Is it me or is it this market?

2ajsmamaAugust 25, 2012

I'm so disappointed. Last year was my first year at market, but it was a disaster weather- and crop-wise, so didn't actually have much to sell til August. This year I started beginning of June (market runs June through Sept) with lettuce and last year's jams (peas didn't do anything), sold some blueberries in July but didn't have many, and really got no blackberries this year but had some arugula, mizuna, etc. and then the new potatoes did well. Summer squash hasn't been a big seller, but surprisingly the mammoth zukes have been selling at $1/lb, tomatoes are starting to come in, no problem selling some Husky Reds (from potted plants) in June for $2/pint ($4/lb) but some people are complaining about organic Sudduth BWs at $4/lb (though last night one woman - I swear the same one who kind of griped about paying over $2 for 1 tomato last week) made a beeline for them and bought 3 (almost $9).

"Volunteer" tomatoes that I made no claims about taste sold OK for $2/lb last night, but I only sold 7 of those (about 3 lbs worth) - sold 4 BWs that weighed almost the same, 1 CP and 2 pints cherry toms.

So I was fairly busy, but only selling $1-2 worth of stuff to each customer (except for that 1 lady with the $9 tomatoes), a couple of my regulars didn't make it last night.

I went through my sales records and found that I have grossed just over $500 since June - and some of those sales were actually outside of market (selling plants from my house, taking orders from people at DH's work).

I'm just making $40-50 a week at market, one week did $62 but another was only $23. Makes me wonder why I'm working so hard for less than $1/hr - and I'm actually losing money for the 2nd year in a row, when you consider market fees, insurance, and gas (not even counting repairs and maintenance, seed, soil, etc.).

Do I need to find a different market? Am I asking too much (but I sell cherry toms for $3/pint and only sold 2 out of 7 last night, other vendor asks $4/pint though I don't know how many she sold)? Olive oil/vinegar vendor next to me easily sells $10-15 bottles, has even sold a few $30 bottles of truffle oil this season, and the bakeries do a good business ($5 for a loaf of bread!) so I don't think that it's that most people can't afford my prices (though this is not a very affluent town - I really think I could do better in a different town, we'll see how Tuesday market in 1 of them goes next week). And my produce is nice (though chard wilts and I've never been able to sell any at this market), fresh, and chemical-free. I try to price somewhere between what the conventional growers (2 at this market) and the (certified) organic farm down the road are asking, also check the grocery stores.

I just don't know what I'm doing wrong, I don't have as much produce as the 1 big farm (that's right in town and has been here forever, she's MM and has a lot of regular customers), but I think I have just as much (no herbs, no acidified foods, and I don't always bring my jams) as the other produce vendor. I think my prices are competitive. Is it just that there are more established vendors at this market? There are people who don't even browse at my table, they stay over on the side with the other 2 vendors (the MM has 2 spaces and displays aren't attractive, no tableclothes, etc. but she has LOTS of stuff including corn right now, the other vendor has very attractive display, both are on Facebook, both have big banners with farm names).

There is 1 market that just started this year in a more affluent town, at the YMCA so might have more traffic. They had a shorter season, so I didn't go with them this year (though if I had known we weren't having Wednesdays in July at my current market this year I might have made a different decision), I can't get in on the "ground floor" and this one big farm did join them partway through the season, but you think they might not be as entrenched? There is another market in its 5th season in a nearby town, it was recently rated best in an online poll (that didn't include the brand-new market, only had 3 markets to choose from, one established one on Sundays, this 5-yr old one and a 2-yr old one during the week). A few more farms (1 small chemical-free one up the road from me, and a large certified organic one in that town, among others) are there, so they might be really established.

I'd like to give it a 3rd year in business to see if I can make a profit so the IRS doesn't declare this a "hobby" but I just don't know if it's worth it, unless I can figure out what I can do differently (I know, high tunnel!). Thanks for listening to my "vent" but suggestions are appreciated!

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You are still a newbie to that market. I would give it 1 more year and decide about that market after that. You are keeping good records to help you decide.

It is disappointing at the end of season to find out that you are not making much money, but even well established vendors in great market don't make much money. Some can live on it, but they are not living 'high on the hog' either.

Have you figured how much you preserved for your own?

I would say $4/lb for tomatoes is too high for me, really at this time $3 is still too high. Maybe early in the season, before anyone else is there, but not after local gardens are producing.

As far as IRS and the 3 years, even after the 3rd year, you will be able to take off your expenses ONLY up to the amount of your sales (no losses)(If there is a CPA out there, please correct me if I'm wrong, but that's what it used to be).

Market farming is HARD work and it is good EXTRA money, just not alot of taxable income, especially the first few years.

My advice is stay where you are, but maybe add another market. You'll be a newbie at the new market for awhile, but you might see that it would be worthwhile to move your market. The more affluent the market is in, usually the higher prices are, but then everything is higher also.

You know I'm here for you.


