New Year, New Condo

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

There is a new 100 + unit condo opening up across the street from the Saskatoon Farmers Market. Starting late spring/early summer hundreds of new customers will be streaming past my stand. The development is called “The Banks”, and it is dubbed ” A New Way of Urban Living.”

SF photo condo sign

Currently the west side Saskatoon where my market is located, is a mixed demographics bag. A lot of rough-side-of-town types and progressive younger people. Up until now there has not been too much in the way of high income, this part of town.

Talking to other market vendors, the consensus seems to be that younger people in their 20’s probably wouldn’t be able to afford these new condos. Instead, these newcomers will most likely be middle-to-high income. Chances are there will be a wide variety of ages, but probably no senior citizens. Probably most won’t have families because the units are too small.

SF photo condos under cosntruction

So what does this mean for me? Reviewing my crop repertoire, I don’t see the need to change what I’ve been offering. But I will need to ramp up production. So my planning for this year will include figuring out the logistics of that. Responding to high demand is a great challenge to have. Quick Greens, such as pea shoots, micro greens and sunflower shoots can easily be ramped up  because they don’t take much space are short turnaround. But SPIN-scale production of longer season crops that require more space is trickier, and I’m in the course of figuring out how to best utilize my larger peri-urban plots.

The rumour mill has it that a Whole Foods will be opening up in this development. I formulated SPIN’s approach to packaging and pricing in response to the big guys, so I’m already positioned to deal with them. take them on. Whole Foods is not cheap, and most of its produce probably is not locally sourced. So my farmer’s market, which is a producer-only, has a clear competitive advantage for us locals, and my stand pricing can stay the same.

There’s actually a big benefit of having Whole Foods as part of the local food scene because it will draw more new people to this part of town, much like an anchor store in a mall. So my market will become, for the first time, part of a destination spot. The new residents will check out Whole Foods, then the farmer’s market, and then get what they need, probably shopping at both.

As you can guess, my farmer’s market is abuzz with high expectations, and management knows it needs to take its marketing to a new level. Plans include a welcoming party and leafletting to all the condo units. My personal marketing will emphasize the chemical-free and hyper-local qualities of my produce, and I’ll be handing out business cards, and engaging customers at my stand. I am anticipating that one person will still be able to handle the customer volume, but there will be much less downtime than in previous years. So I will need to do more pre-bagging at home.

Before I had a chance to complete this post, I learned that there is another set of condo complexes slated to be developed near the market. I am banking on all these people who are embracing a new way of urban living, will also want to embrace this urban farmer.

Selling a Cure for the Winter Blahs

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

Specialty produce is what sets SPIN farmers apart at market, but it requires a well thought-through marketing strategy. Take the potato. A “staple” that can be picked up in any supermarket, it is a low-value crop. I sell purple potatoes which aren’t yet widely available in supermarkets and try to turn it into a high value crop.

Adventurous eaters will try anything, and once they do they are pretty loyal purchasers of exotic crops. But they are a not a very big market. To sell the non-early adopters takes some effort. Since everyone knows what a potato is, it is not as tough a sell as if you were introducing an entirely novel crop like kohlrabi. I start by explaining that purple potatoes go way beyond regular white fleshed ones in their anti-oxidant value. Having a print out of their history, such as their origin in Peru, makes for a good story. What you attempt to do is connect people with the story of a particular produce item. They all have a story, so in essence you become a story teller at market.

Doing research online is a no brainer nowadays, so it is easy to research each of your crops and do printouts you can give to your customers, or do your own. For instance, this link to has lots of intriguing information, even which trendy restaurants are serving them.

While a big consumer focus today is on the health benefits of food, we can’t forget taste. That’s why you need to be cooking with your own produce, so you can give convincing first-hand accounts based on your own experience. You can display photos of your dishes at market.

SF photo purple potatoes blog 3

Visual appeal is something you can really play up, especially during the drab winter months. I cut open the purple potato and display it with other crops. They are a stand magnet and also create upsell opportunities using SPIN’s mix-and-match multiple unit pricing.

