Value-Added Products for Organic Farms
Ideas for organic crops and products that may add extra value to your farm
Most farmers are interested in new ways to add value to their business, which is where value-added products come in.
Value-added projects can help you stand out from the crowd, fill a specific demand, decrease boredom and hopefully, in the end, increase profits, but note that not all products or practices are right for every farm. Before you jump in, make sure you have the space, time, capital and commitment to add a specific value-added product or activity to your daily workload.
Large-scale lavender operations need quite a bit of land. However, even smaller organic farms can grow some lavender, adding it to their farmers' market offerings, CSA boxes or organic flower arrangements. Lavender can also be dried, used in recipes and alcohol, used to make personal care products and used to make goodies like infused chocolates, sleep pillows, and organic baby toys.
Lavender varieties come in all shapes, sizes, and shades of purple, so before growing lavender consider if you want to grow a culinary or decorative type, how much space you have, fragrance quality, the sort of climate you're in and how much time you want to spend pruning.
Note that to grow lavender you'll need well-drained soil, although you could go with raised beds or containers too.
People love birds and bird feeders and birdhouses of all kinds are popular garden additions for many homeowners and patio dwellers. You can grow many types of birdseed on your farm such as black oil sunflower seed, millet or safflower seeds.
There are few dedicated organic flower farms in America. Mainly because most wouldn't turn a large enough profit to keep them going. Most flowers sold in the United States are actually imported, not grown locally, and the organic market for flowers is smaller than the organic food market.
Still, that doesn't mean that organic flowers can't be an excellent addition to your organic farm. You can pop them in CSA boxes, sell them for green weddings or offer cut flowers at the farmers' market.
Organic sunflowers can take up a fair amount of space, but on the plus side, they're an extremely tough flower and they're very easy to grow. You've got all sizes and colors to choose from and no matter where you live, there's a sunflower type that will grow in your climate. Sunflowers are a popular cut flower in summer and fall, plus many people like them for their bird-feeding qualities.
As a bonus value add-on, sunflowers offer an amazing way to welcome people to your farm. If you have a farm where customers come by, consider growing sunflowers along your entry walkway or gate.
Garden start, including plants grown for home bedding or pots, are popular and few folks sell organic starts and many people prefer them to starting garden plants from seed. Thus, you can really stand out by offering organic plant starts (flowers, veggies, herbs and more) to customers, home garden supply stores, and local grocers.
Organic garlic can be a great value-added crop. While the majority of garlic (75%) sold in the United States is dehydrated and used in processed foods, there's demand for fresh as well by chefs and home cooks all over the country. As the USDA points out (pdf), no other crop has exhibited such strong sustained demand growth in the United States as garlic.
Another benefit of garlic is there are many cool varieties to play around with and you can grow a lot in a smaller space. While it can be labor intensive, it's also a fairly foolproof crop to grow, as garlic will tolerate a lot—poor soil, weather issues and more. You can sell fresh garlic of course, but even add more value by selling garlic braids, dried garlic, garlic powder or chopped garlic food spreads.
Organic herbs can be an excellent value-added crop as they can be grown easily indoors or in a greenhouse, take up little space and they can be sold in many ways. For example, herb starts are popular with gardeners, as are dried herbs and fresh herbs for cooking. You can also sell herbal wreaths or sell your organic herbs to a company who makes organic essential oils or other body care goods.
Most commonly, value-added products come from already present on-the-farm goods, such as transforming crops you grow into wonderful edible goods like jams made from berry crops, salsa made from tomatoes or garlic spread made from, what else, garlic.
Creating longer lasting products from short-lived fruits and veggies allows you some huge benefits when it comes to extending your sales throughout the year. In fact, value-added gourmet food goods can provide you a steady income when it's simply impossible to grow.
The downside is that processing can take quite a bit of time and manpower plus you may have to invest in special processing equipment and packaging materials. Still, it's nice to be able to sell year-round.
When coming up with gourmet organic processed food ideas, don't do what everyone else is doing. Jam is great, but if every natural grocer in your area carries 10 local brands of organic jam, you'll have stiff competition. Check out farmers' markets and other venues to see who is selling what.
Common value-added food products include: jams, jellies, preserves, fruit sauces and toppings for ice creams or desserts, fruit or nut spreads, breads and pastries, pickles (sweet or dill), preserved vegetables and fruits, jarred pumpkin pie filling or other fruit pie fillings, tapenades, hot chili sauces, snack packs of seeds and nuts, dried fruits, extra virgin appellation olive oils, herb-flavored olive oils and vinegars, salsas, and much more.
Think outside the box too. What about homemade baby food, dried fruit roll-ups for kids, guacamole, fruit salad containers, fresh sun-dried tomato hummus made with fresh chickpeas or mixed salad bags? Get creative and choose products that highlight the very best your organic farm grows.
Edible flowers are quite popular in salads, rice and as a garnish in both conventional and exotic dishes. Home chefs also like using edible flowers in their recipes.
While people do like edible flowers, it's unlikely you'd make a living off them, but they can be a smart value-added item to grow. Reach out to local restaurants, small natural grocers, wedding planners, and bakeries to sell edible flowers. You can also sell edible flowers directly to customers at the farmers' market