Advice for Farm Stand Newbies

Marquisa(z5a Ontario)February 19, 2005

Hello! Cant tell you how much I have enjoyed reading this forum! ItÂs truly incredible how much you can learn from people who have been there, done that. My husband and I are in the midst of planning our first market garden and I am hoping that you will be able to advise me on a few points. Our plans are to have a stand at the end of our driveway versus renting a stall at the local farmers market. I am home all day to garden and tend the stand and my husband is available weekends until next year when he retires. I would very much appreciate hearing from others who run a stand on their property. A bit about us:

Location/Community: We live in a small rural community with about 150 families in our immediate neighbourhood (all within walking distance of our home). The majority of residents have to drive by our house to get to the main county road and pass by us every night on the way home from work. Within a 2-3 mile radius there are another 450 families, the majority of which live in upscale waterfront homes. We also have an influx of summer tourists who have summer homes on the nearby lake.

Competition: The closest town is 15 minutes away with one very small food store that carries a poor selection of vegetables that are very often past their prime (even in the summer when produce is local). The closest major center with a decent vegetable selection is 30 minutes away. There is one farm stand in a hamlet 10 minutes from our house  a farmer who has a table of unwashed root vegetables, oversized zucchini, a bucket of gladioli with dill weed in dirty water, bushels of corn in season and in the fall a wagon of pumpkins and ornamental gourds. ItÂs pretty icky. There is a farmers market 30 minutes away open on Saturdays, however, it is slowly declining with only 10 or so vendors remaining.

Our plan is to begin in a small way this year with produce and flowers grown on some empty beds we prepared last fall and focus on building additional gardens this Spring. Due to some low lying areas on our property and a high water table, weÂve decided to construct raised beds as they

have proven to be very successful for us with our own gardens.

I plan to offer produce that I would personally like to buy in our area but canÂt find  baby beets, baby carrots, snow peas, basil, heirloom tomatoes, hot peppers, frying peppers, fancy summer squashes (such as eight-ball), unusual melons like "Moon and Stars" as well as fresh cut flowers (I have never even seen a red sunflower for sale here!). I also plan to offer bushels of Roma tomatoes and pickling cucumbers to those who do their own freezing/pickling/canning.

The questions I have are:

 Is there a formula or "best guess" as to how much of which vegetable we should produce for our potential customer base? What proportion of your garden would you dedicate to cut flowers and how much to vegetables?

 Do you run your farm stand on a daily basis or just on weekends?

 When is the peak time for sales? In the morning or evening when people are coming home from work?

Thank you for your patience in reading this far! I truly appreciate any suggestions or recommendations you can give us.



Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I'd suggest an honor system for your location. Then you won't feel you have to be there every hour. Signs for names of item and price (keep prices simple like 50 cents apiece or 2/$1.00 will make it easy for people) will be necessary, plus a jar or box for people to place their money. If you happen to be near the stand when someone stops, certainly say hello and ask if you can help, as people like to know "their farmer," but the will be equally happy to pick and choose their own stuff...and most everyone is honest IF you give them the opportunity.
Good luck with your new venture.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2005 at 10:08PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
chinamigarden(z5 MI)

If you take anniew's advice you should do what I have seen others do. Take a metal box and bolt from the inside to the stand. then lock it so people can put the money in through a slit in the top of the box. This will keep kids, well everyone really, from being able to easily take your money.

    Bookmark   February 23, 2005 at 7:41AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Great advice chinamigarden.

Where can one buy a metal box? Also what type of lock would you suggest be used? We are putting a stand up about a mile
down the road from us on a main road leading into town.

    Bookmark   February 23, 2005 at 9:39AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
jayreynolds(zone 6/7)

One mile away sounds pretty far to leave unattended, but maybe......
Perhaps you might consider standing by, especially during peak hours to get a chance to establish a relationship with your customers. To me an unattended stand with no one in sight for a mile sounds like a recipe for disaster.

Be careful growing things "that I would personally like to buy in our area but cant find". Many times I've tried growing things I wanted, only to find that others didn't.