SF photo purple potatoes blog

With increased consumer demand, more marketing opportunities and a wider array of crops and varieties to grow, there is no reason to regard winter as an off-season any more.

SF photo purple potatoes blog 1

Tell your customers that instead of going to their doctor or their travel agents, they can come to you for a cure for their winter blahs.

For Sampling, You Really Have To Be There

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

You might have been hearing that marketing is becoming much more experiential. At the farmer’s market this means participating in onsite cooking demos. Farmers showcase their offerings by preparing them and giving out free samples. My intern Bryon Hall roasted squash this weekend, using coconut oil, salt, and pepper supplied by another market vendor Intuitive Path SuperFoods.

SF photo sampling squash ingredients

 

Bryon enthusiastically pointed out the taste profiles of the different types of heirloom squash I am growing now – Australian Butter, Boston Marrow, and Jumbo Pink Banana, and their suitability for different cooking applications. Some people are familiar with the classic Butternut, but I can’t grow it well here. I am finding customers are more than willing to transition to the trendy heirloom types.

SF photo sampling Bryon

Once Bryon got everyone excited, he pointed them towards my stand where they can buy pre-cut slices – $3.00 each or 2 for $5.00. Mix and match multiple unit pricing works like a charm and slices are much easier for customers to buy and use. Adding this convenience factor also allows for higher pricing.

SF photo sampling crowd

Sampling doubled our squash sales this weekend, with many customers buying more than one kind of squash. It brought new customers as well, including some visitors from Asia.

SF photo sampling Wally and friends

Sampling can be done  for many different types of produce. You can’t do it on the Internet, and that’s really why it works so well.

Plan to Extend 2016 Sales by Observing Market Conditions Now

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

Crop repertoires always vary from year to year. SPIN farmers aim to change up their offerings, experimenting with exotic crops, and providing those not offered by their competition. Keep an eye out, too, for crops that are in short supply. Right now at my market, onions are in short supply. So my plan for 2016 will include more plantings for storage onions. The demand for garlic is exceeding my supply also, so I will increase my production there too.

There is no cabbage at market, so even though it is a difficult crop to grow for me, I’ll put in a cabbage planting for next year. My carrots and pumpkins/winter squash are selling steadily so I see no need to increase 2016 plantings of those crops.

SPIN photo crop production guide cabbage large head

My point is that you can continue to make money during what is considered the off-season by observing and responding to local food supply. By keeping your customers happy longer, you not only keep your cash flowing, you also ensure their loyalty. You can even gain new customers once their usual farmer is missing in action.

SPIN Apprenticeship Lesson: Respond to Seasonal Trends and Supply/Demand

Courtesy of Bryon H., Saskatoon SK

Over the last two weekends at the Saturday farmers market I learned creative ways to increase exposure and sales. The first one was the transition from being an outdoor vendor to an indoor vendor. The challenge was notifying as many customers as possible that Wally’s Urban Market Garden would continue selling indoors throughout the fall and winter. Leading up to this weekend, we mentioned this to customers at the outdoor stand.

Last Saturday was the transition, where we set up a stand both indoors and outdoors. The satellite outdoor space cost an additional $15, but its sales quickly covered this expense. In addition to sales, we guided many customers inside to the indoor stand.

SF photo Bryon outside market stand

The indoor stand has some big advantages, like heat, since temperatures are now barely above freezing. Others are:
>> extending your marketing period
>> less logistical steps without full stand take down

SF photo Bryon inside market stand

 

This past Saturday happened to fall on Halloween! Not the regular market day for sure, and everyone had a good time. I was dressed as a stack of pancakes and was quite satisfied with the laughs I got.

SF photo BryonHalloween

 

In addition to the permanent inside stand, our satellite stand this time consisted of a temporary pair of tables featuring many heirloom pumpkin and squash varieties. If some of you out there grow or plan to grow unique pumpkin/squash (esp. large ones) you should sell of slices using SPIN’s price tier structure. These work very well for customers who are curious but intimidated to commit to an entire pumpkin.