    Bookmark   August 25, 2012 at 12:15PM
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When I was a kid, I was good at baseball, until they put me on the all-star team, where I was just normal. That's how I think of the farmer's market - those people are the Gardening All-Stars. The only way I'm able to compete is by not competing. I try to never be selling the same thing at the same time as everyone else. That's why the first thing I did was build a greenhouse; I knew that without it, I'd have the same experience as the original poster.

If you can't afford a high tunnel, build low tunnels and use crop covers. It's all about having product to sell when most people don't. And I feel your pain about trying to convince customers of the value of heirloom tomatoes; it seems to be a losing battle.

Container gardening is trendy right now. I did very well in the early spring selling small attractive planters of lettuce, greens, herbs, and miniature cherry tomatoes. The planter itself cost me $2.50 when I buy 50 at a time, and I sell it full of plants for $5. The empty planter would probably be $5 at Wal-Mart, so it's a good deal. I try to be able to beat Wal-Mart for value, which obviously isn't easy.

    Bookmark   August 25, 2012 at 12:47PM
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Thanks - I know you're there, Marla. I haven't put up anything for ourselves aside from some pickles made with day-old cukes that didn't sell. And we've been eating lots of zucchini (and giving it to widowed neighbors). But I'd be fine with 2 zucchini plants just for our own use - we don't need 6 or more (forget how many I've got out there).

At least I'm making enough (and am in town anyway so can pick it up) to pay for weekly Chinese takeout LOL! Though I should add up my gas receipts in the glove box - might have to cut out the Chinese if I'm not covering the gas and market fees. Plus we had to spend almost $200 for a wheel bearing for the 10-yr old pickup (that we bought last year). Sigh...

Cole Robbie - I'm the only "natural" produce vendor (left) at this market, the other 2 are conventional and as I said 1 doesn't even have that much produce, she does have a commercial kitchen and sells jams, jellies and relishes (as does the MM), plus some baked goods, though not enough to compete with the 2 bakeries. This market has been losing vendors. Even 1 regular (nursery plants) and a couple of newbies (jam and pickle guy, greenhouse tomato/veggie guy, Italian ice) didn't bother to come last night.

So maybe people in this market just don't care about "organics" (though I have had people ask me about "naturally-grown" and I was hoping to pick up customers that used to frequent the other natural practices farm)? I didn't see what conventional tomatoes were selling for at the MM's stall.

Tuesday's market is in a more affluent town, in parking lot of custom butcher (who tries to stock as much grass-fed as possible) and organic grocery, right on a main highway (with stop lights) so I will try there. Town would only give them permit for 4 markets this year, so they decided on 1 per month, I missed June but did July, not much traffic but I did sell my first CP, blueberries did well. There was only 1 other produce vendor there (again, bigger than I am and they had HUGE bell peppers already!) but we'll see how it goes. I don't think $4/lb for organic heirlooms is out of line when Stop & Shop sells organic hybrids for that. But I'll see what the other farm is selling.

Nursery where I bought my starts (and I took an order for strawberry plants for them at June market) had some cute container gardens I was going to try to sell on consignment for them, but greenhouse manager told me they weren't good sellers, don't bother, and he wasn't going to do them next year. We're in a pretty rural/suburban area, if this market goes to more than once a month that's a little more urban/suburban, they might sell OK there.

I've got mini-pumpkins ripening, going to bring those next week (though I swore I'd wait til Sept), maybe some gourds and check the nursery for mums too since the grocery stores/Walmart, etc. are putting mums out now.

My neighbor says herbs are the thing - maybe they are, but there's another vendor selling them. And I seem to be an herb killer. Maybe I ignore them and spend too much time on tomatoes, peppers, and cukes.

    Bookmark   August 25, 2012 at 1:33PM
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Ajsmama- Sounds to me like you need to find a bigger market. If there are only a few vendors, chances are you are only getting a few potential customers coming to that market. Also, you need a large display of items to draw people to your stand. If you are only displaying a few pints of this, and a couple of that, most people will walk right past and not even look. You need something to draw people to your stand and make them stop. Then you can chat to them and try to sugest something for them to try.

Cole- If you bought planters at $2.50 and planted them and are selling them for $5, you are not making any money.
The empty pot could be resold for $5.

    Bookmark   August 25, 2012 at 1:39PM
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I had a table full of stuff - of course the green beans were in a 2 gal bucket and the pickling cukes were in a 1 gal so you had to come over to see what was in them. But last night I had 4 dishpans full of tomatoes(didn't weigh them but I'd say over 5 lbs of each type) angled on crates on the ground in front of the table, a dishpan full of large zukes on the cooler next to them, the scale and 2 buckets along with 7 pints of cherry toms, a basket of slicing cukes, and 1/2 peck basket overflowing with smaller zukes and crookneck on the 6ft long table and it was packed.

I am pretty small - only have about 1/10 acre in production, that's about as much as I can keep up with by myself. And I try to grow a variety of things right now so I can see what sells. I have over 100 tomato plants, but not everything is ripe right now (the new potatoes are past and the storage ones aren't ready yet), and some of course isn't marketable.

