Jan 222013
 

Often times the beginning of a new year finds me looking forward to what I would like to accomplish in the upcoming year.  As I was thinking about that, I also thought about where I had been the past year.  Here are some highlights of things from the past year, both pictures and links, that have stood out to me for one reason or another.

Tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera)

I talked about the tulip tree in some detail during a “Tree of the Week” post and gave photos and links to help others identify it.  The beauty of this tree, even with no leaves, still strikes me and makes me pause when I see them.  Perhaps it is the straightness of the trunk or how the limbs just seem to sweep out from it.  This tree is definitely not a wall flower.

Poppy flowers

In May 2012 I talked about growing poppies.  These were a pleasant surprise the spring after we bought our house.  I didn’t like everything the previous owner’s did with the landscaping, but this was defiantly one thing I was happy about.

Some of my favorite posts from this time last year involved a short series about selling at a Farmer’s Market.  Here I talked about the Trials and Lessons I learned along the way.  A few posts later I talked about the differences between your perception of what it will be like and the reality.  I went on to expand on the lessons I learned in two follow-up posts, Part 1 and Part 2. The topic ended with a list of 50 things you could sell at a Farmer’s Market, other than produce that is.

Not only have I talked about Farmer’s Markets, but also about my own produce stand and how it got started.  I went on to talk more about my local produce auction.  Looking back I will have to say that the name of the post (Amish Produce Auction) is not exactly accurate, even though that is what everyone around here calls it.  In all fairness, there are some Mennonite and other sellers that bring items.  It just happen that a very large percent of sellers are Amish.  I also shared a second “Tales from the produce auction” post about  pumpkins and the circumstances that lead to me first started having  pureed pumpkin in my freezer.  Natural Deterrents was a recap of one aspect of having a stand that I never would have thought about.  Looking back I both laugh and get a bit annoyed.  Yes, I still hold a grudge against those beady-eyed squirrels.

Flowers from my front flower bed

 At the end of November I finally tackled a flower garden project that I had been putting off for about 4 years.  This was thanks to the ebook “21 Days To A More Self-Disciplined Life” by Crystal Paine.    Even now I am so happy when I look at it.  Yes, I still need to put down grass seed, but I am okay with that still needing to be done.  Besides, on average it is around freezing this time of the year.  Grass doesn’t really grow in those temperatures.

Tulips in my front flower bed

My composting worms also made an appearance after the surprising find that they were still alive.  I went on to talk a bit more about them and how much I really do love having a worm bin at home.  A few weeks later I talked about a worm’s diet.  During that post I also recorded the amount, in pounds, of food scraps I was sending to the compost  pile.  It was an insightful exercise in that it made me so much more aware of how much household waste we could recycle at home instead of throwing away or sending to be recycled elsewhere.

Food has been mentioned somewhat regularly on here.  At the beginning of February 2012 I posted about using what you have at home.  This included using frozen pumpkin puree to make shakes and muffins. Actually, I need to check to see if there are a few more bags in the freezer.  Pumpkin shakes sound good right now.

Last May I also shared recipes and the results from my Tea Party.  If you were a reader at that time you may remember that I was practicing recipes and prep work for a bridal shower I was helping with.  I have been meaning to do a similar thing (though not for a bridal shower) this winter that would involve coffee and biscotti.  If you happen to have any good recipes you are willing to share I would love to try them out.

Most recently I have been talking about Creating a Garden Calendar to help start off your upcoming garden season.  To make this a bit easier for you I also shared at least 27 different sources of calendars, here and here.  Not all of the calendar are still available for free, but I do know that I have seen more available at local businesses lately.  Even my bank had some that were free for the taking.

There were more things talked about over the past year, but these are the ones that stand out to me.  There were also more photos, especially towards the second half of the year.  For one reason or another these have stood out to me.  Perhaps it is the memory behind them, like the last photo which is of the front flower bed after it was finished and filled with compost and dead leaves.  Or maybe it is the bright colors, like the butterflies enjoying the orange slices on the yellow dish.  This time last year I would not have guessed that a lot of these experiences would have happened.  Similarly I do not know what the upcoming year, or beyond, will hold.  I only know that I will do my best to make the most of the opportunities that come.