Our Halloween pumpkin table could not have been timed better. Apparently the grocery stores in the city had sold out the day before and couldn’t restock due to an American crop failure in Illinois. As soon as the market opened we had numerous people buying multiple pumpkins. Some of these were customers who had never shopped from us before. So splitting up and having multiple inside stands definitely increased our sales.
The lesson I learned was to into get stuck in a rut with your farm stand, and always be looking for ways to change up your display and positioning, take advantage of seasonal trends, and be responsive to supply/demand issues. The more creative you are, the more people you reach.

 

SPIN Apprenticeship Lesson Learned: Market Day Selling

Courtesy of Bryon Hall, Saskatoon SK

One of the most beneficial things I’ve done with Wally has been market day selling. Very quickly I realized it wasn’t as simple as it looked. However there are some key things I have noticed make a difference.

Engagement covers all of these things and is something Wally told me was important from Day 1. Once a customer takes a look at your stand you have an opportunity to make a sale. A positive, energetic greeting is a great start that every customer will pick up on. Knowledge of your product is also something the customer will sense right away. Not simply what types you grow and their benefits. Customers always appreciate hearing how you have personally prepared vegetables you’ve grown and speaking on flavor profiles/pairings is something more informed consumers will take notice of. This is much more important on varieties that are more exotic and will ease their concerns of cooking something unfamiliar.

Keep the market day objectives in focus, this is pay day! One of the most effective things I have noticed is how easy and effective an “upsell” can be. What is meant by an upsell is that when a customer comes to the stand for something you suggest something else they can buy. This can be done either through a recommendation for a meal plan or for economic benefit. The economic benefits are much easier to portray if you have a tiered pricing structure as Wally employs. This also gives you a nice goal to reach with individual customers always trying to get them to purchase a full tier.  Hopefully this will help you develop some of your own marketing strategies to deploy on market days!

IMG_20151014_110320 (1)

 

For SPIN farm apprentices, pay day is market day. 

SPIN Apprenticeship Lesson Learned: How to Market an Ugly Crop

Courtesy of Bryon H., Saskatoon SK

This week I had quite an interesting experience. Wally took me out to one of his backyard plots to harvest horseradish. What I was expecting was a typical looking SPIN plot with beds. When we got there it was barely noticeable what we were going to harvest! Once we walked to a back corner of the lot Wally pointed out the horseradish patch,an area that was teeming with plants.
SF photo Bryon horse radish plot
The more shocking event was actual harvesting. The harvestable part of horseradish is the root portion. They establish very deep roots which are very difficult to harvest completely. The good thing is that those unharvested portions will grow back aggressively the next year. Being a perennial, horseradish is a very low maintenance crop.
SF photo Bryon horse radish harvesting
Now the difficulty with this crop is the marketing and selling. A lot of people have never purchased and processed fresh horseradish. I’ve had some success at market today with offering a small sample to cook with and explaining a simple recipe. Two of the customers I did this with ended up actually purchasing a bag of horseradish.

Alternatively this is a much more marketable crop to restaurants. A chef who is a regular at the farmers market picked up five pounds and said he wanted another five pounds on the weekend!
SF photo Bryon horse radish crop

One thing I’d like to touch on that is a huge SPIN farming principle, workflow. Yesterday Wally and I were slicing  pumpkins for sale, and he commented on something I really took notice of. Ideally your work flow once organized should be fast and efficient, but as Wally had to remind me today is that it’s never worth working panicked.When you are rushing it is too easy to miss details or steps which could result in inferior quality produce being sold or damaging some of your own equipment. The former possibly resulting in a poor first impression, reducing the chances of customers returning and probably eliminating the chance of them becoming a word of mouth advertiser for you.

SF photo Bryon horse radish with Wally

 

It was a lot of fun trying to sell a niche product like horseradish. I noticed that the cultures who traditionally cooked horseradish were much more comfortable buying it. It is probably worth it to do some research on your city’s demographics and see which vegetables are used in those cuisines when deciding which new crops to test out.

