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.



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


Owners: Ying and Julianna Tan
Phone: 306 241 9390

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’s With The #Hashtag?

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

The first step to having a successful business is having a desirable product or service The second step is letting your customers know. Taken together, these two simple steps have a significant impact on your success (or lack thereof).

I am not an expert on backyard-scale farming, so luckily the SPIN Community has a plethora of resources and mentors to help ensure you can thrive as far as production goes. I can, however, offer a tiny morsel of advice for getting the word out about your product or service.

At some point, somewhere, someone decided that the traditional number sign on your keyboard, also known as the “pound key” (#) would be a great way to unite people all over the world who share interests, passions, and ideas. This symbol today is one of the most widely recognized symbols and can be the arsenal in your toolbox of expanding your customer reach far and wide to your target audience. This iconic symbol is called the #hashtag.

Anyone on social media can use the hashtag (i.e. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram). If you don’t have these social media platforms, I would highly recommend looking into using them as a free, fun, and effective way to build your brand and communicate with your customers and target audience. From personal experience, the amount of customers we have attracted through Instagram has been unexpectedly impressive!

So let’s get to the meat of this meal (or should I say the root of this vegetable?). How does one use this so-called “hashtag”?

1. Type the # symbol directly before any word (or small group of words) that relate to your product. Do not leave a space between the # symbol and the word and do not use punctuation marks (spaces and apostrophes). For example: #SPINfarming
This hashtag will “tag” your post and become searchable by other people interested in SPIN farming

2. Use multiple hashtags to reach your target audience. For example: #SPINfarming #organic #urbanfarming #vegetables #local #Saskatoon
These 6 hashtags would allow your single post to be searchable by anybody interested SPIN farming, or interested in eating organic foods, curious about urban farming, looking for vegetable ideas to serve for dinner tonight, eating and supporting local, and people living in Saskatoon. (Do not exceed 30 hashtags)

3. Click on hashtags that interest you to discover others who share your interests and passions.


SF photo guest blog Julianna hashtag 2

Here are some of the words Julianna uses as her hashtags: ethical, sustainable, handmade, organic. What words that best define you? Choose carefully because they will become your “brand.”


How Do you Project Market Share?

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

With selling season almost upon us, one first year urban SPIN farmer writes:

“At this point I am taking a stab in the dark and estimating 5-10% of my local farmer’s market 3,000 weekly customers might pick up a 1/2 lb unit of salad mix or baby greens = 75-150 lbs. of greens a week. I have been shopping at this market for 15 years and it has grown very popular. Most vendors have fairly conventional fair and I haven’t yet seen microgreens and baby salad and greens mixes, which will be our focus. We are aiming for the ‘instant salad’ niche with salad mix, sunflower shoots, herbs, small table bouquets and tomatoes, radishes, cucumbers, carrots and baby roots as the season progresses. Is this a realistic range or way off?” 

I never think in terms of market share because it is too hard to pin down. There are too many variables in play for a projection like that to be made. These variables include:

> > what your produce looks like – quality and packaging
> > what your stand looks like
> > how well you connect personally with customers
> > the appeal of your niche crops
> > how successful you can be at capturing early season sales– customers stick with             who they buy from first
> > how well you differentiate yourself from other growers at market – if most aren’t city-            based that could be a huge selling point for you

You just have to go in ready to compete.

SF photo local foods 1

Related posts: How the Pros CompeteCompetition is Healthy


A Campus Pilot Project with Big Potential

Courtesy Julianna Tan, Those Girls at the Market, Saskatoon SK 

Last weekend we participated in our first on-campus farmers’ market pilot project held at the University of Saskatchewan. As a pilot, this was a one-time event to test whether or not an on-campus market would be successful. Initially, the project started when Wally passed on an e-mail to me after he received it from a group of nutrition students who were interested in piloting an on-campus market. I reached out to the students and the pilot developed from there.

Realizing that although e-mail is often quick and convenient, it has not been an effective way to get responses from our vendors, I decided to hand-deliver a letter to each vendor and explain our goal face-to-face of bringing a market to the students. Since we were crunched for time, I provided a specific date that vendors were welcome to express interest to me via phone, e-mail, or in person at the market. Within five days, I had filled every vendor spot available (14 spots).

SF photo blog Julianna campus market 1

Myron showcasing his locally grown garlic bulbs and homemade blackcurrant jams & jellies to students, faculty, and staff.

The pilot market was set up in a way to accommodate the vendors as much as possible, providing no fees for setting up a table and free parking for the day. Social media posts were made on behalf of both the Saskatoon Farmers’ Market and the university in the few days leading up to the event. Aside from a few hiccups at the beginning of the day (i.e., the organizers were not present on time, vendors getting lost on-campus), itdidn’t take long before the market was packed with vendors, students, faculty, and staff. The first hour set the tone for the rest of the day- vendors were constantly making exchanges with customers. Several vendors sold out- not only once, but twice or even three times. We had vendors making runs back to the bakery to re-stock, just to sell out again within hours.

SF photo blog Julianna campus market

Facebook post on the Saskatoon Farmers’ Market updating followers on the on-campus market.

Vendors announced that the on-campus market was one of their busiest days- even surpassing Saturday markets at our traditional farmers’ market, which tends to be our busiest market day. The general feedback from customers was a hope that we would establish a regular recurring market day on campus. Students expressed a great interest for connecting and supporting local producers and artisans, but pointed out that getting to the market posed quite a challenge. Issues that prevented students from getting to the market included limited parking and limited hours. With over 20,000 students on campus each day, it’s a win-win situation bringing the market to the students, faculty, and staff who are already present on the university campus. This removes the major barriers that prevent this population from supporting local vendors at the Saskatoon Farmers’ Market, while also providing the opportunity to promote what the Saskatoon Farmers’ Market has to offer. We allowed each customer to enter a draw for every purchase, with 10 gift certificates valued at $5 as a prize for 10 different winners. Multiple vendors offered coupons and incentives to encourage customers to visit the Saskatoon Farmers’ Market. Taken together, the hope was to encourage new visitors and customers to experience the Saskatoon Farmers’ Market.

