Farmers Markets Reality Check

Courtesy of Roxanne C, Philadelphia PA

One the most frequently debated topics in the SPIN online support group is our usually fraught relationships with our farmers markets. They’re the highlight of our weeks, and the most fulfilling part of what we do, where we feel the appreciation and trust of our customers, and get the satisfaction of knowing our products are helping them maintain their health and well-being.

What goes on behind the scenes is also our biggest source of frustration and disillusionment. As one farmer says, “Farmers’ markets are notoriously difficult to run. I’ve been in this business a while, at different farmers’ markets, and there’s been trouble at every single one.” Take your pick. Too few vendors. Not enough of the right ones. Too little traffic. Too much of the wrong kind. True farmers versus resellers. Board intimidation. Financial mismanagement. Too restrictive by-laws. Petty politics. Legal threats.

It’s a rude awakening for some, having to deal with all the things they thought they went into farming to avoid. But to generate income from farming, you need to realize that, being in business for yourself doesn’t mean you can be in business alone. It’s a collaborative endeavor, one that requires trade-offs and compromises.

As the local food movement gathered momentum over the last two decades, farming has attracted those seeking a deeper sense of community, and they’ll find it.But it’s not a refuge. They’ll also find conflict, too. It just comes with the territory.

SF photo blog farmers market blackboard a
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# 1 Success Factor No One Talks About

Courtesy of Roxanne C., Philadelphia PA

Soil building. Sustainable growing practices. Eliminating waste. These are what new farmers obsess about. They’re overlooking something that has a far more important impact on their business. No matter how good a grower you are, your farm’s success is dictated by something you can’t always control, and don’t think too much about until your gas bills start coming in or you start nodding off at the wheel. It’s distance to market.

Even if your market commute isn’t taking a big toll on your expenses or health, it’s a key business factor that needs to be weighed when considering new or different markets, or figuring out how to reach your revenue goal. Here is your key decision:

Longer drives to bigger markets with greater revenue versus shorter drives with potentially less revenue

To help you decide you need to calculate gas expense, commute time, and hours spent at market for each type of commute. Here are some of the trade-offs:
  Longer drives require that you are able to reach your revenue benchmark and has to justify the gas expense

  Short distance drives means less gas expense, but also maybe less revenue

  You might have to go to several short distance markets to meet revenue, but that means more time at markets

There are no easy answers to this crucial question, but not addressing it means your farm business is less likely to go the distance.

 Don't assume a long commute isn't do-able or worth it. And yes, farmers are commuters too.

Don’t assume a long commute isn’t do-able or worth it. And yes, farmers are commuters too.

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In A Retail Frame Of Mind

Courtesy of Wally S., Saskatoon SK

Once farmers take on a year-round, permanent stand inside a Farmer’s Market building, they are in the retail business, whether they realize it or not. This presents some unique opportunities and challenges. On the plus side, you have less work because there is no setup and teardown on every market day. You can also invest in a more attractive design to give your stand huge curb appeal, which builds your brand and establishes you as a real pro.

And here’s what the pro’s know that beginners sometimes miss. Chances are your indoor market will be open multiple days per week, even in the winter. Some of these days the market can seem like a tomb. But to have a viable market means you have to maintain your presence, even during slow periods. This can be tough if you don’t have the right mindset. You need to think of your stand as a retail storefront. All retailers have slow periods, but they don’t turn out the lights and lock the door. They stay open even when the number of daily customers can be counted on one hand. The plus side at market is that, without the crowds, you can take time to forge deeper relationships with your regular customers.
SF photo blog empty market
The only way to sustain and grow a Farmer’s Market is to make it a place that customers want to come to, and can rely on, regularly. And that requires a critical mass of vendors being open. Beginning farmers, especially SPIN-scale ones, who don’t have a retail mindset, come and go at market, which is why I’m always glad to welcome and mentor new ones. Because the more of us who remain open, the stronger all our businesses will be.

LEARN HOW TO TOUGH IT OUT FROM THE BEST MINDS IN FARMING TODAY IN THE SPIN ONLINE SUPPORT GROUP. FREE TRIAL MEMBERSHIP WHEN YOU PURCHASE ANY SPIN GUIDE

Basket Case

Courtesy of Wally S., Wally’s Urban Market Garden, Saskatoon, SK

Here’s a small touch that can generate a big increase in sales – offering a shopping basket at your stand. It works in several ways.

SF photo fb grocery basketIt It makes it much easier for customers to load up if they aren’t having to juggle different items and encourages impulse buys. It also puts them in supermarket mode, where they are used to buying lots of items. It even gives you a friendly ice breaker because you can say, “Hello, would you like a basket?”

All of a sudden the customer feels like they are in a different space, a more familiar space. Taking a basket means they have committed to seriously shop at your stand, and not just spend a few dollars. Many chain mall retailers use this tactic. It’s easy to test out with a few baskets. If it works, you can scale up and have a rack of them with a sign that says “Take one for your convenience.”

One farmer who did this reported that sales doubled, and it turned some occasional customers into regulars. Try it  – bigger sales may be in the basket!

