A harvest sale, farmer’s market or plant sale is a powerful way to boost community support for your garden, while also raising funds to keep it growing.

Bradley International School in Denver, Colorado, has run a profitable school farmers market since 2010. A Whole Kids Foundation School Garden Grant in 2011 enhanced their garden and markets, which are now held regularly between August and October, plus impromptu markets during spring and summer.

“In addition to plantings, the grant made it possible to purchase fabulous tables, tablecloths and baskets,” says Garden Coordinator Sonja McMurray. “We were able to turn it into a true farmers market.”

The markets generated around $1,500 during the 2012-2013 school year. That same year, students also grew hundreds of seedlings for their first plant sale and made over $600.

“The best thing is seeing the kids develop such an entrepreneurial spirit,” McMurray adds. “It’s amazing to see them take ownership of it, and they’re so proud. I want every child to have that experience.”

“The best thing is seeing the kids develop such an entrepreneurial spirit.”

Farmers markets and other garden events are also effective for building a stronger base of community and volunteer support.

For example, Bradley has built partnerships with two local organizations, including Denver Urban Gardens and Slow Food Denver, to make their farmers markets better. These nonprofit groups provide access to produce from local farms that schools can buy at cost and resell for profit—in addition to selling vegetables and flowers grown at the school.

The Bradley garden club has also approached many local businesses to ask for donations with great results, and they spread the word about the sales through a private online networking site, Nextdoor.com, which reaches 11 surrounding neighborhoods and more than 1,000 families.

Neighbors discover they can buy a broad selection of food at competitive prices close to home, while also supporting their local school. Everyone wins, and as word spreads, even more volunteers in the community will step up to make sure the students’ garden thrives.

10 Tips for a Successful Sale

Any school can host a successful garden sale with these tips from our friends at Bradley International School:

  1. Make it visible! Set up in view of foot or vehicle traffic and where shoppers can easily see or visit the garden. Direct traffic with simple wooden sandwich boards placed at nearby intersections. (Ask local businesses to donate old signs and paint over them.)
  2. Ask local businesses and nonprofit organizations for support. They may be willing to advertise your event or offer items for free or at cost, such as reusable bags, refreshments to serve, seed packets, additional produce or other garden-related items you can sell for profit.
  3. Establish a relationship with the parent-teacher organization. They can help promote the garden and mobilize volunteers or may be able to identify unused funds.
  4. Use your neighborhood social networks. Post about your event on the neighborhood Facebook page, listserv, and ask your neighborhood association to spread the word too.
  5. Use your sale as a recruiting opportunity. Have sign-up sheets, a volunteer calendar, pledge cards and/or a method for taking donations on hand at the event. Make it possible for people to commit on the spot to give a specific amount of time or money.
  6. If your harvest is too small for a farmers market, use it to make healthy muffins or breads and have a bake sale instead. Or host a “garden social” where neighbors can sample small bites of what the kids have grown. Serve refreshments and ask guests to sponsor new plantings, mulch or other needs.
  7. Give people a reason to linger. Play music, spread out picnic blankets, have a lemonade or tea stand, set up sprinklers or an outdoor game for kids.
  8. Offer something for free. Provide free recipes or a no-cook recipe demonstration featuring an ingredient from the garden (basil pesto for example).
  9. Have the right equipment: large baskets, coolers, portable tables, tablecloths and pop-up tents to save your sale from a rainout or provide welcoming shade.
  10. Ask school maintenance staff for support. They may be able to help with set up, after-hours access to buildings, heavy lifting or carts for moving items, and access to storage areas.