' markets, you've likely confronted some of the business-related hurdles already.

The usual challenges facing the gardener such as weather and pests onlycompound the issue. One such challenge is the sticker-shock from the increase in fertilizerprices. According to the Omaha World-Herald newspaper, farm-belt businesses have been stung by asharp increase in theper-ton price of fertilizer, which rose about 30% this year. This isexpected to follow at theretail level as well. Several fertilizer products that have spiked inprice include those which arenitrogen-based and rely on natural gas for their production. Natural gasprices soared this winter.Of course, the obvious way to avoid this challenge is to avoid using thechemical- and gas-basedproducts in favor of more organic methods.

Another challenge is greater competition from unlikely sources. Manylarger farms that have growntraditional bulk crops and products are having to grow specialtyalternatives in order to make aprofit. Farmers in South Texas have been ravaged by drought exacerbated byMexico's nonpayment ofits water debt to the US (until the very recent commitment on the part ofthe Mexican government topay). Wisconsin dairy farmers are fatigued by the fluctuations of milkprices.

Declining markets for mass-produced crops such as peanuts and tobacco aremaking those farmers turnto more profitable crops. According to the Virginian-Pilot newspaper,farmers in western Virginiaare growing crops like seedless organic watermelons and snapdragons ingreenhouses that had housedtobacco seedlings.

On the other hand, demand for organic grain has never been higher.Products such as flax and organicsoybean are in high demand as well, so any gardener or small farmer who grows thesewill do well -- if they'recertified organic (a three-year process). Non-genetically modified grainsbring a premium as well,albeit a smaller one.

There are companies out there that are designed to help the gardener orthe small farmer besuccessful, and to overcome these challenges. Whether you garden forincome, or only for family orpersonal consumption, or just for fun, there are resources available tomake your garden or smallfarm successful and rewarding.

One company whose products you can find right in the comfort of your ownhome -- via the Internet,that is -- is Extemely Green Gardening Co. On the Massachusetts-basedfirm's website, you can orderorganic gardening products such as fertilizers, compost, soil amendments,natural pest controlproducts, and other gardening and lawn care necessities.

If you want to try greenhouse gardening, one company that can help you getstarted is the AmericanGreenhouse Kit Company. You can order a "kit" on the company website, andhave a greenhouse shippedto your home partially prefabricated. They are designed so that thenon-expert builder can put themtogether fairly easily. Greenhouses come with metal, wood, or plasticframes, and range in size froma small lean-to greenhouses designed to fit against an already-existingwall, to a huge 19' x 8 7/8'-- nearly 170 sq. ft. -- which runs for more than $16,000.

Of course, the challenges the gardener faces, and overcomes, is part ofthe reward of doing one's own gardening and growing. We're featuringgardening throughout the month of April, so come back to ENN often as wefeature resources for your successful garden all month long.

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