SPIN Farmers Target Cat People

Courtesy of Wally S., Wally’s Urban Market Garden, Saskatoon, SK

Cat grass is a good niche crop. Many of your customers will have cats, and who doesn’t want to treat their cat? Most cat people are familiar with cat grass, so there is no need for a hard sell, and it’s a great impulse buy.

Things in your favor are it’s fast and cheap. Days to harvest is around 2 weeks. You can use feed oats. I get mine at a local feed store.

A good way to sell cat grass is in these 4 inch by 6 inch trays, which are cheap and widely available. I get mine at a local garden center. They come in a pack of 6 trays, joined together.

SF photo blog cat grass tray Wally uses

Spread some moist top soil in the bottom half. Then lay in some oat seed. More or less back to back. Cover with soil, water the tray down a bit. Cover with card board or plastic and put into a germination area. Wait till the seed starts to emerge. Remove covering. Keep watering until grass is several inches high. Then it’s off to market.

SF photo blog cat grass large

A good price point is $5 per container. You can plant at least 25 of these trays per hour. Very low cost, with quick return. Test market a few of these trays, and see what happens. You can ramp up very quickly if it sells. And then you can convince your customers to treat themselves with some salad greens.

GET IDEAS FOR OTHER GREAT NICHE PRODUCTS IN THE SPIN ONLINE SUPPORT GROUP. FREE TRIAL MEMBERSHIP COMES WITH THE PURCHASE OF ANY SPIN GUIDE.

 

How to Get Big Sales of Big Onions

Courtesy of Wally S., Wally’s Urban Market Garden, Saskatoon SK

One way SPIN farmers make bigger sales is by using a mix and match multiple unit pricing strategy – $3/unit, 2 for $5, 5 for $10. We sell our onions in mesh bags, and this fits this strategy well, with small onions making up about a half pound bag. But what do you do with large size onions that weigh a half pound or more? They can’t be plugged into this strategy.

What works for me is marketing them in braid form. The large onions sell at well at $10 a braid. Each braid has 5 onions and are about 3 lbs. per braid. I also test marketed an upscale version with garlic and dry peppers. Those go for $20. This customer bought one of each, for a nice $30 sale.

In addition to capturing more value from certain crops, braids make your stand more inviting and help differentiate you at market.

In addition to capturing more value from certain crops, braids make your stand more inviting and help differentiate you at market.

Some come to SPIN expecting hard and fast rules, like always following a set pricing strategy. But that’s not how farming works. When it comes to pricing strategies an important point to understand is that practice overrules orthodoxy. SPIN farmers are master rule breakers – especially rules of their own making! So be creative not just with your braiding, bu also in your marketing and pricing strategies.

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Niche Products Can Diversify or Define Your Business

Courtesy of Wally S., Wally’s Urban Market Garden, Saskatoon SK

SPIN farmers are always experimenting with niche crops to stay on top of trends, or sometimes create them. This is an advantage we have over larger scale growers – we don’t have to bet the farm to discover our next moneymaker. We can trial in small “batches”, and when we have access to more plots than we need, which is becoming more and more common. And since we are always interacting with our customers, we have a pretty good idea of what people might buy, and which customers to cater to.

There are a couple of ways to make niche crops pay off. One way is to base your business on them, like Adithya Ramachandran and Jenny Menat of Kaleidoscope Vegetable Gardens. Their half acre farm focuses on ethnic and specialty crops that aren’t available from other vendors in their area. Their niche crops include tomatillos, Moringa greens, Padrón peppers, jalapeño peppers, Roselle, Kabocha squash and Jamaican sorrel. They introduce them by providing samples and cooking instructions and their business strategy is to attract a sophisticated clientele to their market stand.

Kaleidoscope Vegetable Gardens base their business on growing niche crops. Notice they also offer recipes in a bag like Salsa verde mix and ratatouille mix.

Rob Miller, of Trefoil Gardens, has built his business on mushrooms, both cultivated and wild, and rare greens such as dock and poke, as well as violet Figs, pawpaw and sumac berries. He posts availability and recipes on his social media a week prior to market. His customers seek him out to try something new and exotic, and now he is starting to grow traditional SPIN crops to be more of a one-stop shop.

Blue and white oyster mushrooms attract a special clientele to Rob Miller’s market stand.

I branched out the other way, by growing specialty and ethnic crops as an add-on to my more traditional SPIN repertoire. I have had success with horse radish and fava beans. I don’t put them out at my stand – I grow these crops as a private stock just or those customers who have self-identified as more progressive eaters. So you might say I have two different product lines – one for connoisseurs and one for the mass market.

My fava beans have their own followers who get notified when they are available.

The rise of “food culture” means more people are becoming adventurous in their eating, and this means SPIN farmers can be more adventurous too. Whether you use niche crops to diversify, or define, your business, more and more SPIN farmers are finding the payoff is worth it.

Bee Friendly Farming Attracts Customers

Courtesy of Wally S., Wally’s Urban Market Garden, Saskatoon SK  

Here is one certification that is easy to get, may go beyond certified organic, and is more relevant and cheaper and less intrusive to implement – Bee Friendly Farming.

