Specialty farms and specialty crops are not the fruit and vegetable stands of yesterday. Specialty farming is taking off and becoming its own industry these days, and consumers couldn’t be happier.
What is a specialty farm?
According to the Agriculture Department the Farm Bill defines specialty crops as “fruits and vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, horticulture, and nursery crops (including floriculture).” Eligible plants must be cultivated or managed and used by people for food, medicinal purposes, and/or aesthetic gratification to be considered specialty crops. Processed products shall consist of greater than 50% of the specialty crop by weight, exclusive of added water.
Specialty farms are more than just a garden.
Individuals must have extensive knowledge of the farming process, from soil preparation and planting to crop maintenance and harvesting. Specialty farmers usually work long, irregular hours at different times of the year. They must be knowledgeable in all aspects of fieldwork, and the job can be physically demanding. And business skills are needed to develop crop plans, manage workers and market produce to retail and the public.
No formal education is required to start a specialty farm, but agricultural managers typically hold at least an associate’s degree. A certificate or degree program focused on agriculture can teach individuals valuable information about different plants, soil, pests, production methods, and management.
Climate also plays a major role in success of smaller farms. Crop and variety selection is the first consideration in starting or developing the farm. Making the right decision in the selection of plants to be grown in your part of the country is a contributing factor into having a successful farming venture.
The realities of real life on a real working “profitable” farm are no less than those of any agriculture crop.
- It takes money for start-up. Your expenses will include land, seed, equipment, and employees. You will need to invest in insurance, pesticides, and marketing. And you will have to show the ability to make a profit from your first investment.
- Farming is 24 hours a day 7 days a week. Getting a day off takes a long time planning, so good relationships with neighbors and/or family that can take your place is imperative.
- You will need a strong working knowledge of mechanics, construction, computer software and hardware, economics (local and regional markets), and meteorology, along with knowledge of every stage of your plant.
- Farming is nearly impossible for one person to do alone. No matter what size your specialty farm is, you will need help.
Warnings aside, specialty farming is filling the niche of pure, farm-to-table ingredients that consumers are demanding.
What are some specialty crops farmers are getting into?
Fruits such as almonds, apricots, cherries, cranberries, guava, kiwi, peaches, pineapple, raspberries, and strawberries.
- Vegetables such as mushrooms, tomatoes, baby carrots, asparagus, collards, leeks, garlic, lentils, spinach, rutabaga, and artichokes.
- Culinary herbs and spices such as allspice, anise, coriander, lavender, parsley, capers, catnip, hyssop, and rosemary.
- Medicinal herbs such as arum, gingko biloba, ginseng, fenugreek, skullcap, Witch hazel, pennyroyal, and patchouli.
- Horticulture such as hops, tea leaves, and maple syrup.
- Annual bedding plants such as begonia, impatiens, pansies, snapdragons, marigolds and petunias.
- Potted flowers such as African violet, lily, hydrangea, poinsettias, and roses.
- Potted herbaceous perennials such as columbine, daylily, hosta, ivy, ornamental grasses, phlox, and vinca.
- Cut flowers such as carnations, iris, tulips, gladiolas, snapdragons and orchids.
- Cut cultivated greens such as asparagus fern, eucalyptus, holly, and leatherleaf fern.
- Foliage plants such as cacti, ficus, palms, ferns, and philodendrons.
- Christmas trees such as balsam fir, blue spruce, Douglas fir, and scots pine.
- Deciduous flowering trees such as crabapple, crepe myrtle, flowering cherry, magnolia, dogwood, or hawthorn.
There are many ways to turn your passion of gardening into producing specialty vegetables, herbs, and other products that meet consumer demands. Specialty farming is a lifetime commitment, hard work, and dedication to your crop.
It can be exhausting but it also can be rewarding. That’s the glory of it.