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


Why Not Just Grow High Value Crops?

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

In planning discussions the question frequently comes up, “If you want to make money, why not just grow the highest value crops?”  It’s easy to go through SPIN 2.0 Crop profiles and pull them out – rainbow carrots, garlic, microgreens, onions, shallots. Specialized operations can work – for a while. But farming is never steady state. What works one year can’t be counted on to work  the next.

The wheels of commerce are greased by trends, which are inherently short-lived. Consumer tastes and the competitive landscape are changing much more rapidly than they used to. A hot trend like micros attracts a lot of new suppliers, and then the market becomes saturated. If succeeding in business were as easy as just selling what’s most expensive, we’d all be as rich as Donald Trump.

Then there are the environmental concerns. Unanticipated weed pressure or dry conditions can make the growing of some higher value crops tricky. Disease and insects are also a risk. If all your business is dependent on one or just a few crops, and you have crop failures, just ask the Big Ag farmers how that goes. Boom and bust.

I’ve always followed the “steady Eddy” strategy by experimenting with a wide variety of crops and developing an extensive crop repertoire that includes lower value crops. Green beans, peas, potatoes, and winter squash are easier to grow in heavier weed pressure conditions.

If you sell at market, it is better to have a selection of produce so that you can be a one stop shop. Your regular customers will usually buy whatever you have, so that means more sales to your regulars. Also you will be better able to lure new customers. You also stand a better chance of developing a more consistent cash flow with a more diverse offering of produce. If you want to offer a CSA, a variety of items is usually part of the deal.

Specialized operations can simplify start up or work well as part-time operations. But they also increase your risks and limit your opportunities. As I said, farming is never steady state, and you can expand or narrow your operation as you go through different life stages. Adapt and prosper!

SPIN photo microgrees and field

Man does not live by micros alone. 


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!

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.

Use SPIN’s Small Scale Advantage

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

The emails and mailers are starting to come in outlining all the challenges and rewards of organic/eco/sustainable/regenerative farming, so that means workshop season will soon be upon us. A main theme of SPIN-Farming workshops is to understand and use your small scale advantage to out-compete the larger operators. It’s not hard to do, once you learn the tricks of the trade. Here are a few:

 Use the micro climate advantage on small plots, especially in an urban context. This allows you to get into production much earlier and extend production much later into the season. You can therefore offer crops that are not available from other growers, and charge premium pricing for them.

Make small timely plantings that larger growers can’t bother with. Small means not overwhelming and appropriate for your resources and current situation. Timely means properly sequenced to provide consistent supply, selling into periods of production shortfalls and making quick in-season adjustments.

 Experiment continually with  novel or exotic crops. You don’t have to bet the farm to find your next best seller and differentiate yourself at market.

Be on the lookout for new market niches and cater to them. With the world being increasingly mobile, communities are quickly being reshaped by emigres with distinct culinary tastes, and for many of them money is no object. Serving their unique needs for specialty crops is exactly what it means to be market-driven. Most farmers aren’t fans of deviations from a norm. Their plans are typically set by routines that follow long-term trends. But having the rapid response capability to capitalize on unforeseen opportunities is what SPIN-Farming is all about.

A former musician has this take: “SPIN-Farming teaches you the notes and scales and composition. Then it’s all improv.”Another SPIN farmer likens it to being a ninja. Maybe instead of that farming workshop, your time might be better spent exploring music or the martial arts. However you learn about farming, you can forget elaborate business plans that need executive summaries and table of contents. To grow food and make money nowadays, you need to be nimble and quick, and that means size really does matter.

DDG2 photo 1

Can There Be Too Many SPIN Farmers?

Courtesy of Roxanne C., Philadelphia PA  

With more SPIN farmers cropping up, we’re being asked, what is the optimal number  that can be supported by the market? Given the growing demand for fresh, local food, saturation should not yet be  a concern in most urban and suburban markets, which is what supports the type of direct to consumer sales that SPIN farmers rely on. Because of the sub-acre scale of SPIN-Farming, the amount of its production does not cause a market to be ” flooded ” with produce. If you gathered and analyzed data on  produce demands for a particular market, and then calculated the amount of local supply, there are still significant gaps.