A few criteria are required to make your farm pollinating insect friendly, and they are easy to implement. You need to supply photos but there are no actual inspections. A nominal fee gets you some signs you can post at your plots, and use at your farm stand. So it’s good for bees, and good for your operation, in more ways than one. In Canada, the Bee Friendly program is handled by Pollination Canada,a project of Seeds of Diversity. Certification criteria, yearly membership cost, and the price of the metal
sign is on their web page. More details about the program are here.

This is an eco-friendly benefit all of your customers understand and are eager to support. They’ll be attracted to your stand like well…you know.

SF photo fb bee friendly

 

 

Insta-fame. Insta-millions. Insta-success!

Courtesy of Julianna Tan, owner/operator, Those Girls at Market, Saskatoon, SK

I’m just playing with you. Instagram doesn’t mean any of the above but it should be a tool to help you build a following and keep up with the cool kids.

SF photo guest blog Julianna Instagram logo

 

In the exponentially fast-paced world of social media, Instagram has changed in many ways since we last had a chat. Just a few months ago, I briefly described what Instagram is and how you can use it as a small business owner.

Today we revisit the concept and update readers on the following questions:
What is instagram? How do I use it? What benefit could this social media platform provide for me as a small business owner?

So let’s get down and dirty with the details. Instagram recently announced they’ve reached 500 million users worldwide. Of those users, over 300 million are using Instagram everyday. So what’s the hype?

Instagram instantly builds communities by bringing people together over common interests, from hip-hoppers to shoe-shoppers; the everyday experience lets people stay connected, share experiences with like-minded individuals, and inspire a sense of wonder.

Instagram is a mobile (smart phone) app that allows users to:
• Upload and edit photos and videos
• Write a caption or message along with each photo or video (altogether, we will refer to a photo/video and caption as a “post”)
• Utilize hashtags (#) to “tag” your posts, which allows other users who are interested to find your post (To learn more about hashtags, read here.
• Like and comment on other users posts
• Send direct messages to a user’s inbox

How would you use it? That’s up to you. Just the way everyone has their own personal clothing style, everybody has their own Instagram style as well. Some will choose to make it an artsy portfolio filled with colourful vegetable photos. For an example, you can see my personal Instagram account here.

Others will use it to showcase behind the scenes production- customers love seeing how an item went from the kitchen (or field) to their hands. One of my favourite examples is a local bakery here. Here’s an example of one of their posts that explains some behind-the-scene action.

Others will use it to keep followers in the community updated on upcoming events or news, like this.
(If you scroll down far enough, you will see that I use to run this page. You can tell by the artsy vegetable photos)

Using your Instagram account is a free way to advertise to people in your area by using hashtags. For example, My business operates in Saskatoon so it is important for me to let people in my area know about my business. Therefore, on my posts I make sure to hashtag: #Saskatoon This let’s users in Saskatoon find my posts. If they visit my Instagram page and like what they see, they can follow me and engage with my posts (like them, comment on them). As a result, my photos will start popping up on their feed (their personal homepage those 300 million users are scrolling across everyday).

This helps us find new customers in the area, keep our customers reminded about our products on a regular basis, create a unique relationship with our customers by letting them see our behind-the-scenes production, showcase our new products, and let our customers know where we are located… all for free!

So what are you waiting for…. I’ll follow you back if you follow me here.

SF photo guest blog Julianna Instagram chocolate page

KEEP UP WITH THE LATEST FOODIE MARKETING TECHNIQUES IN THE SPIN ONLINE SUPPORT GROUP. FREE ONE MONTH TRIAL MEMBERSHIP COMES WITH THE PURCHASE OF ANY SPIN GUIDE. 

Owners: Ying and Julianna Tan
www.thosegirlsatthemarket.com
Phone: 306 241 9390
info@thosegirlsatthemarket.com

Customers Don’t Always Know Best

Courtesy of John Greenwood, JNJ Farms, Macomb IL

SPIN farmers know the value of market research, but more than one has found out that people don’t actually buy what they say they will. John Greenwood of JNJ Farms in Macomb IL says, “People will say they want heirloom tomatoes but when they see them in odd shapes and real thinned skinned, they will often buy the hybrid varieties first. I have tried this at market putting mortgage lifters next to big beefs and will sell out of big beefs 1st. I am not saying you can’t sell heirlooms, I am saying grow what your local market wants.”

SF photo fb heirloom tomato

When Marcus Riedner of Happiness By The Acre in Calgary surveyed his customers they said they buy salad greens. He developed a salads-only CSA, but many who said they’d guy it didn’t. The lesson is to not bet the farm on on new product.

WHAT NEW PRODUCTS ARE BACKYARD FARMERS HAVING SUCCESS WITH/ FIND OUT IN THE SPIN ONLINE SUPPORT GROUP. RECEIVE  A FREE TRIAL MEMBERSHIP WITH THE PURCHASE OF ANY SPIN GUIDE.