Walk around almost any farmers market in July and August and you will probably see a trend toward tomatoes, watermelons, corn and peppers among the vendors. This is also what the customers will see—a lot of vegetable redundancy. So even if you also grow those crops (and, of course, it’s pretty hard not to grow tomatoes), there are a few less-common crops you should consider having to make your market table stand out in the crowd and give the customers what everyone isn’t.
Carrots are always a great crop to have on your market table. They grow in many areas right through the summer (even here in central Kentucky). They can be labor intensive and heavy, but customers always appreciate a large pile of carrots no matter the time of year. In summer, you can benefit knowing carrots are a crop not many other growers bother with.
2. Baby Yellow Squash
Far too many people pick their squash long after it’s adequately mature. Most squashes should still look waxy and tender. For crooknecks and other elongated squashes, they should be 4 to 6 inches in length. Pick daily and sell a ton—customers will thank you.
3. Pea Shoots
Pea shoots are a great year-round crop you can grow in the most basic of greenhouse setups—or out in the fields if climate allows. The other benefit is the price, which can be more than $16 per pound wholesale; it’s one of the more profitable less-common crops.
Tomatoes love basil, and having a big pile of basil for pestos and garnishes right next to your tomatoes can be a very vigorous market item and bring in money for months off the same crop. If you pick it fast enough, you can keep it from flowering—I really like everleaf as a good variety for this.
5. Green Onions
Green onions are one of the first crops to show up at market and likewise one of the first to disappear from market. These everyday staples can’t be beat in the middle of the summer.
There is no shortage of challenges with growing summer lettuce, but you can and should do it. Many varieties are summer hardy and grow well in the heat with the right upkeep.
Looking for a great and profitable way to use those high tunnels over the warmer months? I really like growing beets in an open and well-aerated high tunnel all summer. The light shade offered by the greenhouse plastic helps protect the tender greens and produce reliable, delicious beets.
Fennel (pictured at the top of this post) is another great tunnel crop, and it’s a great crop for customers and chefs alike. Keeping it cool is a good idea with some occasional overhead misting, but it can take a fair amount of heat with that assistance.
Celery is a very slow but also very productive crop that almost never (unfortunately) appears at market. Grow a good batch of celery and have customers for life.
One last high tunnel favorite for the summer is arugula. Even in a more humid environment arugula can survive as long as it gets that small amount of protection or some amount of shade cloth. It loves germinating and growing in warm temperatures and is a reliably fast and valued crop to grow.
So go ahead—freshen up your market stand with some less-common crops. Your customers will thank you for it!