The best way to tell if there are too many SPIN farms in a certain locality is by simple economics. Too many producers will result in an unstable economic environment, resulting in producers leaving SPIN-Farming. More efficient SPIN farms will be the ones that stay on for the long term. Unlike a franchise which is based on uniformity, farmers adapt the SPIN system to their local markets and climate, and creative improvisation and evolution is SPIN’s modus operandi. There is no typical SPIN farm. Each one is unique, distinguished by each individual farmer’s talents, preferences, and idiosyncrasies. The one
common denominator is that they are being started without major policy changes or government support. They are entirely entrepreneurially driven.

At this point, the production of individual SPIN farms is so small in relation to the totality of
demand, that it will take many, many SPIN farms in any one locality to satisfy it. So the more SPIN farms in a given area the better, since it will make for stronger farmers markets, a vital restaurant scene and fuel even more demand for locally grown produce by an entirely new class of agri-entrepreneurs.

For farmers concerned about competition, the best farming mantra is a new spin on an old one: Get good, or get out.

Beta Map

Competition is Healthy

Courtesy of Roxanne C., Philadelphia PA

A new vibe is now part of the local foods scene – competition. According to the USDA, local foods was a $7 billion industry in 2011, and it is now starting to attract those who are not  looking for a cause,  but for a business opportunity. They have no pre-conceived notions about farming, may not be aware of  any of the politics surrounding sustainability, organics or local foods, or if they are, they are not  consumed by them. They are people who, instead of opening a dry cleaners, or a hair salon, or a printing franchise, are thinking instead that they like working outdoors, they like physical work, they like the idea of producing a product everyone wants and needs, they see lots of people flocking to the farmer’s market and farm to table restaurants, so they think they would like to try farming to see if they can make a buck.

SPIN-Farming is right down their alley because it provides a low cost and fast entrée into this multi-billion dollar market. Its practitioners are now multiplying throughout backyards and neighborhood lots in several countries. Farmers markets are increasingly occupied not by Mr. Hayseed Farmer from the middle of nowhere, but the tattooed hipster from across town, or the retired IBM’er pursuing his encore career.

These non-traditional backyard farmers understand that to thrive in this rapidly developing and increasingly competitive marketplace they have to think beyond the farmers market. Some of the most interesting developments in the food industry are happening in a pop-up restaurant in a warehouse somewhere, or via our mobile phones. Opportunities can be low tech and grassroots like these, compliments of Keri Fox who operates Green Sister Gardens in Moose Jaw SK and is in her third year of SPIN-Farming.

  • A friend of mine teaches yoga, and she invited me to come to her class and promote my business so I took each person in the class a bag of pea and radish greens mix to try and gave a little talk at the beginning of class about my product and where to get it.
  • I had one of my CSA members ask me if I would come and set up a table at the local college in the cafeteria over the lunch hour and sell greens. So I am planning to do this in September when classes resume.
  • I helped organize a recycling/composting program at an event in the park called Park Art. I put totes out with signs attached to them. The signs had my logo and business name as well as instructions on what could be put into the bins and a blurb explaining that the compost would be turned into soil to grow veggies for Green Sister Gardens. Next year I will set up a booth and sell greens at the event as well.
  • A friend has a natural path clinic on Main Street and she will let me set up a stand a couple times a month (or more) to sell greens. It is located in between our two local health food stores (neither of them sell greens mixes).
  • I took salad mix samples into a local coffee shop (that saves me their used coffee grounds) and followed up with the owner today. She really likes them and is currently waiting for me to send her pricing.

Or opportunities can be more high-tech and scalable like these three:

  • Farmigo’s new Champion Initiative platform that enables direct sellers to run their own food communities, like an Avon for food. In exchange for their work, Champions receive a 10 percent cut of their community’s sales, as well as discounts on food. Farmigo estimates that managing the community typically amounts to 3-4 hours of work with an hourly earning potential of at least $20 for the Champion.
  • ÜbrLocal, a virtual farmers market where consumers can order online and have their purchases delivered via bicycles. ÜbrLocal takes 25% of sales.
  • Farmwell is cloud-based software that enables farmers to build and service a local customer base online. Farmers keep 100% of the sales, and pay a modest monthly fee.

Whatever else it has become in today’s culture – activist cause, political hot potato or star-studded entertainment – food remains a necessity of life. And for those in the business of growing it, it is not a zero sum game. When one business wins, another does not have lose. As SPIN farmers and entrepreneurs reshape the local foods scene to their own ends, competition drives innovation and professionalism, and it is a healthy, and welcome, part of the scene.

So how do the pro’s compete? See here.

SF photo City Grown Seattle truck sign

 SF photo City Grown Seattle porch shop


Photos courtesy of City Grown Seattle