Find Markets the Same Way You Do Land

Courtesy of Linda B., Abundant Life Farm, Walker Valley NY

A SPIN-Farming workshop I did in Virginia brought up an important point – and that is new markets and ways to market. In the section of Virginia in which I gave the workshop they had a heck of a waiting list to get into farmer’s markets – up to 2 years in some towns. You can’t say you won’t SPIN until you can get a spot. So what did one enterprising SPIN farmer do – created a different meaning for a CSA,  and that was Church Supported Agriculture, and sold through his local church.

Cool right?

I’ve always said that wherever a group of people gather on a regular basis is a good place for a market. That can be in a gas station parking lot if it draws a crowd, and both parties benefit. We can apply the same SPIN concepts that we use in increasing our land base to creating places in which to market our wares. The rent will be minimal or we can barter it for food.

I am in a rural location, so I have to make my markets where I know people are. Anyone can do the same, no matter where they are located.

SF photo Linda Borghi traveling farm stand

Season Off-track, Sales On-track

SPIN farmers work with Nature, rather than against her. Sometimes she returns the favor, and sometimes she doesn’t. That is what makes farming so thrilling. In essence, you’re working with a business partner that always keeps you guessing. For me, this spring has been a real nail biter.

What I can do in most years, and what my plan this year was based on, is to begin planting the first week of April. In go my crops for early season cash flow – scallion, green garlic and spinach. Then it turned rainy and cool right through last week and I did not get those crops in.

But thanks to my grow rooms and my strategy of always expanding my product line, I’m still on track to hit SPIN’s early spring sales benchmark of $1k per week, selling 3 days at the Saskatoon Farmers Market. In spite of not having outside early spring production, here’s what my stand looks like this week.

SF photo Wally early spring $1k market

Below is what I am offering – all grown by me. It’s represents full-out grow room production (four grow rooms, one in the basement, one in the heating room, and two in the garage; 300 sq. ft. of growing space total), and my storage crops from last fall, which are still paying dividends.

Crops:

  • Storage potatoes
  • Storage carrots
  • pea greens
  • Pea green/micro salad mix

Live plants:

  • Garlic
  • Beets
  • Cat grass
  • Onions
  • Sugar peas

Bedding plants:

  • Heirloom tomatoes ( 15 types)
  • Hot peppers ( 10 types )
  • Basil
  • Parsley
  • Rhubarb
  • Tomatilloes

Today is a glory day for a farmer here, sunny and in the 60’s.

SF photo Wally glory day at peri urban plot

We’re getting our peri-urban plot ready for the planting of two onion varieties. But you can’t base a business on being a fair weather farmer. When Nature does not co-operate, start the season without her.

Psych Yourself Up for Farmer’s Market Sales

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

First year SPIN farmers are signing up for their farmers markets, and this is when I get what I call emails of doubt. “How will I stack up? How can I compete? I’m just a small fish in a big pond. Who will buy my produce?” If you, too, are facing your first season jitters, here’s how to psych yourself into a $500 market week – and beyond.

 Use your small growers advantage: Being SPIN-scale allows you to be more adaptable than larger growers. larger growers frequently have one time plantings of crops. They sell them, and they are done. Being small means you will have the time for frequent, even weekly plantings of certain crops, such as salad greens and fresh herbs, when they are in short supply at market, especially mid to late season.

 Scarcity confers higher value: Other vendors may have greater volumes of produce than you, but your lower volume creates exclusivity, which supports premium pricing. Also, look closely at what others are offering. It might be of lower quality. Establish your reputation on smaller volumes of higher quality produce. People will feel great that they scored that last bag of arugula from you.

 Foodie is mainstream: The Food Network has turned food into entertainment, and the most interesting developments in the food world are at everybody’s fingertips on Facebook/Instagram/Twitter. Government policies and health advocates are also turning up the volume on nutrition. So customers are becoming much more adventurous in their tastes, and appreciative of quality. This gives SPIN farmers increased pricing power and  infinite opportunities to differentiate themselves from other growers.

 You’re embedded in your market: Unlike many growers who retreat to the middle of nowhere when the market is done, your always just a stone’s throw from the action. You just have to look and listen to what’s around you. Follow the lunch trucks around to see what they are offering. Read the trendy menus conveniently placed for you outside the door or on the sidewalk. Check out the pop-up restaurant in a warehouse. Ask neighbors, friends and family what they need and want. Then go grow it. Being market responsive gives you a real big advantage.

