I am not suggesting that you turn your garden into a business (though that is up to you of course), but I want to point out how your garden can help to pay for itself. Of course if you grow a substantial amount of food, it already does this (at least if you don’t keep buying stuff for it), but there are actually quite a few ways your garden can help to support you financially. Usually the hard part isn’t producing something to sell, but finding somewhere to sell it (Craigslist and Ebay can be very useful for this.)
A large vegetable garden can produce a lot of food over the summer months and you could sell the surplus for income (this is a cottage garden tradition in fact). You could also arrange to grow vegetables for a few neighbors for a pre-arranged weekly fee. This could be a good way to learn the ropes if you want to eventually become a real farmer.
We need to develop a new kind of gardening that is somewhere between market gardening and traditional home vegetable gardening. Producing food doesn’t just have to be the domain of the farmer with hundreds of acres, or even the market gardener with 2 or 5 acres. It’s been estimated that you could make a living from intensively cultivating only ⅛ of an acre. You just need to use the right techniques and the right crops (Tomato, Lettuce, Garlic and others). You might also concentrate on the more expensive luxury crops.
You could also sell fruit (which takes even less work than vegetables), in fact this could be a good way to dispose of the over abundance of fruit that comes from getting too interested in fruiting plants. A few productive fruit trees can give you a lot of fruit in a short time. Make sure you choose the best-flavored highest quality varieties and you should have no trouble selling any fruit you can produce. You could also dry fruit for selling later when prices may be higher. To add even more value you could make preserves or pies.
Salad mix is a high value intensive crop that doesn’t require much space to grow. I have known a couple of people who made a good living growing edible flowers for chic restaurants (an ex-girlfriend sold her mix of salad greens, flowers and weeds for $30.00 a pound in the 1980’s).
A high value crop of berries will only take a couple of years to get going. As with tree fruit you could sell fresh or dried fruit, or make preserves or pies (sell to coffee shops).
This could be culinary herbs, but it may be more profitable to go for the more specialized medicinal herbs (fresh or dry). You could grow and dry herbs for making tea, or get equipped to make your own tea bags (make your own tea blends and put them in fancy boxes). You could also add value to your medicinal herbs by making salves, tinctures, essential oils and more.
Mushrooms and other fungi might be grown on a small scale, indoors or out and could provide you with a high value crop. If you are successful at this, you might also sell spawn of various edible species so people can grow their own.
Grow your own chicken feed and sell eggs.
Seed sprouts. Micro-greens
Save your own seeds and use them to grow these.
Another easy one.
You could also sell all of the above foods (and other products) at your local flea market, or set up a roadside stand.
Basket Willows are easy to grow and are in demand from crafts people. Bamboo canes could be sold to gardeners and for use in crafts, There are also other craft products you could grow: dried flowers, dye plants, coppiced shoots and more.
Bamboo is easy to grow yet plants are expensive to buy. It wouldn’t take long to build up enough stock to sell. You could even offer an invasive bamboo removal service (then pot it up and sell it). You could also produce canes for gardeners.
Hobby ornamentals such as Dahlias, Orchids, Begonias, Iris and others offer a lot of scope for sales. You have to be interested in the plants of course.
Bees help out with pollination in the garden and can provide you with honey without asking for much in return.
Many fruits can be used to make wine, not just grapes. There would no doubt be a market for some of the more unusual ones. Get adventurous and add herbs, flowers, fruits, etc.
The most obvious smoking materials, Cannabis and Tobacco are generally illegal to sell, even if they are legal to grow, because of taxation issues. However there are lots of other herbs that can be used to make interesting herbal smoking mixtures. You could make some with a base of tobacco for cigarette smokers (probably illegal, and some without. You might also try making herbal smoking mixtures from Bearberry, Mullein, Coltsfoot, Mint and other herbs. I would find this quite fascinating, if it wasn’t for the fact that I don’t like to get smoke in my lungs.
I think you could make a serious business by flavoring cannabis with various herbs (I don’t know enough about this to know if anyone has already done it.)
Sell your own locally produced and adapted seed from heirloom and unusual varieties. If you save your own vegetable seed you usually have a surplus anyway.
If your garden contains a lot of unusual edibles, you could allow them to produce seed and collect it for sale. You can also pot up volunteers to sell _ I just found Spearmint seedlings in my garden.
If you are already growing vegetable and herb seedlings for your own use, you might also grow extra plants to sell.
If you have useful plants that produce short lived, large seeds (Chestnuts, Hazels, Walnuts) you could grow seedlings for sale. You might also be able to pot up self-sown seedlings.
Many plants are easily raised from cuttings, layering and division. You could make money every year by propagating food plants, especially the more unusual cultivars. If you get into propagating perennials and woody plants from seed then there is no limit to what you can do. If more people did this many useful plants could become better known and more widely available. Craigslist.com is a fantastic resource for selling plants as it can put you in touch with buyers of even the most obscure things.
If you have a big truck you could find a good source for manure, compost, mulch, shredded bark and supply less mobile gardeners with these important materials. You might also find a source of used fence boards (contact fencing contractors) and other recycled stuff.
We need a new type of hands-on gardener/small farmer/consultant, ready to share knowledge with neighbors and help them to grow more of their own food and make city neighborhoods blossom.
You could take this one step further and advise people on decreasing their consumption and greening their homes and lives. To help them to integrate not only growing the new food garden, but also insulating the house, photovoltaics, solar hot water, vegetable garden, edible landscape, greenhouse, gray water treatment, rainwater harvesting, composting toilets and more.
Once your garden is sufficiently developed you could teach others how to plant and maintain this kind of garden. This could tie in well with selling surplus useful plants. Don’t do this until you have gained sufficient knowledge though, there are a lot more people who like the idea of being teachers, than there are people worth listening to.