Jan 022013
 

We are working our way through a series called “Creating a Garden Calendar“.  If this is your first time joining us, welcome.  You are not too late to join us.  Grab a calendar, pen, and beverage of choice.  You will be right where we are in no time

Creating a garden calendar seemed like such a big job 9 days ago.  By now I feel like I at least have a good start on things and am a bit ready for the 2013 garden season.  I am not saying it is finished, but at least the beginning has begun.

Yesterday we made a list of things we would like to have, but which we will need to look for outside of our gardens.  Today we are going to look, or note, the places we may be able to get these foods/crops.  Places like pick-your-own farms, wild crops growing around your area, a friend who grows them, farmer’s markets, etc.  Sometimes you may need to think outside the box.

The first year we moved into our current home I wanted to make apple butter.  The thing was, I didn’t have apples.  I also didn’t know anyone well enough to find them locally.  My solution?  I posted on a community board that I was looking for apples.  Several responses came in and I was able to have more apples than what I needed.  One of the responses was from someone with several trees but who was not able to pick them that year because of other time obligations.

Another year I was interested in blueberries.  A pick-your-0wn farm about 30 minutes from us offered them, plus a lot of other items I had not previously thought about.

Growing up, blackberries grew wild in a nearby abandoned field.  I keep meaning to go back during blackberry season to pick some, but always end up missing the blackberry season all together.  You will be sure that this is one crop whose harvest date will definitely be on my calendar.

If you know where you want to get those extra crops, note them on your list.  If not, you may need to do some searching.

Below are results from my search of “find pick your own farms.”  I didn’t go past the first page, so I’m sure there are many more.  Also, adding your state or location to the search inquiry should help you narrow it down.

Pick Your Own is a website I have come to like more and more.  They list pick-your-own farms by state.  They also have a lot of other information about what to do with those crops (canning, freezing, etc.)

New Jersey – Dept. of Ag listing for Pick Your Own Fruits & Vegetables

Massachusetts – listing of pick-your-own farms.  Not only do they give you links by crop, they also tell you the months the crops will be ready

Vermont Agency of Agriculture – they also have a ‘harvest dates available chart’ link on their page

New Zealand – this is obviously for those out of the country, but goes to show that they are located in a lot of places.  There is also a harvest calendar posted on their page.

New Hampshire Fruit Grower’s Association

Here are some of the results from “find farmers markets“:

Local Harvest – allows you to search by zip code or city/state

 U.S. Dept. of Ag. Agriculture Marketing Service – the list includes all the submissions received.  You can sort the list to be more specific.

FarmersMarket.com – has an easy to use search bar to find local foods.

California-Grown Certified Farmers’ Market – you are able to search for a market by market operator, region, county or city.

Illinois Farm Direct – you can search by location, or look on the right hand side and search by commodity.

Other options are to:

  • find a local produce auction
  • ask around to see if anyone else knows where there might be a source for what you are looking for
  • trade with another gardener – you have extra beets and they have extra onions
  • keep your eyes open while driving.  I have seen a lot of fruit trees this way.  Stop and knock on the person’s door, especially if it looks like they are not using the fruit.  At worst they will say “no” and you go on your way

And just so you don’t forget about other crops, this does not only apply to fruits and vegetables.  As a kid we were always able to have extra daffodils at Easter time because of an old abandon farm nearby.  They had planted these flowers years and years ago.  There must have been a house on that spot, though it was no longer there.  We were able to stop and pick some once a week.  There were always more than we could use, which is good because other people would stop and do the same thing.

Today, in addition to finding or listing a source for what you are looking for, note the expected harvest times.  If you do a search for a local pick-your-own farm, they will often have those listed on their website.  You can also look at your state’s agriculture page.  If it lists a month, then write that on the 1st of that month.  When the time comes, if the crop is not ready yet, move to a week later and write yourself a reminder.  However, if weather is going great, you might check in earlier to see if the harvest is ready sooner.  Nature does not always go by our calendars.

What are you looking for beyond what you grow in your own garden?  Have you been able to find it or will you need to do more searching?  What has been your best source for finding extra items?

Jun 282012
 

Note: For this post I will write the first part in the singular form, as I think going between “I” and “we” will be confusing.  However, this has been a joint effort between my friend and I.  It isn’t that I’m taking all the credit for the work and such.  I just don’t want to confuse all my readers. 

I talked about how I started going to the produce auction and getting produce for my family at mostly wholesale prices.  One thing I quickly realized is that I was able to get much more than my family was able to eat.

For example:

24 count box of cucumbers.  My family could probably use enough to warrant buying this, even given the loss of a few of them.  However, they usually sold them is stacks of 3 or 4. So, 72 or 96 cucumbers were just a bit more than we could use before they started going bad.  (It would have been a great deal if everyone in the household had been willing to eat a cucumber or two with all 3 meals for two weeks and cucumbers only for lunch.  That actually would have lowered the grocery bill considerably.  However,  I think I would have had a mutiny on my hands.)

There were a few solutions.

  1. Find someone at the auction willing to sell you a box from a stack they just bought.  Sometimes this worked, but not always.  It helps if you know the person or have formed some kind of relationship with them.  If it is another individual there to buy for themselves then they may sell it to you.  If it is someone buying for their store, or several stores, then you will probably be out of luck.
  2. Take a friend or two along.  Not only would you be able to split the price you end up paying at the end of the day.  Also, neither of you will end up paying for stuff that will only go bad before you can get to it.  That is not a way to save money.
  3. Give it away.  There were several times when I took boxes of stuff to church, let everyone know it was there, and told them all that I really didn’t want to take it home with me.  I even went as far as handing out plastics grocery sacks so they could carry more.
  4. Sell it.  Check with your appropriate local offices before setting something up.  The last thing you want is for them to come take down your set-up because it is not allowed to be there.  Or, worse perhaps, send you a fine for not having the appropriate permit.

I had so much extra produce that it was going bad before I could use it.  I tried to give it away at church, but there are only so many green peppers people need.  I decided to put out a table with my extra produce and offer it to those passing by.  Once my garden, and my friend’s, starting producing more we were able to add items that were more than our families needed.  As time has gone by, I’ve also gotten better at starting seeds and was able to put out some of my own garden plant seedlings this year.

There are several ways to do a produce stand.  You need to figure out what works for you.

  1. Will your stand stay out all the time or is it something you will put out in the morning and bring in at night?
  2. Will you be close by to help everyone who stops by or make it more of a self-serve setup?
  3. Is this something you want to do at your home or elsewhere?
  4. How about going to farmers’ markets?
  5. Do you want to do it all season or just during specific produce’s harvest times (watermelons, tomatoes, corn, etc.)?
  6. Are you going to offer things besides produce?  Plants, artwork for the yard, things to go in the garden (trellises, pots, compost, etc.)

I decided that didn’t really fit my lifestyle to be outside with the stand all day, every day, so I chose to do more of a self-service setup. Others have done this too, which is where I got the idea that it was possible.  Every morning I put out the stand, put out a money container (I do empty this during the day if I see someone stop by with money or if I notice items gone), add price signs, then go about my day.  Just before dark, or whenever is the best time of me, the stand gets brought back up to the house.  I think if the house was further from where I have the stand, putting it on a wagon would work well.  If I wasn’t able to actually see the stand, this would make me more nervous.  However, because it is right in front of my  house, I feel I am better able to use this method.

Farmers’ Markets are something I tried for a few years.  It was fun but ended up not being worth it for me. (Read more here and here.)  Perhaps if there weren’t little ones I had to keep an eye on while doing it, this would be a different story.

I have not added extras to the stand, as in non-produce/plant items.  I thought about doing this at the Farmers’ Market this year, but then opted to not do the market at all.  I hope to one day have enough worms, for composting, to sell.  At this time, I am just trying to keep them alive.  They are.  I checked just yesterday.

Now, to follow a rabbit trail.

There is always a point or two during the season that I start to question my sanity in this.  Then something happens and I get renewed energy to keep going.

There was one time each of the past two summers where it was obvious someone had stopped by, yet no money was in the box.  We had not been having problems with this, so it was always a big blow to us.  More so because it wasn’t just a quarter or two.  Usually it was several dollars worth of stuff.  However, we would keep putting the stand out and just hope it didn’t happen again.  We would put it out a bit later in the mornings and bring it in earlier in the evenings, all while keeping a closer eye on it.

A few days later, someone would be knocking on my door; usually an older lady.  “I stopped by your stand a few days ago and got some produce.  I didn’t have enough money on me and am from out of town.  So I came by today to give you the rest of it.  Here you go.”  It would have been so easy for the person to not have stopped back by.  My faith in our community was renewed.

Or, the latest example.  This happened this past week, actually.  Items on the stand had not been selling.  I was tired of putting it out and bringing it in with no results.  Nothing.  “Why do I keep doing this?  Perhaps I’m just not meant to do it this year?”  Yup.  The “Oh woe is me” was going full blast in my head.  Then a note was left in the money box.  “beets?”  was all it said.  Now, if you remember a few weeks back was also when I had been canning up all the beets.  All 7 pecks.   It was actually put into the box on the last day of canning … when I had the last peck’s worth sitting in the pot, with no water over them yet.  The person had not come up to the door to ask.  I didn’t see it till after I started cooking the beets.

I was able to get beets a few days later and added the sign to the table.  “We have BEETS.  Ask inside by knocking on the door.”  Due to the heat, beets would not last more than a few hours outside without becoming icky and inedible.  One day.  Two days. (It was at this point I realized how silly the wording sounded, so I crossed off the last half.)  Three days went by with nothing.  Then another note was left in the box.  “I REALLY want beets.  I’ll be back tomorrow between 9 and 10 to see.  Thanks.”  Again, this customer had not come to the door, otherwise I could have told them I had beets on my kitchen counter.  I was starting to get a bit annoyed.

The next morning, I was sitting on my porch talking to my friend and getting ready to put out the stand.  A van slowed down as it approached my house.  It was the customer who was wanting the beets.  We took them down, talked to her and got to know her a bit.  Turns out, she has arthritis and can no longer garden like she used to.

“This stand is a blessing.  Thank you all so much for doing this.  I love to come by and see what produce you have.  You both are a God send.  When I get up in the mornings to take my pain medicine I always say a prayer for you and this stand. Thank you.”

That is when I realized my attitude had been completely wrong and self-centered.  There were other things going on in life and I let that affect my attitude about this situation.  Instead of being annoyed, I came away refreshed from the encounter and ready to take on the day.

I will keep the stand going as I have come to realize something about my produce stand.  There is more to it than me making money.  My neighbors are also being blessed by it.  Yes, I could try to charge a lot more in the hopes of selling and making a larger profit.  That is not why I originally started it and not why I keep it going.  Yes, it is nice to get money back from it.  No, I do not plan on getting rich.  It is a way to make a little extra money, in addition to paying for the items from the auction.  However, it is also a way to offer fresh produce to those around us that is cheaper than the stores, usually, and fresher.  We may not have the best selection around, but try to keep what we do have fresh and affordable.  This is why I keep doing it.

Feb 212012
 

 

In a previous posts (here) the idea of selling items other than produce was talked about.  Now this could be in addition to or instead of produce.  It really depends on your market.  Sometimes you do not know what will fill a void till you try it.

Here are 50 ideas for adding value to your produce or expanding what you offer.

