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    Farmers Markets | Spring 2014 Out Here Magazine

    10 steps to successfully selling your garden bounty

    a variety of produce on display at a farmers market
    A beautiful, eye-catching display that shows off the colors, quality, and selection of your garden produce will draw customers to your farmers’ market booth. Good signage helps, too.
    Out Here

    By Lynn Byczynski

    Photography by Lynn Byczynski

    Farmers markets are a great place to get started when you decide to turn your love of gardening into a commercial venture. They are the perfect business incubator: For just a few hundred dollars a year, you can essentially open up shop in a prime location with literally thousands of customers coming to your door to buy your products.

    Plus, they're a lot of fun and you'll make friends who may take your business in unexpected directions in the future.

    Your success at farmers market will depend on how well you do your research before you open your market umbrella for the first time. Here are some essentials every vendor needs to consider:

    1. Pick the right market. Visit all the markets within a reasonable driving distance. Although it may be easiest to sell at a small market in your own town, you might be much better off driving farther. See what is being sold, what prices are like, and whether there are any obvious gaps you could fill. Every market has its own rules, and its own personality.
    2. Grow the right crops. Choose crops that you grow really well, because quality is all-important at farmers market. At the same time, choose crops that are not overly abundant at your market. Think about growing a diversity of crops for every season so that you will always have the critical mass that makes it worthwhile to go to market.
    3. Plant for a long, continuous harvest. Customers establish buying patterns and loyalties early in the season, so try to be there from when the market opens in spring until it closes in winter. Do succession plantings of all your crops so you don't have any weeks with nothing to sell.
    4. Keep excellent records. Record planting dates and quantities, and track when you harvest each planting and how much you have to sell. Once you start selling, record how many units you took to market and how many went unsold. Good records will prove indispensable to you in following years as you refine your strategy.
    5. Learn about food safety and establish good habits from the start. Until you sell more than $25,000 a year in agricultural products, you are exempt from federal food safety rules but you still don't want to make your customers sick (or worse). Read the booklet Food Safety Begins on the Farm (www.gaps.cornell.edu) and follow the Good Agricultural Practices described in it.
    6. Create a beautiful display for your products. Learn what kind of tents or umbrellas are allowed at your market, and buy a good-quality one. Buy or make containers to display your produce. Waterproof wicker or wooden trays are good for beginners who don't have a lot of volume because they can be tilted toward customers to create an illusion of bounty.
    7. Plan your signage. You'll need a banner with your farm name so customers can find you, plus a consistent, attractive system for prices and other information about each product.
    8. Research prices. Look at produce prices every time you go to the grocery store, and assume you will charge more for your higher quality and "local" factor. Never try to undersell established vendors to get customers. It will backfire — customers will wonder why your products are cheaper; vendors who otherwise might help you will get mad at you; and you won't make enough money to stay in business for long.
    9. Buy whatever packaging you will need. If a certified scale is required to sell by the pound, bag up your produce at the farm and sell by the unit instead.
    10. Read much more than this article. Do an Internet search for "selling at farmers markets" and you'll find lots of free publications. Download the free issue about selling at farmers markets from www.growingformarket.com and read the articles under Free Content as well.

    If you grow great produce and you come to farmers market well-prepared to sell it, you'll be on your way to a rewarding business.

    Lynn Byczynski is the editor and publisher of Growing for Market magazine. Her new book, Market Farming Success, has a chapter on selling at farmers markets and can be ordered from her website, www.growingformarket.com.

     

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