Rake in Sales With Fall’s New Moneymakers

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

Pumpkins and winter squash have become a bigger part of my fall crop repertoire over the years, and this year chefs are buying them by the wagon loads.

I am using $1.00 per pound as the base line, but I give chefs a price break on the larger ones, say in the 40 pound range. They want the heirloom types – Cinderella, Boston Marrow, Amish pie, Australian Butter. Now is the time to plan on capturing this market, ahead of other vendors.

As you start thinking about your 2016 crop repertoire, be sure to include these types of crops along with the classic SPIN storage crops of beets, carrots, onions and potatoes. If I can manage to get off a good crop in zone 2, which has an early FFF (first fall frost) date, growers with longer seasons will make out even better.

SF photo pumpkins and squash wagonload

The chef from Ayden Kitchen and Bar hauls away a $100  order of pumpkins and squash. This crop is keeping my sales going strong right through fall.

 

Storage Crops – Boring But Big Moneymakers

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

One of the mistakes I now see among SPIN farmers is they quit too soon. Once you get beyond the traditional end of season mentality you can add hundreds or thousands of dollars more, to your income, without much sweat. How?

You’re probably thinking micros. Sure, they are a lucrative crop, and versatile. They can be grown indoors or outdoors. I actually find outdoor micros are more profitable once you consider the hassle factor of trayed indoor production. Pea shoots make the most money for me, and that’s all I grow now indoors.

My go-to moneymaker is storage crops. They’re not new or trendy, but they have a big impact on my bottom line. Here’s what they have going for them:

  • they are easy to grow; most aren’t bother by pests, and they don’t require much watering
  • they don’t require the TLC that micros do; storage practices are fairly easy to master
  • they are perfect for larger plots further from your home base, since they need space to sprawl, and don’t need much tending
  • they give you product to sell long after many other growers have hung it up for the season
  • they help you lock in customer relationships you made early in the season, and can forge new ones
  • no season extension gear required

Storage Crops Income Target:                                                                                         Carrots: 50 bags @ $3, or 2 for $5                                                                            Potatoes: 50 bags @ $3, or 2 for $5                                                                             Garlic: 50 bags @ $3, or 2 for $5                                                                                    Onion: 50 bags @ $3, or 2 for $5                                                                                      TOTAL INCOME: $500 – $600/week

If you want a stretch goal you can target $1,000 a week by adding crops like beets and tomatoes. Restaurants, indoor farmer’s markets, institutions or a winter CSA are all good sales channels, especially the later the season gets, because there is less competition. You can consider it like an end of the year bonus you are giving yourself. How you use it is up to you. Splurge on an island vacation or maybe that new tiller you’ve had your eye on for a few years.

SPIN photo storage crops in cooler

 

Here we’re looking at $xx worth of storage crops that…

SPIN photo storage crops marketing  …fly off the shelves at the end of the season because  fair weather farmers have packed it in.

Are You Over-delivering?

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

Deliveries are killers. They are a huge time suck and expense.I’m hearing from other farmers that the fuel and labour costs are getting harder to justify, no matter how valuable the face time with customers is. I feel your pain.

My solution is to have my customers come to me, with my stand at the farmers market being the hub. My CSA customers come to me. They have a running credit at my stand, which also greatly simplifies logistics. Chefs come to me. I post chef visits on social media to promote how they are sourcing local. They re-post, getting cross-marketing going, and if you promote them, that’s even more incentives for them, and other chefs, to buy from you. Creates a virtuous circle.

The point is to turn your farmers market stand into a storefront, with all your marketing channels converging at that single location. You never have a slow day.

SF photo chef at Wallys stand

More and more chefs are coming to Saskatoon Farmers’ Market . This one is from is Dale Mackay’s Ayden Kitchen & Bar. Ayden is one of my steady customers, and Dale was winner of Top Chef Canada a few years ago. Now you know one of the reasons why. Sourcing locally and getting to know your producer. Here one of his chefs is  getting golden and candy cane beets and broad beans. Sometimes they come to the market a couple times a day. For all you foodies out there, here’s how Dale does it.