Alternative, Specialty and Value-Added Products for the Small Farm

Specialty crops, alternative crops, and value-added products can be a great way to earn money and profit for your small farm.

At a time when it seems like everyone is growing tomatoes, lettuce, and mesclun greens, how can a small farmer stand out from the crowd? You may want to find a niche that isn't already occupied, something a little different - yet still choose a crop that grows well in your climate and that has demand. 

  • 01 of 09

    Aquaculture

    Oysters.
    Oysters. Photo © Flickr user ganesha.isis
    Aquaculture means farming aquatic plants and/or animals. For example, you may raise trout, catfish, oysters, clams, baitfish, crawfish, or tilapia. You can raise aquatic plants and animals in ponds or in seawater depending on their needs - for example, oysters are raised in salt water while trout can be raised in a freshwater pond.
  • 02 of 09

    Specialty Vegetables

    Shiitakes.
    Shiitakes. Photo © Flickr user Frankenstoen

    Specialty vegetables can mean anything from heirloom varieties of typical farm-grown vegetables, to using greenhouses or hydroponics to grow out-of-season crops, to farming medicinal and/or edible mushrooms, such as shiitakes or agaricus.

    Here are some ideas for specialty vegetables you can grow:

    • Microgreens. These are tiny leafy vegetables grown from seed to eat. Common microgreens are beets, broccoli, Chinese cabbage, kohlrabi, mustards, and radishes. They are harvested when less than 2 inches...MORE tall.
    • Mushrooms. Some of the more commonly grown mushrooms include white, criminis, portabella, oyster, shiitake, maitake, enoki and beech mushrooms.
    • Peppers. If you're in a warm climate, you may want to grow specialty peppers, such as hot peppers like jalapenos and habaneros for salsa.
    • Sprouts. Pea shoots, broccoli sprouts, mung bean sprouts and more are all sold to consumers for topping salad or just eating by themselves. Sprouts grow very quickly but freshness is also a concern - they have a short shelf life.
  • 03 of 09

    Feed and Forage

    Sunflower.
    Sunflower. Photo © Lauren Ware
    Growing feed and forage for livestock is another specialty area. Consider growing plants for birdseed, too: sunflower, millet, and canary grass are popular. You could grow turnips and rutabagas for livestock to forage. If you have the right pasture, you can grow hay for other farmers.
  • 04 of 09

    Fiber, Fuel and Edible Oils

    Flax.
    Flax. Photo © Flickr user bdearth
    Edible oils like flaxseed and borage, castor beans and sesame can be good alternative choices. Also consider sunflower, comfrey, jojoba, lupine, milkweed and safflower.
    Continue to 5 of 9 below.
  • 05 of 09

    Fruits and Nuts

    Blueberries.
    Blueberries. Photo © Flickr user brx0

    Fruits and nuts are considered specialty crops. Heirloom apples, Asian pears, berries of all kinds - gooseberries, elderberries, blueberries, strawberries, cranberries and currants - as well as rhubarb, grapes for eating or for making wine (can be sold to the home brewing market), and more, are some good choices.

    If you have maple trees, making maple syrup is another possibility.

  • 06 of 09

    Horticultural and Nursery Plants

    Tulips.
    Tulips. Photo © Flickr user Sattgast
    Love growing plants for others? Grow extra vegetable starts and sell flats of them in the spring. Or consider transforming your farm into a nursery. Sell trees, bedding plants, perennials, annuals, bulbs, and more.You can also sell field-grown cut flowers for arrangements or drying.
  • 07 of 09

    Agroforestry

    Christmas tree farm.
    Christmas tree farm. Photo © Flickr user liljulier
    Agroforestry means, basically, farming trees. Christmas tree farms, bamboo, firewood, tree seed collections and wild nuts are some of the options in this category.
  • 08 of 09

    Livestock

    Peacock.
    Peacock. Photo © Flickr user fsteele770

    Specialty livestock are those animals that are not commonly farmed. Here’s a list of some potential specialty livestock: beefalo, buffalo, deer, elk (for meat and antlers), pheasant, alpacas and llamas, goats, horses (draft horses, miniatures, exotics), mink, mules and donkeys, rabbits for meat, Angora rabbits for hair, worms for composting. In the poultry category: balut (partially-incubated duck eggs), partially developed chicken eggs (for Asian markets), ducks for meat and pate, doves, geese,...MORE guinea fowl, peafowl and peacocks, pigeons, turkey, and quail.

    Continue to 9 of 9 below.
  • 09 of 09

    Value-Added Products

    Beeswax candles.
    Beeswax candles. Photo © Flickr user Beeswic Naturals

    Consider what kind of value-added products you can make on your farm. Some ideas include: beeswax products like candles, propolis products for healing, herbal products made from wildcrafted or farm-grown herbs like tinctures, dried teas, and salves. Kombucha, sweet and hard cider, beer, wine, cheese, tanning hides, dried fruits, furniture, wool for spinning or spun into yarn and dyed, processed meat like jerky, salsa, soap - the possibilities are nearly endless. Here are some product ideas in...MORE more detail to get you started: