Vegetable farming is the growing of vegetables for human consumption. Traditionally it was done in the soil in small rows or blocks, often primarily for consumption on the farm, with the excess sold in nearby towns. Later, farms on the edge of large communities could specialize in vegetable production, with the short distance allowing the farmer to get his produce to market while still fresh. The three sisters method used by Native Americans grew squash, beans and corn together so that the plants enhanced each other's growth. Planting in long rows allows machinery to cultivate the fields, increasing efficiency and output; however, the diversity of vegetables crops require a number of techniques to be used to optimize the growth of each type of plant. Some farms, therefore, specialize in one vegetable; but, others grow a large variety. Due to the needs to market vegetables while fresh, vegetable gardening has high labor demands which may be served by immigrants willing to accept lower wages. Some farms avoid this by running u-pick operations where the customers pick their own produce. The development of ripening technologies and refrigeration has reduced the problems with getting produce to market in good condition.
Over the past 100 years a new technique has emerged--raised bed gardening, which has increased yields from small plots of soil without the need for commercial, energy intensive fertilizers. Modern hydroponic farming yields very high yields in greenhouses without using any soil, but expends much more energy.
Several economic models exist for vegetable farms: farms may grow large quantites of a few vegetables and sell them in bulk to major markets or middlemen, which requires large growing operations; farms may produce for local customers, which requires a larger distribution effort; farms may produce a variety of vegetables for sale through on-farm stalls, local farmer's markets, u-pick operations. This is quite different from commoditity farm products like wheat and maize which do not have manage the ripeness problems and are sold off in bulk to the local granary. Large cities often have a central produce market which handles vegetables in a commodity-like manner, and manages distribution to most supermarkets and restaurants.
In America, vegetable farms are in some regions known as truck farms; "truck" is a noun for which its more common meaning overshadows its historically separate use as a term for "vegetables grown for market". Such farms are sometimes called muck farms, after the dark black soil in which vegetables grow well.
Common vegetable crops
Vegetables which are farmed include:
- Fabaceae (pea family): peas, beans, lentils
- Solanaceae (nightshade family): tomatoes, eggplants, bell peppers, potatoes
- Brassicaceae (mustard family): cauliflower, cabbage, brussels sprouts, broccoli
- Allium family: onions, garlic, leek, shallot, chives
- Carrots (Apiaceae)
- Lettuce (Asteraceae)
- cucurbit family of plants including melon, cantaloupe, cucumber, calabash, squash, and pumpkin