I've got to do better on succession planting, high or low tunnels should help with that. I actually have a lot of empty space in the beds right now but too short a season to figure out what to do after the potatoes were done and I finally pulled the snow peas and lettuce. Though actually the mini pumpkins are taking over where I had the lettuce and chard. Had to pull the cukes this week, and the edamame is done now too.

    Bookmark   August 25, 2012 at 4:00PM
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Have faith. This is only the 2nd year for us selling vegetables at the markets, and to be honest there are times whether it seems worth it. If it weren't for the CSA influx at the beginning of the year, growing veggies for sales at market wasn't worth it last year. That's changing this year slowly.

For the markets I concentrate on a few items. Everything I have planted out in the blocks does not go to market. My Leaf Lettuce salad mix, mixed pints of cherry tomatoes, & eggplants are the only things I consistantly bring to market in a certian quanity. The consumer has come to recgonize that I will have those few items when others will sell out. If something else goes it is because I have an over abdunace of it for the CSA.

I think it all comes down to marketing, how are you different from the others? For us it's sustainability. Livestock feed the vegeies, unsellable produce feeds the livestock. We started out with pork & poultry products in 1995 and added the veggies in 2005 to help in rotating the pastures.

    Bookmark   August 25, 2012 at 5:39PM
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Cole- If you bought planters at $2.50 and planted them and are selling them for $5, you are not making any money.
The empty pot could be resold for $5.

I don't mean any disrespect by saying this, but that is exactly what I am wanting the customer to think! I have had a lot of sales jobs, and I have always made the most money when the other person thought they were the one ripping me off.

I have about $2.85 total in the planter that I sell for $5 and can fit two of them per square foot in the greenhouse. In more affluent areas, I could get $8-$10, but people where I live tend to be poor and not really understand "container gardening." They just think they're buying some nice lettuce and getting a free planter.

Lettuce and greens only take about three weeks to get to selling size. It comes out to about $5/sq ft every 30 days. I have about 500 sq ft of useable floor space, which is doubled with one layer of shelving. So, *theoretically* the planter that I seem to be selling at a loss could make a profit of $5,000/month from my 14'x48' greenhouse, a structure that cost about that much to build. Everything was an experiment for me this year, but I still grossed almost two thousand in the two month season. Next year, I want to get a lot closer to that $10,000 potential. The key is to find as many people as possible who think they are taking advantage of me :)

    Bookmark   August 25, 2012 at 6:41PM
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I was hoping the sustainability part would be a big selling point, apparently not in this market. I think the MM really dominates the produce market just b/c the family has been in town for 3 generations and selling to the public the whole time, and she established this market. My farm has been in the family for 5 generations (her DH's grandfather used to clean out my great-uncle's chicken coops for the free fertilizer!) but we're in a different town 7 miles away, and have only been selling produce to the public for 2 years ;-)

I know it sounds like I only brought 5 lbs of each thing, but since I sold 3 lbs of "volunteer" tomatoes and about that many BWs, and still had lots left, I'm going to estimate I took 7-8lbs of volunteers, 6-7 lbs of BWs, 5 lbs BKs, 3 lbs CP, 5 lbs Glaciers, actually weighed 5.25 lbs cherry toms, 2 gal (3 lbs?) green beans, 3 lbs pickling cukes, 2 lbs slicers, 6 small zukes, 2 crookneck, 6 large (2 pounders!) zukes plus the last pint of edamame. Still not much I know, I have taken more green beans and zukes before, and the tomatoes are just starting to come in, edamame is on the way out and was an experiment, cukes are dying too. I've got to rely on the tomatoes and hopefully the peppers will start sizing up (and the hot peppers ripening) soon, I've got the pumpkins and gourds coming in as well as the last of the potatoes, only 5 more weeks of market.

While I'm trying to get established in berries (planted strawberries and cultivated blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries to supplement the wild ones), I was hoping to gain a niche market selling the heirloom tomatoes and testing the waters for potatoes and edamame this year. Not too many farmers grow potatoes or edamame around here, and no home gardeners do that I know of. I don't want to be known for the cheapest produce, just the freshest, best-tasting, and unique.

Went to my uncle's house for dinner tonight - he thinks I should get into hydroponic flowers just b/c someone he knows in MA has done well with them. I'm just not a flower person, and hydroponics to me means chemical fertilizers (though I guess you could use fish emulsion), anyway, sounds like a big investment to me and really getting away from our roots...

    Bookmark   August 25, 2012 at 10:24PM
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Cole, you are lying to yourself if you think it only cost you 35 cents for the growing media, seeds/plants, water, fertilizer, labor, handling, transportation and time to sell them at market. Do you want to work for free?

    Bookmark   August 25, 2012 at 10:38PM
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little_minnie(zone 4a)

I truly feel you have to persevere to gain trust and establish clientele, especially when you are a one person act and there are big farms there. Sometimes I still see certain people pass me by and I wonder why! An acquaintance who didn't know I sold there did that for weeks and one day I stopped her and said 'hey its me, why do you always skip my booth?' She didn't have an answer so it didn't help.
So the first year is really tough in getting a good reputation, learning to price and learning what to bring and how to present it. I think if a person doesn't improve a lot in year 2 something is wrong.I read a lot of market books and websites to get ideas. Now in my fourth year there is a huge rush at me when the bell rings and I get a lot of 20s which shows I am the first they go to.

