Selling your excess produce

Wendy S. Delmater
By Wendy S. Delmater on Tue, Jul 30, 2013 - 2:47pm

This week I bit the bullet and applied for a stall at a farmer's market. Let me tell you why I took this step, and the process that had me choose this particular market. I will also let you know what products I want to sell.

Why did I take this step? Well, we'd been selling to the local health food store, which is big enough it has its own produce manager. The profits were pretty slim selling wholesale. But Joel Salatin at Polyface Farm was extolling selling retail on a video I saw. The online permaculture course I am taking had a guest lecturer who makes really good money selling his produce retail. The final straw was when we toured that organic farm in Asheville NC a couple of weeks ago, he made so little money selling to supermarkets he was tempted to quit and only sell things directly. They all said the same thing: you make 80-90 percent more selling it yourself.

If I sold our limited excess produce retail the choices were to use a farmstand, drum up a customer base online, drum up a delivery route, set up an honor market, or use a farmer's market. There is not enough traffic in front of my place for a farmstand or an honor market, and I did not have enough excess produce to do online sales or run a route, so I researched local farmer's markets.

Not all farmer's markets are created equal. Some are very large, like the SC State Farmer's Markets. Those have both out-of-state and local sections, but charge a fee for space. Our operation was too small to make a profit there. There were also well-intentioned scrip markets for the poor: people on public assistance would get scrip to spend on fresh fruits and veggies, and then the scrip would be turned in for cash. I only know how one of those worked in Islip NY, in the town hall parking lot every two weeks: the market manager would exchange the scrip for money at the end of the day and pay the vendors, I think. The few scrip markets I tried here--all in church parking lots--died out before I could get to them. And then I found the one run by my town. No fee for a stall, booth or space, they give you a table, and part of it is indoors. Not so big I would run out of things to sell all at once. Honest in how much you make and adhering to sensible rules about what to sell from a legal and local standpoint? This was the one.

Our first products will be bunches of cut fresh herbs displayed in quart mason jars, arrangements of cut flowers in pint mason jars with twine bows, and dried herbs and spices by the branch/spring: corriander and such still on the plant. Soon the figs will come in and I will sell fresh and dried ones. I hope to expand to some art items such as framed or unframed signed photos of local things - or sketches - according to NYC artist friends you'd be amazed the amount of money you can make with a good sketch run off on a copier with good paper, and signed. Yes, I have that talent.

I might expand it to baked goods or jams and jellies. Canned foods have to get some sort of state approval and have all sorts of legal issues like labeling and product liability, so if we do that it's WAY down the road.

Anyhow, I am excited about this for one other reason - it dovetails neatly with my wanting to start a consulting business showing others how to grow their own food. The farmer's market market manager is excited about my proposed consutling business; he has already asked me to do a demonstration of French double-digging and do other training events. Couple this with seminars at the local Lowes (we're talking) and library (ditto) and...gee, this just might work.


Don35's picture
Status: Bronze Member (Offline)
Joined: Jul 4 2012
Posts: 43
Farmers Market

Today was my first day selling at a farmers market. It was a blast! Vendors next to me offered advice, baskets, and encouragement when they learned I was a newby. I enjoyed talking to customers. I didn't sell much, (it was Monday morning) but I did hand out flyers about my farm, my web site, and my pick you own operation. Hopefully I am making connections and building a client base. Part of my intention is to create an income if/when my regular job dissappears and to help my area thrive and survive in the ongoing difficulty. Thanks for the article Wendy!

Wendy S. Delmater's picture
Wendy S. Delmater
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Dec 13 2009
Posts: 1988
first week at the Farmer's Market: report

This particular farmer's market also handled art and craft items. There were three fresh produce vendors and three plant vendors - some were not fruit or vegetable plants, and there was one table that handled local shelf-stable items like honey, salad dressing and jams. Two vendors provided baked goods: one did specialty breads and another sold slices of pies, and lemonade in canning jars. The rest were all art (photography, paintings) or crafts (homemade candles & soaps, beadwork and crochet) 

I'd scoped my fellow vendors out the previous week and other than some potted basil and cut sunflowers, there was no one else selling herbs and no one selling cut flowers or seeds. I was also the only one doing a live art demonstration, inking in a pencil sketch; for that matter I was the only one doing pen-and-ink art. What sold the best were the cut-flower jars (once I hit the right price point) and the seeds. Whatever herbs I did not sell are drying - dried herbs can be packaged and sold later.  I made a little money and will make more next time when my figs are ripe or if I bring homemade cookies. And I bartered a bit--a handcrafted candle for some flowers--while making friends.

As Don35 discovered, one of the intangible benefits of selling at a Farmner's Market is the connections with locals interested in, if not sustainablity, at least horticultural things. Although I have not tracked her down yet, one of the artists told me there is a local woman who works with Mel Bartholomew on spreading Square Foot Gardening to impoverished areas around the country and the world. Another vendor told me of a local technical college where I can get a landscaping and horticulture certificate for a quarter of the price of the college I almost chose: $1500 instead of six thousand dollars

Wendy S. Delmater's picture
Wendy S. Delmater
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Dec 13 2009
Posts: 1988
2nd week at Farmer's Market

I doubled my net take, such as it was. Mostly, I sold fresh figs: $6 for a quart and $4 for a pint.

I was surprised that people were more interested in drued herbs than fresh ones - they told me that was what they were used to using, so I guess that makes sense. This week I brought my brass cafe rod that I dry the herbs on, and they were tied in bunches with twine; I may move to using rubber bands since the drued herbs needed to be re-tied once they shrank. Best seller was dried basil, followed by dried lavender.

I also sold some zinna seeds and some used copies of this year's Farmer's Almanac (I had three as gifts.)

Frankly, I am not happy with this venue. My unhappiness increased when I visited another farmer's market today in another part of town, one that runs from 10 Am to 2 PM on Thursdays. The person who runs this was at my Saturday market and never even aw the room I was in. (You can be sure the management there will hear form me about that!)

There were more people at the Thursday one in ten minutes than I saw in 4 hours at the other place and the rules were less stringent. The booths cost a $10 donation to Meals on Wheels. I will start attending this one, but I will need "more stuff" to sell. This might be a better place to sell things like homemade elderberry, peach, rum-cherry or ginger-pear ice cream, flavoredwiuth my home-canned fruit. Luckily there is a place nearby that sells cheap dry ice...

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