Also, as much as we'd like to provide a service to the community, we are, after all, in business to make money to pay for our labor. One fellow I know puts the bottom line this way- "Everything is sold by the pound. The crop that weighs most & is fast and easy for me to grow is cucumbers. I grow them, man." Yes, yes, I know about diversifications, about how garlic fetches $3.00/lb, basil $6, etc. But the point is that you have to consider what other people want, how much they'll end up buying, and how much you will be getting for your labor. Resist the temptation to jump bigtime into unproven products with limited appeal. Experiment with these new ideas first and save the waste of time, money, and space till after you've proven the concept a little.

Don't know exactly how to suggest you determine what it is they would buy, really. Like the rest of us, you'll have some flops and some wins. Maybe a suggestion box your first year might help.

Best of luck.

    Bookmark   February 23, 2005 at 1:47PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
Marquisa(z5a Ontario)

Thank you for your suggestions -- Irish_Eyes, if you do a search on eBay for "Suggestion Box" or "Drop Box" I think you will find something suitable.

Jayreynolds - good advise about not jumping too heavily into unproven products. I think I will try a number of them in a small way this year as it's our testing year before we retire next year to do this on a more serious basis. I especially like the idea of a suggestion box.


    Bookmark   February 23, 2005 at 3:01PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Hi there, I am by no means experienced but here are my 2 cents anyway. Last year I tried selling out of my driveway and it was miserable. If I do it again I will do a few things differently. I will put up signs that say "fresh produce- 100 yards on right- Wednesday's 4-6 and Saturdays 9-12" or something similar. I may even make removable plaques that state what is available that week. You have to get people ready for your stand. They have to know to slow down for it, a table or sign at the end of a drive isn't enough warning- at least on my windy road. I don't like to leave items on the honor system because there are too many people around who have no honor. Most people like to be able to interact with someone at a stand and if you have set times every week then people can work a trip to your stand into their routine. If you have certain times of being open then your produce will be in better condition, also. A handful of basil left around in the summer heat will not be as nice as some that you cut right before opening your stand. (as in, if you cut it at 7am and no one bought it until 7pm) If your stand is only open for a few hours those crops that are more tender will be better for your customers. Last year I had bagged lettuce and threw almost all of it out. I ended up just putting out a few bags and left the rest in my refridgerator so it wouldn't all wilt. Anything I didn't sell went to my dh's work with him the next day.

I have no idea if this will work for me. I might want to try selling from my driveway again but I will plan a marketing strategy if I go down that road....


    Bookmark   February 24, 2005 at 3:37PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
wyndyacre(z6B SW Ont.)

I've been selling 4" pots of perennials and some fresh veggies from a stand at the end of my driveway, on the honour system, for the last two summers. The plants have the advantage of being able to be watered in the morning and standing up well all day. My cart has a canopy on it that keeps the sun off most of the day. I work all day during the week but may or may not be home when people stop on the weekends. Some people like to talk-about organic growing methods or gardening advice etc.
I've NEVER had some one take something without paying. Once someone left an IOU with a name, didn't come back to pay but showed up 3 months later with money explaining that she'd forgotten. I have a little wooden box with a slot in the top that is bolted to the cart and could be padlocked but choose not to so people can make their own change.
I'm not in a very busy location but people drive by on their way home from work and I think they have begun to look for my cart. I do often see a farmer or two stop on their tractor for some tomatoes or muskmelon for their lunch LOL.
I found the best veggies were the "tried and true" ones...I put some heirloom Green Zebra tomatos on the stand and no one wanted them because they didn't recognize them. I guess you could probably introduce some different veggies over the years and educate your customers once they knew you.

    Bookmark   February 25, 2005 at 8:34PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
CorysProduce(z7 Maryland)

Ive been using the honor system going on 4 years now and i stay busy. I very rarely have problems with people taking things. I even leave my produce outside overnight, and only once in a blue moon does something get taken. I get a metal lock box from walmart for about 12 bucks and it lasts about 3 seasons.