    Bookmark   August 25, 2012 at 10:46PM
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jrslick (North Central Kansas, Zone 5B)

The past two years have been the hardest market years I have ever had. Between Relentless Heat and drought and a weak economy, you have had to be on your "A" game all the time to make things work both growing and selling.

I have sold at my hometown market for 8 years and every year it keeps getting better. More regular vendors, more regular customers. It hasn't been easy. I am the market president, manager, head of marketing, secretary, treasurer, Public relations, event organizer and in charge of complaints. My wife and I decided if we want something, we just do what ever it takes to make it work. We get no payment to do all this. The only thing we get is a stronger market to sell our produce at. Which in the end is what we want.

2 years isn't a very long time to sell. I started selling in a different town 7 years ago too. It was a Wednesday market. It is in the hometown I grew up in. It was ok, but it was a stagnant market. They wanted to keep doing the same old thing and wonder why they weren't growing. Due to other issues, I switched my Wednesday market to a much larger town of 40,000 people (when the college students are there). I was really doubting my decision when people walked by my nice stuff and bought it from the people they "knew". Things picked up when I started to bring in early tomatoes, not bought and resold, and things started to take off.The following year, one of the larger only local producers had a devastating hail storm in early June. Took out most of his above ground plantings. That is when my sales started to take off. I had things he didn't have. People had to buy from me, or not buy at all. People started to recognize me as "Their Farmer". Also selling a superior product didn't hurt (their words, not mine). I also asked my more vocal customers to tell their friends about me. That really helped. Now I have customers who make a special trip to this market to buy a certain item and then they leave. As Minnie said, I am the first stop because I have crisp new $20's. I have had to bring extra $10's and $5's just to make sure I don't have problems.

Breaking into a new market is hard. You have to not only grow and sell produce, you have to sell yourself. Most weekday markets are hard too. The people want to get in, get their stuff and leave. The weekend markets are usually more of a Social event. Easier to get people to talk.

One thing to help break into a market is a little lower prices, then raise them over the years. I am not saying cheap, just slightly lower. Not undercutting, but make your stuff look appealing price wise and visually. You need to keep a clean stall, table cloths, neat containers to display in, and literature, recipes, and pictures. After a few years you can get lazier on this, if needed, but always have things available. Once school starts, I still attend market on Wednesday evenings. It starts at 4 pm and school gets out at 3:15. I usually roll into my stall at 3:45 and I only have time to set up tent, tables and put stuff out to sell. During the summer I have more time.

I also agree with Cole, I try to not compete with other vendors. I beat them to the market. I want to be the first place they buy an item. You always remember your first taste of spring or summer. Then you keep going back there to be reminded of that taste. That is why I have 6 high tunnels, use low tunnels, grow on black plastic, transplant everything to get the earliest start possible. It isn't easy, but it sure pays off!

About selling. I am to the point in the year, that if I don't have $150 to $200 worth of stuff to sell (outside of jelly) I don't go on Wednesdays and save it for Saturday market. It is just too much to get up at 5 am pack coolers with produce and ice, load, get the kids up dressed, fed and to school. Then teach all day and bust chops to get to market to sell for 3 hours (4-7) drive home, unload help get kids to bed and then grade papers until late. Not to mention get everything harvested,processed and packed the night before.

Also, how are you displaying things? If someone has to come and look in a bucket to see what you are selling, they won't. Get that stuff out, put it in a shallow box/tray (not cardboard beer flat pet peeve of mine) and show it off. I like to use new, clean 1020 web flats. They clean up, stack up for easy storage and look nice.

Also, try to make it look like you have more stuff by combining products or putting them in smaller containers. Also, sell on as few tables as possible. I usually set up 5 to 6 6 foot tables and as I sell out, I keep moving it towards the middle until I can take a table down. I keep doing this all market. It also makes tear down faster.

I did a special Saturday market in the town I usually do my Wednesday market it. I was limited to one 10 by 10 stall, but I made everything fit. I just tried to stack it high and watched it fly!

In short, keep your head up and try again.