SF photo blog Julianna campus market 3

Good Spirit Bakery lifting students’ spirits with freshly baked organic breads, rolls, and goodies.

Moving forward, although this event was a huge success for everyone involved, a few things have to be considered if we are to put a regular recurring on-campus market in place:
1. How often would the market occur and which day of the week?
2. What would the charge be for setting up a booth?
3. Where and how much would vendors pay to park?
4. Would the on-campus market be in the same location (i.e. Agriculture Atrium) or should it be in a more central location or travel to different faculties?
5. How do we decide who gets a spot if demand exceeds space?
6. Would the regulations and restrictions of the Saskatoon Farmers’ Market also apply to the on-campus market? (prohibition of selling “swag”, such as T-shirts, hats, etc.)

These are only a handful of the many considerations that would be discussed- but I think the key to taking advantage of this exciting and important time of positive change and growth for the Saskatoon Farmers’ Market is testing out the waters and being a little bit fearless. I think we need to keep the momentum going- this is an opportunity which has a lot of potential to energize our vendors, reach a new population, and scale up our presence in this growing city of Saskatoon.

Julianna Tan owns and operates Those Two Girls at the Market at the Saskatoon Farmers Market with her sister Ying. They specialize in healthy, raw organic chocolate that is vegan-friendly and free of lactose and gluten.  They use ethically farmed and certified organic ingredients. Their passion is combining tantalizing taste with superfood nutrition. Check them out here.

Want to pick the brains of people like Julianna Tan? Become a member of SPIN’s online hub for backyard-based growers, Backyard Riches. You’ll meet up with and learn from some of the most progressive and entrepreneurial minds in the local foods scene today.  Membership  is available to anyone who purchases our learning programs Hope you’ll join in! 

Defining Your Niche

Courtesy of Jared Regier, Chain Reaction Urban Farm, Saskatoon SK

Starting out as a young farmer in a market with many seasoned veterans is a challenge. We have a thriving farmer’s market here in Saskatoon these days and the large crowds alone nearly enticed me to join in the fun if they’d have me.  There was just one thing I couldn’t quite wrap my head around.  As a small farmer, why would I want to take my carrots to the market only to sell them right beside another farmer with the same carrots?

Whether I attended the market or not, I needed a way to stand out if I was going to be successful. I spent a significant amount of time thinking about the factors that could potentially set our farm apart from the rest. There are popular vendors at our market that no doubt increase their sales by dishing out jolly remarks all day long, but I am not particularly boisterous or outgoing so it didn’t seem wise to count on my charisma to draw in costumers. I am, however, strong willed, motivated, organized, reliable, and committed to the vision of sustainable local food production. I enjoy pushing my own limits and challenging societal norms. With those strengths in mind, I laid out some parameters for operating our farm:

1. All farm work would be done by bike.
2. All public sales would be membership based.
3. All food would be grown within city limits and without synthetic fertilizers or pesticides.

Each of these standards of operation takes extra effort on our part but they also define our niche in the market place so we’ve been intentionally transparent about our methods. Now a thoughtful consumer is faced with the choice of carrots, carrots, carrots, or carrots grown by bike right here in Saskatoon. The choice is easy because we’ve given them a story to tell and a chance to be a part of our journey. Will we attract the average customer? Probably not. Thankfully, we don’t want the average customer. We want the ones who already care and standing out is the best way to find them. Define your niche, tell your story, and let the customers come to you.

SF photo blog Jared niche logo

Meet and learn from Jared Regier and other SPIN members at our online hub for backyard-based growers, Backyard Riches. Membership  is available to anyone who purchases our learning programs. Hope you’ll join in!

Big Ag + Small Ag = A Good Time

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

Here in Saskatoon, our winter market is becoming a destination spot. That’s because we’ve learned over the years how to really make the most of this season, and because we have partnered with big ag on an event called WinterShines. The market provides the venue and hosts inside and outside activities like sleigh and pony rides, ice games, snow park rides and scavenger hunt, igloo art gallery, world class ice sculptures, soup cook off competitions, indie bands and lots of booze, locally brewed and distilled, of course. Think Disney on Ice crossed with South by Southwest, all packed inside and outside the Saskatoon Farmers Market.

SF photo Wintershines ice sculpture

WinterShines’ main corporate sponsor is the world’s largest fertilizer company, which happens to be headquartered right here in Saskatoon – Potash Corp. The event pulls in around 10,000 visitors and spans nine days, including two weekends and weekdays. It is produced by a professional event planning company, and there are a lot of other important players involved in making the event happen, including the city’s tourism agency. The market stays open extra hours on Saturday and Sunday for the event’s concerts. In the early years many of the vendors kept their regular market hours and skipped the evening crowds. But they slowly wised up to the opportunity of capturing some of these new visitors as regular customers, and now the majority of them stay for the extended hours.

SF photo Wintershines

So everyone is happy. Potash Corp, gets to have positive involvement in the community, the market raises its profile far beyond its own neighborhood, and I get some of the thrills of a winter vacation, without having to close my business or leave town. Just goes to show that  good food and fun can be provided by ag businesses of all sizes.

The Saskatoon Market is in the middle of lots of new development, including new condos and a Whole Foods. Here’s how Wally is assessing the opportunity.