    Bookmark   February 27, 2005 at 1:27PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
GrassIsEvil(z6 TN)

An unattended stand may work to a certain level, but I think if you're looking to grow your business you need to be more active. Maybe you could do a combination--use the money box for the times you can't be there, but try to be there during high traffic times, evenings, weekends, maybe mornings if you have cooks who want 'just-picked' produce.

Anytime you have a something that's just come into season, you should be there to present it to the public. 'First corn of the season. Monday 9 a.m. to Noon'. That limits your time a little.

For your stand, yes, you need to give people warning and reminders, even a mile in any direction so they'll have a couple of minutes to think before they reach the stand.

On your road signs, say when you're open, "Daily, 8-6" or whatever.

As special additions to the road signs and at the stand itself, you might post special notices--'Fresh-picked corn, for sale Saturday 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. or until we run out'. That way you can keep encourage customers to be there at particular, concentrated times, so you can be there also, while using the honor system at other times. Or, 'Fresh picked herbs available every Wednesday and Saturday morning, 8 a.m. to Noon.'

Situate your stand at a place where cars can safely pull off on EITHER side of the highway. Some people won't stop if it looks as if it's hard to get into or out of the spot.

During hot summer days, when you're there, throw some ice into a cooler and sell bottled soft drinks and water.

As a further thought, even if your farmer's market is declining, you might consider it an opportunity to show off those 'special' items. If you're growing heirloom tomatoes, for instance, you might put up a sign at your stand saying you'd be at the farmers' market with such-and-such. If your market allows samples, offer some. Slice the Green Zebra so people can see what they look inside, and then have chunks cut up with toothpicks in them so the customer can sample them.

If the market is in decline, they might give you room to display all kinds of stuff. The first couple of visits, don't consider it as sales, consider it as advertising.

Maybe take flyers with times and products to those summer homes. Post less detailed flyers at the local centers wherever there's a spot for postings.

One reason people opt for unattended stands is the perception that they're wasting the time when a customer isn't actually there. Utilizing the down time may be key here. This is the time to make markers for garden rows, design flyers, make signs for the stand and for the market, add trim to plain sheets to use on the tables at the market, compose newsletters, write an article on "Green Zebras" for the local newspaper, do your bookkeeping, make seed tapes, look through magazines for recipes using your herbs so you can copy them and give them to your customers, mix herbal bath salts, take photographs of your produce for advertising or so you can show potential customers next year before the vegetables arrive. It's handy if you have a laptop, even handier if you have electricity, but you can use plain old pen and paper.


    Bookmark   February 27, 2005 at 2:31PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
chinamigarden(z5 MI)

Irish eyes,

The stand I am thinking about uses a metal mailbox that locks with a regular padlock. Any metal locking box will do just make sure to use carriage bolts with the nuts inside the box so it can't be unfastened from the outside.

    Bookmark   February 28, 2005 at 3:09PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
raehelen(USDA 7-8)

The honour system works best when there is always a possibility you will be walking around the corner anytime. :>) To have a stand in the middle of nowhere (ie a mile away) is an accident waiting to happen. We have several honour system stands in our area- and they seem to work fine. One is fairly sophisticated, ie a small building with a light that goes on when you open the door. Everything is pre-packaged and marked with a price- or signs 3 for a dollar, etc.
I personally sell plants, and only sell when I am home. I put out the sign, and continue to work in the garden/house and keep an eye/ear out for customers. Have had customers surprise/scare me when they almost walk in the house looking for me, if I haven't heard them! I do have a bell and a sign- but not everyone reads!! Sometimes people have managed to get in when I am not home- but they always leave money- as far as I know, nothing has ever gone missing! :>)

Veggies and cut flowers would work well for an honour system stand- from what I can see, best return is probably for the tried and true, tomatoes, apples, eggs...

Good luck, Rae

    Bookmark   March 3, 2005 at 2:05PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
Bob_NJ(z7 NJ)

I use a mailbox bolted to a pole and a small padlock. I cut a slot in the top just wide enough for the cash. Its important to place a sign over the box showing people where to put the money, you would be surprised how many folks don't know where to put the money. I always empty the box every hour and never leave the box locked overnight.
You will win the respect of your customers when they see how much you trust them, it really makes a difference...Bob.