  1. Transplants – these could be of flowers or garden plants.  This would be a good idea for spring, before you actually have any produce to sell.
  2. Baked goods – check your local laws on this.
  3. Canned goods – check your local laws on this.
  4. Fresh food or drinks – check your local laws on this.  It could even be as simple as some premade sandwiches.
  5. Eggs
  6. Maple syrup or honey
  7. Basket of related produce – for example: ingredients to make salsa plus the recipe to do so.  Or you could do chutney, jam, flavored vinegars/oil, pickles, or tomato sauce themes.
  8. Pot holders
  9. Cloth shopping bags
  10. Cloth napkins
  11. Table clothes or table runners
  12. Embellished towels or hand towels for the kitchen
  13. Aprons
  14. Art work – paintings, photos, shadow boxes
  15. Lawn/yard ornaments
  16. Wind chimes
  17. Sun catchers
  18. Decorated pots – ones you have painted or embellished yourself
  19. Books related to what you are selling or gardening books in general
  20. Play music while sitting there – do not forget to leave your instrument case open. Not a good idea if there is an official band, though. Of course, make sure those in charge are okay with you playing and that you are actually good.
  21. Natural beauty items – body washes, soap, hand soap, lotions, etc.
  22. Blankets, quilts, afghans
  23. Worms for composting
  24. Bins already put together for vermiculture
  25. Worm castings
  26. Worm casting tea bags
  27. Compost bins
  28. Games – card games or board games.  Even better if they are garden/agriculture related.
  29. Bleacher cushions – for ball games
  30. Clothes pin bags – for use on your laundry line
  31. Fresh cut flowers
  32. Jewelry
  33. Bird or bat boxes
  34. Bird bath
  35. Bird feeder
  36. Mosaic tile garden tables or wall decor
  37. Garden bench
  38. Porch swings or cushions
  39. Cushions for kneeling on while working outside
  40. Potting bench
  41. Picnic tables – make sure you have the ability to transport these
  42. Rain barrels
  43. Trellises for flowers or plants to climb
  44. Knitted or crocheted items – hats, scarfs, toys
  45. Yarn – either homemade or dyed
  46. Candles
  47. Items with themed decor – such as pens with flowers on top, which are then wrapped in florist tape. Use your imagination
  48. Kid’s activity – face painting, make a craft while the parents shop, etc.
  49. Wooden games – ones played on porches, such as checkers
  50. Paper – make paper with items added in.  Items such as flower petals, grass, seeds, etc.
Feb 142012
 

Perception, or expectations, and reality are not always the same thing.  Rarely are they the same thing.  In this case I am talking about your perception of what it will be like being a vendor at a Farmer’s Market versus the reality.

Perception – it will not take long to get things together, get there, and unload.  We can do all the logistical planning the day of Market and wait till an hour before to load and unload.  After all, it is only a few blocks away.

Reality – “What?!? It is 10 minutes till the Market opens and we are not quite ready to go?  Okay, you go and I will finish up here.  I will bring all the extras and the large items.  We just need to have something set up for the first time.”

Perception – it is only a few hours long.  We do not need snacks or drinks.

Reality – all that talking makes you thirsty.

Perception – taking a toddler who has never been a similar situation is a great idea because it will teach them lessons about entrepreneurship.

Reality – “Don’t eat the money!”, “The produce is not a toy”, “No, you can not have the neighboring stand’s candy/jams/cinnamon rolls or the ice cream/soda/sandwich from the store across the street.  We have snacks and lunch in our cooler.”

Perception – toddler in question will bring in people with their adorable smile.

Reality – “Where did Little Jimmy go?  Who is he talking to?”, “Don’t play so close to the street”, “Watch out for the band’s speaker and electrical cords … don’t touch their sound board!”  All the while your customers are wanting  your attention to ask questions and actually buy produce.

Now, in all honesty, this is not a toddler who has been with me since birth.  That toddler would have been taken from birth to situations like this.  I talked with one mom, who also goes to markets, about her experience.  Her experience sounded a lot like what I would have done.  She said she started off when her 1st was little by putting up a little play yard behind her stand.  As the kid got older she knew what was expected and the mom did not have to worry about her very much. (Note: that is not an affiliate link, in case you are wonder.  I just linked an item similar to what I was talking about.)  That is the reality I was hoping for.  Maybe next year or the year after.

Perception – people will love the baskets decorated with seasonal/holiday decor.

Reality – “That basket looks really cute” as the potential customer walks by.

Perception – We had a lot of strawberries.

Reality – We were out of strawberries before the market was technically even open.  Unfortunately we did not have more as the rest had already been turned into jam.

 

Your perceptions/expectations and reality may be different than mine.  You have a unique set of customers and variables where you are.  However, there will always be a learning curve.  Just because things work well one year, does not mean they will work well the following year.

Looking back I can laugh at some of the things I used to think.  Really?  No water, yet it was about 4 hours of talking.  Hmm, yeah.  Care to share any ‘words of wisdom’ you have learned?