    Bookmark   August 26, 2012 at 1:11AM
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I've been really trying to work on presentation - usually use baskets for rpoduce (though they don't all match like Jay's), the green beans I've been doing in a bucket I can stick in a cooler halfway through market to keep crisp, I tell people walking by I have them if the bucket is in there (sometimes I have 2 buckets and keep the larger one in the cooler). Pickling cukes are in ice water in another small bucket, I've had many people think they were in brine and ask about buying pickles to eat right there, I just tell them it's ice water and I would have to check with health dept about selling pickles ready to eat. Tomatoes were separated by variety in matching white perforated plastic stacking baskets about the size of dishpans, propped at angles in 2 tiers on stacked wooden boxes in front of the table. "CT Grown" placards with variety (and "Slow Food Ark of Taste on some, "Volunteer" Tomatoes - Your guess is as good as mine! got a few chuckles) in each bin, clipped to handle of buckets. Prices on a large white board on tripod at front of stall. I just don't have a banner with farm name. Jay, is that like a political "lawn sign" size sign at the end of your table? Thinking of having some made up but they're $25-30 each. I do have a little metal box with business cards in front of my scale, people have been taking them but I haven't gotten any emails/phone calls from them (I don't have a website). Lots of people ask if I will be there every week but I haven't got too many "regulars" yet. I don't know if I can count last year as 1st year at market b/c I only went for half the season (Aug and Sept) since I didn't have anything til then. But for example there's 1 guy who always bought peppers from me, he did buy arugula early this season, but he doesn't buy anything else - no tomatoes, cukes, nothing. He's not at market every week, but at least when he is he stops by to see what I have. In fact, a lot of my "regulars" aren't there every week, kind of disappointing when I have something I know they like (I've even held things like my last pint of wild blackberries back for someone and then they don't come so I put it out last minute - I know I can end up bringing it home that way but I don't mind).

I don't go to market (7 miles away) unless I have at least $100 to sell - if I don't have that much produce I grab cases of jams/jellies though if I have a lot of produce I don't bring them (I'd need another table) and I don't like bringing them out repeatedly during a summer like this one over 90 degrees (and hotter in the truck!).

The MM has 2 stalls, 3 or 4 tables in a U across the 20x20 space, some bushels overturned like Jay does for display (not stacked like that - how do you get them to stay?) but no tableclothes, some things like corn just in big mesh bags opened and spilling out, really just overwhelming with quantity and more bags (and flats - though I think tomato boxes not beer LOL!) on park bench behind or on ground, she also sets up on the side with the residential street and parks her truck right behind her stall and seems to have MORE stuff in there, just amazing how much they bring to this little market. She does 6-7 markets a week, plus CSA and farmstand.

But I did remark to olive oil vendor that there was early traffic this week, seems like it never really picks up til 4:30 or so (market starts at 3) Friday night, of course this week she was late, got there right at 3 so I helped her set up the EZ Up, she was still setting up her display when I started getting customers - with $20's. At 5:30 I had to send DS over to bakery to get change for a $20 b/c I had 3 of them and only 5 singles left. Of course after that I didn't get more customers ;-)

    Bookmark   August 26, 2012 at 4:56AM
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Have you kind of "done the math" on the market to see what the potential is there? How much money gets spent there on produce per vendor and how does that compare to what you make? What does the vendor most like you make,if there is any?

I know that the markets I go to the vendors most like me sell between $300-$500 per market. So, I feel that is my goal, and if I don't reach that, even if sometimes falling a little below or a little above, then "it is me". Unfortunately after a great 5 month run, I realize the garden probably won't allow me to keep up with those numbers for at least a few "it is me."(these are year round markets and my goal is two markets a week)

One the possibility of a new market, can you do both for a few weeks and see what happens? Have you gone to the market you are thinking about and walked around and took good a around? What is different and what is the same compared to the one you go to?

Jay, has said it before and I agree, what other people sell for is not to worry about. Your good customers will even things out for you because they won't haggle too much out of appreciation for what you are doing for them. I have never seen a newbie's low prices seriously hurt anyone, I don't think resellers hurt "grow it your selfers", who are in the ball park of doing it right.Not around here anyway. Maybe the resellers could hurt diy types in a food desert of low income people? It probably wouldn't pay to be a market grower in that situation. A market with lots of newbies would be a big red flag. A good market is filled to capacity with vendors afraid to lose their spot(again around here that is true). A year or more could pass with no new produce vendors.

I would really try to think about whether or not good potential is there first. If it is there, and I can't enjoy it, "it's me". My wife helps me meet the potential in a consultative sort or way. Maybe a good sounding board in a friend or a family member could help, someone honest and extremely constructive in their advice giving who would help you check things out at the market. Other vendors, one market manager, and this site have helped me tremendously.

    Bookmark   August 26, 2012 at 11:47AM
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There are some very good posts and advice on this thread.

Regarding the hydroponic flowers, that certainly can be done without using chemical ferts. There are a ton of organic hydroponic nutrients on the market. The real issue is whether you can re-coup your investment and eventually make a profit on the endeavor. I would think that pest control would be the hardest to accomplish organically.

One selling trick that my family uses, and I don't know how many markets have these, but our state distributes $2 food coupons to low-income senior citizens that we can take for payment; the state re-reimburses us later. The customer can't get change back, so we price our produce in $2 increments, to make our stuff easy to buy. No one will buy a $1.50 box of berries with a $2 coupon...until the price gets changed to $2. It's psychology.

And regarding my $5 container gardens, I buy my supplies in bulk, so I promise my media, seed, and fert costs for one garden really is just 35 cents. It's that amount by which I'm breaking my double-my-money minimum margins, but the $5 price is just too attractive. I also tell customers that I will pay them $1 cash for the empty planter if they bring it back, so their net price after rebate is really just $4. I sold a lot by making that point, but almost no one ever brings the planter back to get their dollar; it's too nice. My grandma refunds .25 on her jelly jars. Customers do bring them back, but most people refuse the quarter out of politeness.