    Bookmark   March 11, 2005 at 8:18AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
sueloring(zone 4)

My husband, myself and our two kids opened up a roadside stand last year for the first time. We took over by grandmother's 2 acre garden and took advantage of the good location and opened a stand on the edge of the road during the summer and stayed open until Halloween. We were open weekends and then in the fall we were open full time for 3 weeks during fall harvest. We used a big metal mailbox attached to a 12 foot wood table for when we were gone (as we don't live there but a few miles away. We left produce out with and signs for pricing and the honour system was kept. Our phone # is listed on a sign so people could contact us right away if needed. We would check it everyday and restock produce during the week and be open on Saturday and Sunday 8:00 to 5:00. I also sold vegetables directly to friends, members at my sister's health club, co-workers....all because of word of mouth and letting people know what I had. I ran off a produce list and made posters up and posted them on every bulletin board I could find. I listed all the varieties of vege's we had and when they were available. Our stand consisted of the big tent(awning)I purchased from WalMart for $30 that we placed two table under and then placed various other tables and other containers around the awning. You need some kind of protection from the sun as some vegetables will wilt and shrink quickly if left out. We thought we would sell more vegetables than we did...late July was slow at the stand but I sold a lot to my other buyers. My neighbor daughter runs a mexican restaurant and she purchased the majority of my peppers and onions after I gave her a flat of various vege's to use. Some of my best customers were the ones I gave them a new variety of squash or vegetable to try and they would come back out and bring a friend or family member. Summer crops that sold include red and white being the top seller. We sold by the pound and had the small potatoes already bagged. We sold white, purple and yellow onions 3 for $1.00 or a flat crate of them for $3.00. Tomatoes were late this year and so the majority of our crop we started selling late in August. I sold so many to my coworkers and neighbors I usually didn't have a large supply on hand. Top seller was Celebrity and the cherry or Sweet 100 varieties. The zucchini were tricky and had to be protected from the sun after they were picked. Tip:The eightball variety gets too large very quickly so you need to keep this picked everyday. Come fall we had 9 varieties of squash and around 17 variety of pumpkins and we sold around 800 pumpkins and 450 squash in our stand. I also sold broomcorn, field sorghum, indian corn, popcorn and ornamental gourds. The broomcorn was a huge hit with the local ladies for fall decoration and was so easy to grow....I would sell it for either $3.00 or $5.00, depending on how big of bundle they wanted. We sold out broomcorn in early November. It was very profitable and we had lots of fun running the stand and meeting new people.

As to your questions, I can help with a few suggestions...

" Is there a formula or "best guess" as to how much of which vegetable we should produce for our potential customer base? Vegetables can be tricky,in the sense of knowing what will sell and what won't. We grew cucumbers, zucchini (both Fordham and Eight-Ball varieties), tomatoes(14 different varieties), onions, squash, peppers (bell peppers, jalapeno, chili, and hot peppers). The cucumbers and zucchini has to be sold more quickly and protected by the sun. I would pickle or freeze the extra or leftovers.
Grow varieties of vegetables you will enjoy to eat or can process and keep for later time. Don't go overboard on peppers or tomatoes until you know you can get rid of them.
For you if you have limited space look for bush varieties of vegetables to plant. You can interplant some varieties...find a new farmer's almanac and it will help you figure out what varieties of vegetables can be grown with each other or with flower varieties.

"What proportion of your garden would you dedicate to cut flowers and how much to vegetables?"
We were going to have cut flowers at our stand and we planted large zinnias, cosmos , sunflowers and marigold on the edge of the vegetable garden...we went to the farmer's market and found that their was lots of competition. We sold some flowers at our stand on weekends in August... we placed big vases or buckets full of different flowers and sold then for $3 or $4 per bundle. It was a pain and not our main seller...once we started selling broom corn I gave up on selling fresh flowers.
Plant what you can grow easily, know you can rid of(sell, give away, freeze, or can) and grow what you will make the most profit on. Our best and most profitable was small ornamental gourds. I had wagons full of them and sold them for 5 for a dollar. I planted 4 packets of mixed ornamental gourds and ran them up fences to save space.
We sold a large supply of potatoes and squash in the fall.
Many varieties of squash come in bush variety so they don't vine out as much.

