Published by City Farmer, Canada's Office of Urban Agriculture


Urban Market Gardening

Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada


Wally Satzewich (Wally Satzewich)
Market Gardening Concepts

I am an active Canadian market gardener located in the Saskatoon area in Saskatchewan. I market garden very successfully on two small urban plots along with a dryland market garden a short distance away in the country. I would like to see a lot more people get involved with small-plot urban or rural market gardening and part of my attempt at 'spreading the word' is to offer my experiences and ideas in the form of a Bulletin which is offered for sale on my website called Market Gardening Concepts

Urban market gardening isn't something I planned on doing 10 years ago, which is too bad, because if I had realized the potential then, I would have saved myself a lot of bitter trial and error experience. Back then, it just didn't look like a 1000 sq. ft. garden plot could produce much. Now I look at the weekly cash-flow from one of my 1000 sq. ft. gardens, and I am very impressed.

For instance, here is the weekly cash flow from a 1000 sq. ft. garden, for 13 weeks in 1998, beginning May 22. All the vegetables are sold at a single weekly farmers' market in Saskatoon. The produce is harvested, and then washed in my backyard, and placed in a walk-in cooler in my garage. The produce is taken to market in a small 1/4 ton truck. I should add that my cash flow is enhanced by another urban market garden and a dryland market garden in the country.

But nevertheless, here is the cash-flow one, small, urban market garden can generate:

As you can see, my market garden strategy is to generate a weekly cash flow. An urban market garden should be able to generate some income every week for as long as your growing season will permit. So consider yourself very lucky if you have a long growing season!

I urban market garden on two 1000 sq. ft. plots in the city and have had a 6 acre dryland market garden in the country. This will be the last year I have this particular dryland operation because I have sold the land and will be looking at reestablishing that aspect of my business on a piece of land closer to the city. In 1999 I plan on obtaining several more small plots besides the two that I currently have. Whatever the case, I feel like I have a 'formula' that will take maximum advantage of the small-plot gardening approach.

Part of the uniqueness of my gardening approach, and hence the content in the Bulletins, is the stress I place on having a firm grasp of your garden format options. For instance, on my small urban plots I use what I call the 'intensive relay' format. I only grow what I call 'high-value crops', which I define in detail, in this format. In my case, high value crops usually refer to crops such as spinach, lettuce, green onion, radish, fresh herbs, and a few others. 'Low-value' crops, such as potatoes, peas, onion, shallots, and a few others, I save for what I call the rowcrop format which I use on large, dryland, acre sized plots. Central to the success of my approach is the ability to get good retail prices at local farmers' markets.

I begin my day washing my 'dryland rowcrop' carrots, and later, my 'urban small-plot' lettuce. Saturday is the day I sell at a large, local, urban, open- air (all those adjectives!) farmers' market where I hope to get those good retail prices that I so desperately need as a small-scale market gardener.

If I define this as my success, then in retrospect my failure has been to 'buy into' the whole mainstream approach to commercial horticulture. This usually means being advised by 'professional' horticulturalists, etc. to go with a conventional large-scale irrigation system with an emphasis on wholesale selling. As far as I know, at least around here, no professional horticulturalist will say for instance 'You know, Wally, I think you should forget about a conventional large-scale irrigation system and maybe go with some intensive, high-value small-plot market gardens in the city and perhaps dryland your potatoes and peas.'

If I would have looked at my market gardening options 10 years ago when I first got started, the way that I do now, I would have saved myself a lot of headache and many thousands of dollars. Unless you have tried pumping 500+ gallons per minute of water from a river using conventional hardware and are aware of all the pitfalls and headache you will encounter using the 'conventional' approach then you will probably not appreciate how wonderful it is to have the best irrigation system possible at your backdoor in terms of a garden fawcett and a rubber garden hose. Talk about user friendly! In this case, the city does everything for you: they pump the water from the river, using their pipe! to your backyard.

'User friendly' also applies to drylanding. No need to search for that perfect riverfront lot to set up that 'dream' conventional irrigation system. No pipe, no river; just a few acres of soil is all you need for the dryland garden.

So, my lesson, if I have one to teach, is keep in mind your garden format options and respect the value of an urban garden plot.

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Revised November 21, 2000

Published by City Farmer
Canada's Office of Urban Agriculture