Specialty Farming and Alternative Crops for Small Farms

Niche Products That Appeal to Consumers

Woman working on farm
Geri Lavrov / Getty Images

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 is not already occupied, something a little different—yet still, choose a crop that grows well in your climate and that has demand. Identify the product correctly, develop a good plan, execute it wisely, and you may yield a nice payday in the end.

  • 01 of 09

    Aquaculture

    Raw oysters
    Alexandra Grablewski / Getty Images

    Aquaculture means farming aquatic plants or animals. For example, you can raise trout, catfish, oysters, clams, fish for bait, crawfish, or tilapia. You can raise aquatic plants and animals in ponds or in seawater depending on what waters you have access to—for example, oysters are raised in salt water while trout can be raised in a freshwater pond.

  • 02 of 09

    Specialty Vegetables

    Jalapenos
    onkelramirez1 / Pixabay

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

    • Microgreens. These are tiny leafy vegetables grown from seed to eat. Common microgreens are beets, broccoli, Chinese cabbage, kohlrabi, mustards, and radishes. These are harvested when less than 2 inches tall.
    • Mushrooms. Some of the more commonly grown mushrooms include white, criminis, portabella, oyster, shiitake, maitake, enoki, and beech mushrooms.
    • Peppers. If you are 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. Sprouts grow very quickly but freshness is also a concern—they have a short shelf life.
  • 03 of 09

    Feed and Forage

    Sunflower
    Sunflower. iPae / Pixabay

    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

    Flaxseed plant
    Flaxseed plant. Francois De Heel / Getty Images

    Edible oils like flaxseed and borage, castor beans, and sesame can be good alternative choices. Also consider other popular cooking and cosmetic oils like sunflower, comfrey, jojoba, lupine, milkweed, and safflower.

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  • 05 of 09

    Fruits and Nuts

    Elderberries
    Elderberries. Anemone123 / Pixabay

    Fruits and nuts are other kinds of 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, and more, are some good choices. And, if you have maple trees, tapping those trees for maple syrup is another possibility.

  • 06 of 09

    Horticultural and Nursery Plants

    Tulip farm
    Tulips. Mayur Kotlikar / Getty Images

    Do you have a green thumb? Do you have a nice plot of arable land for growing plants? You can grow 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 to florists and garden shops for arrangements or drying.

  • 07 of 09

    Agroforestry

    Christmas tree farm
    Christmas tree farm. Elizabethsalleebauer / Getty Images

    Agroforestry means, basically, farming trees. Christmas tree farms, bamboo, firewood, tree seed collections, and wild nuts are some viable options.

  • 08 of 09

    Livestock

    alpacas
    Alpacas. christels / Pixabay

    Specialty livestock are those animals that are not commonly farmed. Potential specialty livestock can include beefalo (bison cow hybrid), 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, and worms for composting. In terms of specialty poultry items, you can produce balut (partially-incubated duck eggs), partially developed chicken eggs (for Asian markets), ducks for meat and pate, doves, geese, guinea fowl, peafowl and peacocks, pigeons, turkey, and quail.

    Continue to 9 of 9 below.
  • 09 of 09

    Value-Added Products

    Fresh dried apriocts
    Fresh dried apriocts. Chatuporn Sornlampoo / EyeEm /Getty Images

    There are other value-added products you can make on your farm that come as a result of your agricultural endeavors. For example, if you keep bees, in addition to honey, you can sell beeswax products like candles or propolis (bee glue), which is used for wound healing. You can develop a line of herbal tinctures, teas, and salve products made from wildcrafted or farm-grown herbs. As a farm byproduct, you may be able to make specialty products like 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.