" When is the peak time for sales? In the morning or evening when people are coming home from work?"
Saturday mornings were always good and late Sunday mornings(after church would let out) we got quite a few regulars back. I always opened up at 8:00 in the morning and my regulars would rely on it. On weekdays I would check the lock box and work in garden for a couple hours and be available at stand and we got quite a few people to stop on their way home from work.
Best advice I can give you is.. Have a nice and full looking display. Clean your vegetables, have sacks and hand them out or have large supply of them(I used old grocery sacks or bought small brown sacks at Walmart).
Keep your product display full and and colorful.
Also know your product..the more you know about variety, ways to cook it or process the better...I kept my favorite recipes on a recipe run off sheet and would hand them out to regulars.
Use signs on the side of the road and tie balloons to your mailbox or to fence posts on weekends. Many people would see balloons and think our stand was a garage sale and would slow down long enough to catch interest to what we were selling.
I wish you the best of luck .... we had a wonderful time with our stand and look for forward to this upcoming summer and fall.
email me if you have any other questions....


from Hawk Valley Garden
Dickens, Iowa

    Bookmark   March 28, 2005 at 8:38PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I never read so many great ideas. I wish these suggestions were available o me years ago. I think your community, your resolve and a lot of "Happenstance" will determine wether your direct marketing strategy will succeed. We could always draw a pretty good roadside clientele during the strawberry season. My wife preferred to look busy by the stand while I usually took garden tools and tried to work while keeping an eye on the stand. Guess who had more sales? We eventually were able to sell most of the crop from a customer phone list, some repeat customers coming 40 miles or more to pickup an order.
But we are now almost totally committed to farmers markets and the reason is TIME. For most produce you don't need to worry about the freshness as much because you are moving the product much more quickly. You are not irritated by the non-buying shoppers because they are not drawing you from a schedued task. We found that the Farmers' Market became a business venture that paid much more than we had anticipated. Tomatoes,peppers,beans sold by the pint, fruits sold by the half pint. We could cut 150 bunches of basil and sell it before it wilted and similar with other greens.
We still welcome shoppers at reduced hours, but the irratation goes on: The passerby almost always wants sweet corn 2 months early, is looking for a variety of watermelon that his parents used to buy in the vicinity or worse yet, he wants to sell you his surplus zucchini crop.

    Bookmark   March 30, 2005 at 1:08PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
Octogenarian(z5 Lake Erie)

Sue, I read your March '05 follow up. Made a print-out. How was '06 for you? Whick kind of cherry tomatoes do you raise in zone 4 to sell?

    Bookmark   December 3, 2006 at 5:12PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Hi Everybody! I usually come on here looking for flower advice but my son is doing a roadside stand produce business this summer. I am trying to save money and I want to use my old manure spreader so I have a stand on wheels. It is an old ground driven spreader. Thought we could just build the shelves/roof or put awning. If we painted and cleaned it up to look nice I could tow it out to the road. Anybody ever see a manure spreader turned into a roadside stand?? I have been searching the internet for hours and didn't find any photos. If anyone has the time to look at it Thanks so much for any advice!

    Bookmark   May 19, 2011 at 12:57PM
Sign Up to comment
More Discussions
Other farming forums???
Does anyone know of any other active farming/market...
Finding the right market
Other thread getting too long and going in too may...
Selling Tomato Plants?
We have a small produce farm, and we sell everything...
Question about greenhouse ventilation
Hey all, We have a 30' x 48' gothic greenhouse with...
Kalettes / Flower Sprouts
I'm sure a lot of you have heard the recent hype, or...
People viewed this after searching for:
© 2015 Houzz Inc. Houzz® The new way to design your home™