My grandparents have been successful market gardeners for 35 years. One of the things they always told me was "your time doesn't count." If you do the math and divide your profit by your hours, it's never going to be minimum wage, or at least not for a long time, until your business has been built up over the years. I think it's the same for any entrepreneur in any business. That's why most people prefer having a job to having a business, and usually takes both to support a person while the business is being built.

    Bookmark   August 26, 2012 at 12:58PM
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little_minnie(zone 4a)

"I don't go to market (7 miles away) unless I have at least $100 to sell - if I don't have that much produce I grab cases of jams/jellies though if I have a lot of produce I don't bring them (I'd need another table) and I don't like bringing them out repeatedly during a summer like this one over 90 degrees (and hotter in the truck!)."

Well here is the problem. You gotta pile it high to watch it fly. A vendor with too little stuff is not appealing. Have you ever gone to a garage sale and saw they had very little? You just want to back away unnoticed.
At my first market in 2009, I made the mistake of adding up what I had and it was almost $400 worth. I think I sold less than $100. I haven't added up what I bring anymore but I make over $200 at a mediocre market and bring lots home so I guess at $600-700 worth.

Pics from this week. Set up is very important. Tablecloths and nice natural baskets. The New Farmers' Market book stresses all this.

    Bookmark   August 26, 2012 at 2:23PM
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Cole, Sorry, but my time DOES count. Maybe 35 years ago you could afford to work for free, but not any more. Unless you sell from your house, you also have the expense of fuel, vehicle, insurances, market fees, taxes(if you actually report the income) and many other factors that alot of people don't consider and then they wonder why they did not make any profit.

    Bookmark   August 26, 2012 at 4:11PM
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Yes, you have to figure your time, but unfortunately that part doesn't count off of your taxable income, just the bottom line. Taxable income is very disappointing after you figure EVERYTHING that is involved. Don't forget those taxes, they really add up.

Just 2-3 years doesn't get you to be an established vendor, but you have to start somewhere.

Those senior/WIC vouchers do add up, one year was $11,000 just in them. Approximately 1/3 of entire sales.

One thing I've found out over the years in my area at least, once the 'back to school' ads come out and people start buying school clothes and such, the sales drop about 50%. A few week later, the sales come back up, but only about to the 75% level max. Unfortunately it's usually the end of season and everyone is getting tired of all the work. Between the 2 things, people start to get disappointed. Each year this has happen, so I expect it.

My first few years, I didn't think about all the hours of work that we were doing to make so little (per hour). But we enjoyed working the market and meeting the people, so it was worth the low pay. Plus we were our own bosses, that meant alot to us.

I only wish we could have charged for our entire time of working, worrying and everything else, but it doesn't add up. Or at least not to minimum wage or more.


    Bookmark   August 26, 2012 at 6:25PM
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I have to look into the vouchers, I think the state has 5 or 6 different programs, MM told me last year not to worry about it, I had 2 people ask me last week if I took them (I've never been asked before, must not be many people getting them at this market and the more affluent markets I'm looking at might not have anyone at all). I don't even know which kind they were, didn't get a good look when the 1 lady flashed what looked like a checkbook at me, but I just told them that I hadn't had the training. So I lost $6 in sales.

Today (if it stops raining) I have another "experimental" market, the one in rich town that's only once a month. Last month didn't do so well there but maybe they'll have more traffic today (again, if no rain, and at least they're in a parking lot on a main road, not on a muddy town green). I picked lots more tomatoes and zukes yesterday (must have 10 lbs of cherry toms alone), unfortunately won't have green beans since I don't want to go out in the rain and pick them today, I also have Cubanelles, jalapenos, hope they sell in this market. I'll bring jellies too since they sold last month.

But about "piling it high" - you have to bring $700 worth of stuff to sell $200? I probably won't have that much for a while since I just don't have that much land in production (but might have a chance to get hoop houses, pots, etc. from retiring nurseryman so will at least have extended season next year). But it just seems like a lot of waste. I pick tomatoes ahead of time, to keep them from critters and splitting, whatever's close to ripe I bring to market (some people like to buy some for later in the week so not quite ripe's OK). Of course I was also digging potatoes a day or 2 ahead. But everything else is harvested within 24 hours of market, so there's a limit to what I can do (as well as what the plants produce, though I leave zukes on the vine for example even though they get big, the big ones sell and I'd rather not leave them in fridge or worse unrefrigerated for more than a day).

How does a small operation (I know minnie is on her own) manage to pick and pack such a large volume in a short time? And what do you do with the $500 worth of produce left at the end of market?

    Bookmark   August 28, 2012 at 7:08AM
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Lately, I have been taking $500 or so to market and selling $300-$400. It all fits in the the cab and bed of my truck in one layer or coolers and tubs. Not even really packed. The truck is a 8' bed though. I could get it in my wife's mini van with the seats removed too.

