As farmers, we have a little bit of experience selling crops (just a tad).
We grow crops on a large scale (see Meet The Farmers). However, I wanted to make good, organic produce available to locals who can’t grow their own food and the tourists that come through. So we decided to set aside one acre to grow produce on a small scale.
My next move was to approach a grocery store. There is one tiny Mom & Pop store nearby that I thought might possibly want to sell produce, but it was risky.
The owner was very kind. I gave him enough free corn to feed his family dinner, and then he agreed to try our produce.
At first, I made posters and had those interested in corn make an order. I contacted him every Monday morning and got the order. We spent Monday preparing the order, and then into the root cellar it went for the night. Tuesday morning we made our delivery.
As the corn did well, he asked me for a sample of beans. I gave him three pounds, and before I knew it, I was taking orders for corn and beans Monday mornings.
Now, most Monday mornings I call, and he tells me, “Bring me all of everything you have.” He’s never turned any of our produce down.
I’m not making as much of a profit selling to a Mom & Pop store on a small scale as I would at a farmer’s market or roadside stand, but it’s worth it to me for the much smaller time investment I have to commit to.
If you, too, would like to sell your produce on a small scale, then I’d love to share some tips with you that we’ve learned along the way.
Cure Your Produce Correctly
Some produce won’t need cured, but any that you would cure for long-term storage at your own home should be properly cured before taking in.
Think about onions for a minute:
The first year, those who purchase your onions aren’t going to think about if they are cured or not. Honestly, people who’ve never grown a garden may not even know what that means.
So if they buy your onions and toss them in a pantry somewhere and they go bad, they won’t stop and ask themselves if they cured them correctly. They simply just won’t buy from you the next year, assuming it’s your onions that have a problem.
Make Them Pretty
We are visual shoppers. Things that look healthy, or pretty, or like food art are going to sell better.
Although I sell mine straight to a market, I will go in and offer to arrange them on the shelves for the owner–because he just dumps them in. If I make them more appealing, he’ll sell more–and then he’ll buy more from me.
Inform Your Buyers
Make sure your market knows they are locally grown, nonGMO (if they are), and organic (if they are).
Check your laws though. In many places, you aren’t allowed to tell a purchaser an item is organic if it isn’t certified. The store owner who buys mine knows they are nonGMO and organic, but I make sure to remind him they aren’t certified. I just don’t grow enough to pay for the certification on small scale produce.
If your produce isn’t nonGMO and organic, don’t give the impression that it is. Just be honest.
Sell The Best Ones
Yup. Use those ugly ones to feed your own family. You know they are just fine, and by the time they are cooked up, no one can tell the difference.
Put the most appealing crops in your boxes and on the shelves.
I wouldn’t be a true friend if I wasn’t honest with you–no one wants your ugly produce.
Since I sell my produce to a tiny shop, I only get more orders if the store sells my produce. I don’t assume those puppies are going to sell themselves just because someone else is in charge.
I find good success making a recipe, or a how-to preserve handout. I just make one for each crop, laminate it, and hang it with the produce. If you’ll be selling at the roadside, you may want smaller card-sized handouts.
Leave instructions on how to use a large amount of produce. People who are inspired by your “dehydrating carrots” handout will buy more than those inspired by your “how to make this recipe that only uses one carrot” handout.
It’s easy to go crazy and not make a profit this way. Think through a good strategy before you implement this.
If you’ll run a stand where people will be coming back time after time, maybe you only want to have one thing for sample each day, or just one predictable day of the week. Maybe you’ll just want to have a recipe prepared using one of your produce items.
Idea: Selling wheat? Make a couple loaves of bread to give samples out at noon on Fridays–when everyone is hungry and traffic is higher.
Selling to a grocery store? You may only need to show up with samples for the owner/manager.
This is one you’ll learn really quick. Even if your Farmer’s Market or scheduled delivery isn’t until 2 p.m., you aren’t going to have the time to prepare everything that morning. You just aren’t.
Make sure you know how much to have prepared, and have it ready the day before. Also, make sure you know where you’ll store it overnight.
If possible, harvest in the cool of the day, and deliver in the cool of the day for the sake of the produce.
Another thing I’ve learned the hard way–don’t water the day before the harvest. Plan to turn that water on as soon as you’re harvest is done.
If your growing season is long enough, scatter your plantings for a continual harvest supply.
Get It In Writing
If your selling method involves future deliveries, have your prices negotiated ahead of time and in writing. Make sure you work out when you’ll get paid.
Also, have paperwork ready for whomever accepts your delivery to sign.
Sample Schedule For Our Season
Before I plant, I visit the owner of the store and ask him what he’d like this year.
There have been years when he’s told me, “I’ve heard everyone is planting zucchini this year, so don’t bring me any of those.” This is vital information for me to have. After all, what would I do with 600 pounds of zucchini if he didn’t accept it?
When the first crop is starting to ripen, I use my best farm judgement to let the owner know about when he can expect to start receiving produce. He starts taking orders at this time.
A week before I’m expecting to harvest, I let him know I’ll start delivering the following week. This is important for him because those customers who’ve ordered from him are probably asking him when their shipment is coming in.
When his customers are calm, he’s calm, and that makes for a better business relationship between us.
Sundays the water is all turned off.
Monday mornings I find out how much he wants delivered. Since I always keep to this schedule, he has numbers ready for me. I only harvest what I have an order for. This takes most of Monday.
Things are harvested in the cool of the morning, brought into the shade and prepared for the next day’s delivery. This takes most of the day. It’s stored in the root cellar–I don’t use the cellar for anything else this time of year anyway.
I turn the water on the field when I’m done.
Early Tuesday, I pack everything up. The Farmer takes all the kids so I can deliver produce alone. I have a binder with me for the receiver to sign paperwork. I also take a scale with me in case whoever is receiving wants to weigh the produce. I haven’t ever had anyone want to, but I’ve got it in case they do.
I always uncover produce, start taking random box lids off, etc. and show them to the receiver. It’s just a good gesture that I’m comfortable showing off any random produce I’m bringing.
I obtain a signature, and am done with processing and delivery until the next week.
It’s important when the season comes to an end for each crop that I inform him ahead of time. For example, I’ll let him know, “We’re supposed to have a hard freeze next Thursday, so this might be the last week.” No matter how much you think people around you are aware of the weather, they just aren’t.
In my situation, it’s important for the owner to be able to tell his customers the produce will soon run low.
Occasionally, I just have so many “ugly beans” or “tiny pumpkins” that I can’t use them. Of course I feed these to my family and preserve much of it myself, but there is often more than I can keep up with or I just don’t have time.
I make special boxes and label my misfit produce, “Make me an offer.” When I show up, I offer them to the owner. If he doesn’t want them, there is always someone who comes by, sees the writing, and makes me an offer right there. I have never returned home with my “Make me an offer” produce. Ever.
I receive one check at the end of the harvest, and make sure I make photocopies of everything I have and give these copies to the owner, whether he asks for them or not.
That’s it. It’s a lot of work–and I know that one acre would be much less time and effort, and have a greater profit if I left it in hay or wheat, or another one of our crops that we sell on a larger scale. But I also know that my community and the tourists are eating healthier this way.
Right now, that makes it all worth it.
Are you a small scale farmer? What other tips would you leave our readers who are trying to start a farming business?