 

 

Feb 072012
 

 

In Part 1, I shared about selling items beyond produce and sharing a stand with another person.

This led me to writing about other lessons learned from the Farmer’s Market.  That post soon became too long, so here is Part 2.

Other lessons learned:

1. What works at one market may not work at another.  At the Farmer’s Market, some customers liked having a variety basket of produce or a bag of apples already put together.  At the stand by my house, no one bought any of the variety baskets.  Some of the prebagged apples/pears/peaches sold, but usually people preferred to pick them out themselves.  Also, the produce did not stay as good as long in the bags.  It got too hot in there after a day or so.

2. Your customers will dictate what you do. Even if you have a great idea (such as a variety basket that is priced less than what it would cost individually) that does not mean there is a need or desire for it.

There were several vendors that showed up for one season, or for just one market day, then never came back.  The demand was not there.  They knew they could spend their time better by being at a different location.

3. If you do the same item as others, do it differently.  For the first couple years that there was only the Other Guy, and before then he was the only one there.  This made us think of ways we did things differently.  One way we were able to do some items differently was tell people that no chemicals were used on certain produce.  That those items were grown just a few blocks up the street.  Not sure you can get more local than that.  Well, unless you stopped by the stand then we could say it was grown right around the corner of the house.

Last season, when the number of vendors selling produce nearly tripled, it was harder to stand out.

There were also certain customers who had a preference for heirloom varieties.  That is one aspect of our Farmer’s Market that is not tapped into.  However, the need for it is not great enough for someone to do that alone.  If they did, the price could not be higher than non-heirloom.  The lack of demand just would not support it.

4. Sometimes perception is everything. I will admit, we sold some items that we did not grow ourselves.  Now, these particular items were local – from within our county.  We never said those items were “homegrown”.   If asked, we were honest about that. Honesty is the best policy. Instead, we would clarify they were from a local gardener.  Now the Other Guy would sometimes get some of his produce from the same source.  There was one week where a customer went on and on about how Item X was so much better from our stand than the Other Guy.  The Customer stressed how the flavor quality was so much better and that you could just tell by looking.  I smiled and nodded, and agreed on some points.  I was always honest in my agreements.  What I did not have the heart to say was that Item X from both of our stands had come from the same source.  It was a good reminder to myself about how perception can sometimes be a greater driving factor in our decisions than actual facts.

This may take on a few different forms.

Do you look the part?  This probably is not the time for high heels and 3″ nails. Nor is it the time for a sweat stained shirt full of holes and suspenders that are falling apart.

How does your stand come across?  Even if it is small, does it look inviting and professional?  Or does it look thrown together, as if it was an after thought?

How do you sound when talking with others?  Do you use proper grammar?  Are you polite and inviting or silent and closed off?

Do you smile?  Do you sit there staring off blankly into space?  Is the book you are reading held up in front of your face like the Great Wall of China, fending off any thoughts of a conversation between the customer and you?

Is it better if you stand the whole time or sit?  How about a folding chair versus a bar stool?

 

 

What lessons have you learned?  Do you have any questions about having a stand at a Farmer’s Market or selling produce?

Jan 312012
 

 

In a post recently, I talked about my experience with a Farmer’s Market.

One part I did not touch on were the extras you can provide to perhaps increase your sales. A good example was given by Christina over at Youthful Homemaker.  She wrote a post about selling non-produce items and gave the example of when she made crafts to sell.  These were sold at a stand where her mother sold produce.

That brings to light two points:

1. You can sell items besides, or in addition to, produce.  If you are starting out and have some crafts or other related items, it might be a good idea.  This can give you a wider market.  We sold plants, both gardening transplants and household plants, in the spring.  Something as simples as an aloe plant put into a pretty pot is a nice change.  Be knowledgeable about these before you go though, as we learned, because people will ask you questions about care, blooming/production, and usage.

Another vendor, this past season, sold a small selection of produce.  However, she also had baked goods and some quilts.

2. Sometimes you do not need to have a stand yourself, or by yourself.  Find someone who does and might be willing to sell some of your items.