A lot of the produce is in bags and boxes in the refrigerators by the day before a market(beans, summer squash, a few kinds of cucumbers, sometimes root crops. Then,anything that can take a day without refrigeration gets picked the night before, tomatoes, oranges for me in season, melons stuff like that. In the morning leaf and root crops get picked and go into tubs. Then I pick basil. Load up and go.

There is no way I want to take nearly 3 times what I am selling. Maybe it is a benefit of being small but there just seems to be no need or reason. currently I do back to back markets. The morning of the second I get up and pick greens again, stock up on anything that I need more of and go. By the end of the second day I give away, or trade most of whatever is left over which isn't much..and some goes to our kitchen, the chickens or the compost pile.

I see most vendors take home about 1/4 to 1/3 of what they brought in . One employee of a "high end" organic farm has a huge setup and has to take at least half of it back to the farm.

    Bookmark   August 28, 2012 at 11:12AM
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By piling it high, doesn't mean alot of any. It means keep the baskets/containers filled ALMOST to over-flowing. Never ever let the basket/contain get low enough for people not to see the items by walking by. They should be able to see without stopping to look inside of something, some just won't stop without seeing something that attracts them. This technique doesn't just apply to vegetables, but ALL displays.

My leftovers are either processed for family use or feed to our cows which become beef for us and others later. Before we had animals, it went into the compost piles for the raccoons to dig out and eat. I had to make sure that the compost piles were far far away from the gardens, or they would go into the garden and pick their own.


    Bookmark   August 28, 2012 at 12:02PM
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I've got a short-bed quad cab with a toolbox. It worked well to put the stacking baskets of tomatoes in the toolbox last week, table, EZ Up, cooler and boxes in the bed, plastic underbed boxes with my scale, pint baskets, signs, etc. and the few display baskets (half pecks and such) in the back, I can stack a lot if I flip the rear split seat(s) up. Not sure I could fit $500 worth of stuff though (unless it's small like cherry toms and edamame LOL).

I hate packing a lot of produce back up to bring home. Jelly I don't mind, I know it will keep. I wasn't sure I had enough to support 2 markets/wk, certainly not back to back, but if sales are poor at the first one it does help to have another the next day. The MM has so many markets per week (plus farmstand) that she has no trouble bringing a lot - esp. if she leaves half on the truck - just in case she needs it. I don't know how she keeps track of what was picked when and when/if she should compost it, but maybe she sells so much she doesn't have to worry about it.

I'm still trying to prove the business will work to DH, so only have my home fridge and a very small dorm fridge I picked up by the side of the road. I don't know if/when he'll let me get/run another fridge - maybe not til we build a shed. He wants the garage and basement back.

    Bookmark   August 28, 2012 at 12:07PM
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Once you really need it maybe you could pick up a cheap utility trailer to go with the short bed or build side boards for it. Side boards are a really inexpensive option and the side boards can be used as tables for your stall. I see people take much more produce than I do with mini-pick ups with these side boards.

    Bookmark   August 28, 2012 at 1:32PM
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Yes, put some cheap sideboards on the truck. Or I've put the tables on each side of truck bed, to raise the amount that can be stacked without blowing out.

After awhile you can pack alot into a small area. I now can pack $500 into the back of a Blazer with the seats down, no problem. First year, I was barely getting $100 into a Honda Civic hatchback, seat down.

A friend of ours used their truck with sideboards. They would put a 'shelf' on top of the sideboards and strap the tables onto that. Then they also added boards across the sideboards at different levels, allowing them to have extra shelves.

I have noticed that people that use baskets and other such, use alot of space with just those items. I quit using such when I needed to bring alot of produce. I used the boxes/containers that I displayed in, to transport the produce in. I also found that squared boxes worked better than rounded baskets that couldn't stack. My boxes also fit inside of each other as much as possible when empty, It made the vehicle look less full as end of day. When I emptied a box, it went back into vehicle at that time, so I didn't have to deal with it again, til I got home.


    Bookmark   August 28, 2012 at 3:04PM
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Sideboards are great. Take some time and build a good set, paint them up pretty and put you farm name on them for some free advertising. If you plan them out before you build (ask me how I know it's easier to plan then build) they can be made to easily remove when you want and it's easy to put shelving across the top of the bed for shelving. Get really uptown and you can get a canvas cover for them to keep the sun and the rain off (not to mention the birds that think anything is a good target if you know what I mean). It's a great step between a regular truck and a trailer. I have a topper on my truck (Dad did on his old truck but not the new) which is nice but can be difficult to load and unload (however it's where I carry my tools so there is little room for anything else). We went many years using those trucks but eventually stepped up to a cargo trailer and could not be happier. Everything we need for the market is aboard (tables, tents, all the sundries that have to go) - just load the produce and go. We are doing two Saturday AM markets now and having all the things aboard and ready to go is a real timesaver. We go to the first, drop what we need there then Dad and Kathy take off to the second location while I set up. With a little planning we can be unloaded and start setting up in about 1/2 hour.


