Does anyone grow produce and sell at any farmers markets in their area. I'd like to know what your experience has been with that mode of selling locally. I belong to three in my area and they are all vendor run and vendor oriented; if there are officers and boards they serve the vendors.
I sell at a couple of farmers markets in New Mexico. I got my start selling there, and quickly I learned that it's only part of the puzzle for making a living growing food. Until I developed some wholesale markets, I wasn't really making it financially. It's a great stepping stone on the way to bigger things, but I always caution new growers about thinking it's the complete marketing solution. Often there are gluts at farmers markets where all the growers have the same produce at the same time. This means that everyone goes home with unsold produce, and sometimes means a price drop too. My long-term goal is to eliminate farmers markets from what I do. I've been doing them for over 10 years.
I find the markets are very taxing on me. There's a day of harvesting and packing; a day of setup, selling, and teardown, and hopefully putting everything away; then a day of recovery. Mostly farmers are too tired after getting back on the farm to unload the truck. So the next day includes unpacking and resting up. After spending half a day talking to 200+ people at the market while 1000s walk by, I'm not able to be social the rest of the day. So while the market appears half a day long, it really ends up being 3.
Organizationally, to really serve farmers' interests the market must be run exclusively by actual growers. Here in NM we've had to carefully manage who can sell at the markets. Customers come to the market with a certain amount of cash in their pockets, so we've worked hard to make sure that all the produce vendors are bona fide growers, not resellers, so that farmers are competing only against each other and not big ag. The markets allow a very limited amount of craftspeople and bakers, to fill out the offerings a little, and to have a larger presence on the shoulder seasons early and late, when less produce is available.
I partnered with a vegetable farm two years ago and we had stands at a few Toronto markets. Overall I thought it was worth while but of course you have some weeks where you wonder why the hell you're doing this...usually due to bad weather. I also found it hard to get a balance between growing what people want, and NOT growing too much of the same stuff as the others at the market. I did appreciate the social interaction and the weekly culture injection of Canadas largest city.
One major drawba(besides travel and setup time) was trying to introduce new varieties of standard veggies, and new types of vegetables altogether (especially wild edibles). People seemed to tend to have a hasty attitude when at the farmers markets we did, and didn't really read signs or be willing to consider buying the more 'exotic' items. I will say that a small segment of those who came to us were quite thrilled at either the prospect of a new veggie, or excited that they could finally find things like garlic greens, or wild spinach, or a bunch of multi coloured carrots.
The other biggest drawback to my mind is the need to have picture perfect, clean as a whistle grade A produce with top notch presentation. I know its important for food to look good but its still a pain in the ass when I consider alternatives like CSA foodbox programs, and selling to restaurants who are usually fine with B grade stuff and still willing to pay top price.
I worked a roadside stand all summer, but in order to make a real profit, I had to sell a lot of stuff that was from the produce terminal in the city. It's hard to grow enough produce to supply the stand from April until November. Actually damn near impossible. But, I was certainly surprised with the profits. At the same time, I was disappointed that the quality of some of the produce coming through the terminal was less than desirable. For relatively little overhead, it's a decent cash business.
I did Farmer's Markets in NH for about three years, mostly to sell my (then) husband's honey -- he was usually working on the weekends. But I also sold baked goods for a while, until the state cracked down on selling stuff from unlicensed kitchens; some flowers and produce, whatever we had extra from our kitchen garden and gladiolas grown especially for market; and eggs from our chickens. What I found was that there would have been too much competition for us to sell produce; baked goods did very well while we were allowed to sell them; and nobody ever had enough eggs to last the whole day. Honey was a slow seller, but I almost always managed to sell some of it. Problem is that most people only use small amounts of honey (we had a neighbor who bought two buckets of honey from us every year -- I think that was the only sweetener they used), so even a small jar lasts a long time. The gladiolas did very well the first year we sold them, because we were usually the only ones who had them, but then a couple of the produce growers got the idea and there were more glads than buyers, so we all had to drop our prices. Supply and demand at work, there. The people who had berries always sold out.
So, if I was going to do it again, I would have eggs and berries for sure; probably some flowers; and baked goods if I could legally sell them. There is still plenty of work involved in these items, but it's not quite as bad as having to pick, clean, and chill a whole truck full of greens and other vegetables, pack them, unpack and arrange them, weigh, sell and bag them, and then take what's left home at the end of the day and probably dump most of it into the chicken coop or pig pen. Oh, and a lady who sold pastured poultry was doing quite well by the last year that I did the market -- it was slow getting started, but she was developing a good client base, I think.
Yes, I know, and we thought about that, but if we'd gone that route, we would really have needed to turn the little part-time business (very part-time) into a full-time business, and we had too many other things going on that we felt were more important at that time (such as getting my two older daughters through their last years of high school).
Now, if I had one or two family members able and willing to help, I'd go for it, but it was too much to ask of a couple of teens in their final years of high school. And no way would I hire people for a 'job' -- it would have to be a partnership type of operation, so it would have to be family or extremely trusted friends.
Maybe its just too much hard work to be a shop keeper and a producer. In spain they make noughat with honey and ground almonds called turron, deliciouse and expensive, that could be a way to sell honey. I remember the flower market in holland sold flowers i did not expect to find in shops like big bunches of lupins. rose
It is difficult to be both 'shop keeper' (vendor at the farmers market) and producer. They require different skill sets and personalities. Some people do well at both, others are more inclined one way or the other. However, a large part of the problem is increasing government regulation making it more and more difficult for small producers to retail what they grow or make. It's discouraging. I'd love to have a small goat cheese operation, but the cost to set up and comply with all the regulations is prohibitive.
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