A young man, about 13, had a zucchini plant that was producing an abundance.  It was more than his family could eat.  When he offered it to us, we suggested instead that he bring some to the market to sell at our stand.  Not only did he get the opportunity to make money, he also learned several lessons.  Lessons such as: pricing, customer interaction, presentation of your items for sale and of yourself, what people were looking for and how it impacts your sale, and so on.  He joined us for two years.  Now, granted he did not bring a lot but it was a good opportunity for him to see what it was like.  It also really did not detract from our sales.

I talk about “our stand” and “we” did this or that.  If you remember, the stand at the Farmer’s Market and the one at my/our house is done with a friend, who also happen to be a neighbor.  We do it together.  It works for us.  Some things come from my garden, some from her’s.  Sometimes I set up the stand, sometimes she does.  This is especially helpful when life has one of us away from home early in the day, late at night, on vacation … or when a sudden storm appears and you have to race to get things put up before they blow away.   No, I have never chased a knocked over basket of produce into the street or price cards down the block.  Why do you ask?  It works for us to do it together, sharing both the labor and the rewards.  This may not work for everyone, and I could not do it with just anyone.  So give thought to it before trying it out.  It can work, though.

Jan 192012
 

 

The past few years I have tried something in addition to just growing or gathering for my family and friends – being a vendor at the Farmer’s Market.  There have been several lessons learned and every year it looks a bit different.

The first year I did not do much in the way of a Farmer’s Market.  It was toward the end of the season that I decided to do something.   It actually started out with a table in front of my house where I placed any extra produce. I had too much and was afraid it would go bad before we could use it.

The second year my friend joined in and the table got bigger and plants were added.  Next came the Farmer’s Market in our local town.  We did it on a spur of the moment whim, deciding to just go for it and see how things went.  The Market charged for booth space, though it was a low fee and went towards a local non-profit.  The logistics were a bit of a headache at first, but once we had an idea of pricing, table set up, remembering to take drinks and snacks, and having enough change it went smoother.

The third year the stand in front of the house continued.  We knew that we could turn a profit at the Farmer’s Market, but realized at the end of the season that for as small as we were and the local demand (or lack thereof) for a Farmer’s Market, it was not a large proft.  I started to look at why I was doing this.  Was it to make a profit or was it to have fun and socialize?  We were putting in a lot of hours, yet the profit per hour was very low.  It also took up a weekend morning away from my family.  After reflecting the answer to the questions was “Yes.”  For me it was to make money while socializing.

Last year there was no fee charged at the Farmer’s Market in hopes that more vendors would come.  It was a successful move on the planners part.  This was great.  Though it meant more competion for patrons’ attention, I really was happy that it was growing.  My family responsibilities changed and there were now two toddlers in the house.  It soon became apparent that it was too much for me and took up precious family time.  Also, with increased vendors our profit was lower.  I stopped going before the season was even half way through and just focused on the stand at my house.  Life was much more pleasant.

When we first started going to the Farmer’s Market, there were only two produce vendors, us and “The Other Guy”.  “The Other Guy” has a better selection which came with higher prices.  So we were able to under price him, but our selection was not as great.  It worked for us, though looking back I think we priced it too cheaply.  With increased vendors it was harder to stand out and our niche was no longer needed.

This year I do not foresee going to the Farmer’s Market, except to sell transplants and plants at the beginning of the season perhaps.  Even then it will depend on if there are other obligations.  The stand in at my  house takes a lot less time as it runs on the honor system, though I do go out sometimes to see of patrons need help.  There have not been many issues, and for that I am very grateful.  I am also continually amazed at how many people notice the stand along the road.  It is not large, yet a lot of people know where I live once I mention that I am the one with the produce table out front.  Now, I could be wrong as things tend to change a bit over the course of a few months, but this is where my thinking is right now.

An important lesson I learned, or rather realized, through all this is that: if you are going to work with someone you need to be on the same page as to what you are wanting.  I could not do this with just anyone, but it has worked well for me and my friend … and we are still friends.

I will miss going to the Farmer’s Market and so will make an effort to go and enjoy it from the non-vendor side of things.  There is definantly a new appreciation for those whose main income comes from selling at markets.  It takes work and knowing what people want and when.  Once you start getting regular customers it is easier, but till then enjoy the folks that walk by and stop to chat.