Simply put, YES! You can absolutely start a market garden with no experience.
Will starting a market garden with no experience be a lot of work? Yes.
Are you going to make a lot of mistakes? Yes.
Will the learning curve be steeper? Absolutely.
Chances are, if you are considering becoming a market gardener with NO market garden experience, you have at least grown your veggies at some capacity.
Perhaps you have a backyard garden, producing enough veg for your family. Or maybe you grow herbs on your window sills.
The point is, you have some experience with growing plants.
Let me tell you a secret….come here….closer….OK, that’s good…..
We are starting a market garden with NO experience working on a market farm.
Shhh….don’t tell anyone!
Here’s some more food for thought, market garden guru Eliot Coleman started his market garden with no experience.
Urban Farmer Curtis Stone had not worked on a market farm before he revolutionized market farming on small plots of land within the city limits.
Now, don’t get me wrong, there is something to say about having hands-on market farming experience before you start your own market garden.
Of course, it would be beneficial to gain experience from those who know and are succeeding.
BUT, it’s not a deal-breaker.
Don’t take my word for it, let’s get some insight from the pros in the biz.
J.M. did have market gardening experience before he broke out on his own (with his wife).
He went to university, McGill School of Environment, then went to Mexico and the US to work on small organic farms.
He came back to Montreal after his experiences abroad, rented land, and the rest as they say, is history.
Here is what J.M. had to say about his experience when starting a market farm:
The best advice I can offer someone interested in learning the craft is to get first-hand experience on an established mixed vegetable operation. No matter what size it is, your effort will let you see for yourself the joys and pains of the trade. No school or book can replace the experience of growing food for a season and taking in – often subconsciously – all the practices another vegetable farmer does well (or less well)…
That being said, there is no substitute for the experience one gains by working for oneself. This is why, after spending some time on someone else’s farm, I would suggest beginning your own project.
I can definitely say, that anyone prepared to invest their time to learn how to grow great vegetables efficiently can succeed in market gardening.
-Excerpt from the market gardener pp. 15-16
To summarize J.M.’s advice, nothing beats experience. Spending time on someone else’s farm means you can take the time to truly learn what to do and what not to do on your own farm without worrying about all the day-to-day that comes with running your own business.
Curtis Stone has an interesting background. He went from musician to tree planting, to market farming in the city (he goes into more detail in The Urban Farmer).
He started his market garden plots before ever actually growing a vegetable from start to finish himself.
Probably a little stressful, eh?
Here’s how Curtis Stone shut down his negative thoughts and learned to succeed:
I really followed the saying ‘Fake it til you make it;’ that became my mantra. I was, however, working very hard to consistently learn new things, and I spent a lot of time seeking out mentors in the community for advice…I found so much value in speaking with growers who did things completely different in a production sense, then I did but whose knowledge of plants, pest cycles, soil fertility, and even life were so paramount to my success early on. I continually tried to listen, learn and not be afraid to show vulnerability and ask questions that I thought were stupid. I always asked questions, and I never pretended that I had all the answers.
-Excerpt from The Urban Farmer, preface
Although Curtis did not have first-hand farming experience, he continually read books and asked for advice from gardeners with experience.
The takeaway here: don’t be afraid to ask questions and be humble, never pretend to know the answers.
Seek out community members in your area that have experience and ask for advice. When you don’t have the experience, turn to those who do.
Eliot Coleman is an OG market gardener. He is a pioneer in the small-scale farming business, so his advice is priceless.
There are a number of ways to learn any new skill. You can jump in boldly right from the start and count on the ‘sink or swim’ reaction to carry you through. You can work as an apprentice to someone else who knows how to do it. Or you can go to college for a course of study. I followed the first method and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys that type of challenge. You learn quickly because you have to. But be forewarned that it can be an occasionally stressful and exhausting adventure. Especially if you start with minimal resources, as we did, and have to practically create your world before you can inhabit it.
-Excerpt from The New Organic Grower, p. 4
Well, there you have it, straight out of the horse’s mouth. You can succeed as a market gardener with no experience. It requires hard work, dedication, and learning on the fly but it can be done!
Each of these three market garden gurus traveled different paths to get where they are today.
There really is no linear path that is cut and dry for everyone, we all come from different backgrounds, education, and experience levels.
However, what is consistent among almost all market gardeners are their values.
Disgusted by modern industrial agriculture with all its pesticides, GMO’s, cancer, and big business are why many market farmers start growing veg.
Providing safe alternative food sources for families and communities are major motivating factors for starting a market garden.
If you possess strong motivating factors, along with an energetic drive, and willingness to learn, I have no doubt that you can succeed as a market farmer even if you have no experience.
To help get you started, here is our recommended list of books to read before you start your market farm, including books by the three gurus mentioned in this article.
Keep up to date with us, and you will see first hand what running a market garden with no experience is like!
How much experience did you have before you started your market garden? If you haven’t started one yet, do you plan to work on another farm first? Let us know in the comments below.
Kathy & Jon
Your friendly neighbourhood growers