Business & Marketing

Choosing Your Market

The correct marketing channel for a small or medium-scale vegetable and/or fruit farm can be just as important to the success of a business as production practices. When choosing the market best for your agricultural operation, many factors must be considered from years in operation to regional consumer demand preferences. Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Guide to Marketing Channel Selection: How to Sell Through Wholesale and Direct Marketing Channels represents a good starting place and covers many of these factors a grower must consider when choosing the best market for their business including risk, sales volume, price, produce standards, and labor requirements. The guide also goes through market channel combination strategies and planning tools to help growers decide what is the best decision for their specific operation.

More detailed publications cover steps to take after choosing your specific market e.g. community supported agriculture, cooperatives, farmers markets, food hubs. These are provided within the Business and Marketing section of the manual and are listed under the annotated bibliography section below.

Business Planning

Business planning and strategic planning can be useful for the production aspects of an urban farm, even if an organization is not profit oriented and is oriented towards serving communities.  A business plan can help agricultural entrepreneurs with the startup and operation of their business. Typically a farm business plan communicates specific goals and values within a certain market, identifies product opportunities, and evaluates farm finances. A good resource for those beginning the farm business plan process is Building a Sustainable Business: A Guide to Developing a Business Plan for Farms and Rural Businesses developed out of the Minnesota Institute of Sustainable Agriculture and the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program. The publication focuses on producers using non-traditional farming models and is organized by individual planning tasks outlining four key areas of management: marketing, operations, human resources, and finance.

If you are looking to grow within an urban center, the Urban Farm Business Plan Handbook from the Partnership for Sustainable Communities addresses additional concerns unique to the successful operation of an urban farm. This includes specific planning related focus on brownfields and other sustainable reuses of available land in urban environments. Additional supplementary documents including spreadsheets with formulas to help calculate expenditures and revenue are also included.


When completing your farm business plan, both marketing and economic concerns are discussed. However, being able to calculate your farms specific finances as well as specific marketing strategies may need further explanation. Finding Your Right Price by Susan Smalley is a quick reference on how to calculate production costs to determine direct market pricing for your products. The publication includes a list of different types of costs to pay attention to, and a tracking costs handout at the end to help organize information.

For a more detailed analysis of your on-farm production costs, see the University of Wisconsin Madison’s Veggie Compass cost analysis spreadsheet. It was created to help fresh market vegetable growers increase farm profitability and can be found at The spreadsheet compiles different farm records relating to labor, cost, and sales to calculate the cost of production for each crop and the profitability of your chosen market channel.

For specific examples of urban farm finances first see the snapshot publication Farming in the City: Two Farm’s Finances developed for the 2014 MOSES Conference comparing the finances from Troy Community Farm in Madison, Wisconsin and Stone Throw’s Urban Farm in the Twin Cities. For a more detailed cost analysis of vegetable farming at different scales see the farmer-led case study Grower to Grower: Creating a Livelihood on a Fresh Market Vegetable Farm out of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems. The growers collected data in a three-year period from 2002 to 2004 to create financial ratios regarding labor, finances, and equipment. These ratios provided information on their future labor needs, product pricing, and investment in labor saving equipment.


Understanding value-added components of production can increase your farm’s profits and consumer-base. The Pennsylvania State University’s series Value-added Marketing provides a quick reference to marketing to professional chefs and new generation cooperatives as options to increase the profitability and marketability of your product.

The National Young Farmer’s Coalition’s publication Vegetable Farmer’s Guide to Organic Certification is another publication geared towards adding value through organic certification.  It provides information to growers who currently grow using organic methods and are interested in certification.

Additional Resources and Citations

Barham, James, Debra Tropp, Kathleen Enterline, Jeff Farbman, John Fisk, and Stacia Kiraly. 2012.  Regional Food Hub Resource Guide. U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Agricultural Marketing Service. Washington, DC

Gilbert, Faith. 2014. Cooperative Farming: Frameworks for Farming Together. Greenhorns

Growing for Market. 2009. Special Report: Farmers Markets. Fairplain Publications, Inc.

Hendrickson, John. 2005. Grower to grower: Creating a livelihood on a fresh market vegetable farm. University of Wisconsin-Madison Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems

Kelley, M. Kathleen. 2005. Value-added Marketing: An Introduction to New Generation Cooperatives. The Pennsylvania State University

Kelley, M. Kathleen. 2005. Value-added Marketing: Community Supported Agriculture Part II:  Members and Their Role. The Pennsylvania State University

Kelley, M. Kathleen. 2005. Value-added Marketing: Marketing to Professional Chefs. The Pennsylvania State University

LeRoux, Matthew. 2010. Guide to Marketing Channel Selection: How to Sell Through Wholesale and Direct Marketing Channels. Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County

Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture (MISA). 2003. Building a Sustainable Business: A Guide to Developing a Business Plan for Farms and Rural Businesses. Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE)

Oakley, Emily. 2014. Vegetable Farmer’s Guide to Organic Certification. National Young Farmers Coalition

Partnership for Sustainable Communities. 2011. Urban Farm Business Plan Handbook. United States Environmental Protection Agency

Perez, Jan., Albie Miles, Martha Brown. 2015. Teaching Direct Marketing and Small Farm Viability: Resource for Instructors 2nd Edition. Center for Agroecology & Sustainable Food Systems, University of California, Santa Cruz

Pfeiffer, Anne, Julie Dawson, Alex Liebman, and Claire Strader. 2014. Farming in the City: Two Farm’s Finances. FairShare CSA Coalition

Smalley, Susan. 2004. Finding Your Right Price. New Agriculture Network’s on-line newsletter with seasonal advice for field crop and vegetable growers interested in organic agriculture. Vol. 1(4)