Think like a retailer: Make your stand and your marketing stand out. Pre-bag produce. Loose produce makes for slow processing time and frustrated customers. Come up with a pricing system that makes it easy for customers to spend their money. Create your own price, using SPIN’s mix and match unit pricing. Unitizing and packaging can take many forms. Come up with your own deals, like combining recipe-ready crops in a single bag or bundle and sell at special price. Change up the presentation of some of your crops from week to week, and tie them in with commonly celebrated holidays or local events.

Finally, don’t look at fellow vendors as competition, but rather as colleagues. It takes more than just a few vendors to create a destination point farmers market. More vendors means more product, and that means customers have a better chance of having a satisfying experience. That will keep them coming back to the market, and to you, you farmer rock star.

SF photo Keri Fox Green Sister GardensKerri Fox  of Green Sister Gardens rockin’ out in Moose Jaw SK. 

What if you don’t have Madonna’s  chutzpah? Here’s some tips for the shy farmer.

 

Sales Tips for the Shy Farmer

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

Engage with customers. How often have you heard that? It’s good advice, since the big benefit to local food is being able to connect with those who grew it. “Put a face to your food” is a great marketing pitch, but if you are naturally shy, this is a lot easier said than done. Here’s what can take the dread out of going to your farmer’s market.

  •  If you’re not a talker, breaking the ice with words is hard. Instead, you can use “visual icebreakers”  – photos of your farm. Yours is unusual in that it is a SPIN farm:  small plot intensive and ultra-local.  People will come over to look at the photos, and you can put up a sign – “Ask me about my SPIN farm.”
  • Talk about how you practice SPIN-Farming and lead it back to why your produce is fresh and high-quality. We can provide the SPIN logo to you if you would like to use it, and you can do up inexpensive tabletop posters, or hang them on the tablecloth that list your SPIN practices. There is lots of information on the SPIN website about SPIN-Farming that you can use.
  • Concentrate on selling your farm and produce, not yourself. What helped me get over my shyness was realizing that I did not have to talk about myself, only about my farm and produce.
  • Provide tips on how your produce can be used. Many farmers give out recipe cards, especially for produce items that may be unfamiliar to customers.

I’m not exaggerating that I am frequently hoarse by the end of my market day. I can’t wait until they engineer a carrot that sells itself.

Fixes for Underachieving Farm Stand Sales

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

Late spring frequently brings this kind of SOS from beginning farmers: “I can’t make significant sales from my stand at the farmer’s market. Help!” If your stand looks like this, you are suffering from farm stand confusion. Below are some remedies.

SF photo John Katt diagnostic
The most obvious problem is the lack of clarity regarding pricing and how the produce is being sold. This farmer told me he had a sign that mentions $3.00 per bag, but there is no bagged produce on the table. I assume that the produce that is out is for display only, and that the pre-bagged produce is in the white cooler. Or maybe customers bag their own? This creates stand confusion, which is like switching the consumer’s off button.

Here are 2 tips to eliminate farm stand confusion and start achieving higher sales at your farmers market:

  • Pre-bag your produce. As I’ve mentioned before, you are not competing with other farmers. You are competing with Whole Foods or the supermarket. Being able to just grab produce provides convenience and time saving, and these are big value-adds.
  • Place your bagged greens right on the table. Having your produce easily accessible to customers will entice them to your stand and will make a purchase less intimidating. They will know what they are getting and paying without having to ask. To keep the produce in top shape on your table,  put ice packs under the bags.

It also never hurts to remind beginners to brush up on their farm stand protocol. The objective is to engage with customers. If you aren’t   naturally outgoing, this is easier said than done.  Here are some tricks:

  •  If you’re not a big talker, breaking the ice with words is hard. Instead, you can use “visual icebreakers”  – photos of your farm. Yours is unusual in that it is a SPIN farm:  small plot intensive and ultra-local.  People will come over to look at the photos, and you can put up a sign – “Ask me about my SPIN farm.”
  • Talk about how you practice SPIN-Farming and lead it back to why your produce is fresh and high-quality. We can provide the SPIN logo to you if you would like to use it, and you can do up inexpensive tabletop posters, or hang them on the tablecloth that list your SPIN practices. There is lots of information on the SPIN website about SPIN-Farming that you can use.
  • Concentrate on selling your farm and produce, not yourself. What helped me get over my shyness was realizing that I did not have to talk about myself, only about my farm and produce.
  • Provide tips on how your produce can be used. Many farmers give out recipe cards, especially for produce items that may be unfamiliar to customers.

I’m not exaggerating that I am frequently hoarse by the end of my market day. I can’t wait until they engineer a carrot that sells itself.