    Bookmark   August 28, 2012 at 7:56PM
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little_minnie(zone 4a)

I do believe it is important to completely fill your tables- 2 or 3 large tables- to look like a decent outfit. The farmers that go to many markets per week bring the stuff home, into a cooler of some kind, and to another market the next day. For those who don't do many markets they have to find something else to do with the excess. In 2009 it was a roadside stand for me. Since then it has been CSAs. Not that they get the crap left over but they do get some of what goes to market. Some things are storable- like onions, garlic and winter squash. Those go in the barn until next week. I also bring dried herb seasoning mixes $3 each. I keep those in cool and dark between markets. Probably $60 worth. Most vendors bring some canned goods and bring again and again. The perishable stuff I don't sell is often preserved the next day. I dry all the herbs and give away the flowers that don't sell. I will freeze beans and peppers.
I generally bring around
20 quarts of tomatoes
15 quarts of peppers
3 quarts of eggplant
4 pints of hot peppers
12 quarts of summer squash
1 peck of burpless cucs
3-4 pints of edamame
15 or more pounds of green beans
3 bunches of kale
2 bunches of chard
5 bunches of mixed color carrots
3 bunches of beets
1/2 squat bushel each large and medium onions
1 peck garlic
2 bushels of melons
1 bushel of winter squash
6-7 flower bouquets or more
2 of each herb plus more basil
2 baked goods until baked goods became too plentiful there
20-24 dried herb seasoning packets
This is my late summer list

That equaled $550 or so. I hadn't calculated that in a while!
Soon I will bring fall herb plants to put indoors, pumpkins and gourds and corn shocks.

    Bookmark   August 28, 2012 at 10:12PM
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Before this last few years, Minnie's list would have not lasted me 1 hr let alone 6 hrs of our market. I used a 1T, 12' cargo van, full each time. All of my tables and extras were put and kept in 24/7, all season long, only coming out for cleaning and displaying. They had 'their' spots and I loaded around and on top of them.

Tom, glad to hear Dad is still working it.

    Bookmark   August 29, 2012 at 9:16AM
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little_minnie(zone 4a)

Different markets Marla.

    Bookmark   August 30, 2012 at 11:06PM
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Sideboards is a good idea - I'll have to figure out how to make them fit in back of the toolbox. An extension for the tailgate (so stuff doesn't fall out the back, after the sides are higher) would be good too. I don't think I can put the farm name on them though since our car insurance was adamant that we don't have a sign on the door(s). I think they think people won't note the plate number, but will see/remember the farm name and then put in false claims.

I haven't had many green beans (the 1 week I did have 6 lbs we had a tornado warning so I didn't go to market), sold/ate all I picked yesterday already, but I have a couple bushels of zukes and over 50 lbs of tomatoes, going to try some mini pumpkins though it's going to be 90 today. Have to go out and pick Cubanelles and hot peppers even though they haven't been selling, I sold the few bell peppers I had ready last night.

Taking orders from people at DH's work is easier and more profitable than going to market - I just wish the neighbors would stop by (next door neighbor bought 2 lbs of beans last week when I brought leftovers by after market, I was just going to give them to her, another neighbor called yesterday and wants 1 zuke, I'll have to stop by and see what size, we're playing phone tag). I really have to see about putting a stand up at the end of the driveway. How's the honor system working for those who have tried it?

Best thing would be CSA/subscription sort of thing next year, even if I have to give refunds if I can't produce. Funny, my uncle sent me email from Local Harvest about CSAs, and when I replied that I was thinking of starting 1 for friends and family as a trial run next year, was he in, I never heard back ;-)

    Bookmark   August 31, 2012 at 7:09AM
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I've had the honor system, the stand was 1/4 away from house. I thought it was doing well, until I noticed that things were leaving without payment. I started weighing exactly what I placed there, also counted individual items (melons/zukes/cukes, etc). found out that I was getting paid for 1/2 of what was leaving. after 2-3 weeks of that, the stand was closed, unless we could man it.

Could you set up a CSA for Hubby's co-workers?

    Bookmark   August 31, 2012 at 8:39AM
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I was thinking it might not work out, though neighbor who's teaching DD to ride says it seems to work for other farms. Someone posted on Veggie (or Tomato?) forum last month about leaving things out and having everything taken w/o payment. And my driveway is 700ft long - though next door neighbor keeps an eye on everything (she told DH she saw bus driver and monitor making trial run yesterday, they didn't even know how to get back to main road 1/2 mile away after they came down here, and they had a map!???)

Yes, I will definitely include those 2 coworkers who have been ordering this summer in the "IPO" if I decide to offer a CSA.

    Bookmark   August 31, 2012 at 10:40AM
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If you can get enough at Hubby's work, it might be work a trip into town even if he isn't working. I would ask this year, a market survey of what veggies/fruits that people buy. No obligation, just a survey. It should help you and others if you posted the results.

My lane is 1800' long and my neighbor (at front of lane) caught people loading bags and not paying.

    Bookmark   August 31, 2012 at 12:00PM
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little_minnie(zone 4a)

I had a self serve stand in 2009 and it was great until the end of the season when the money kept disappearing. I have seen a cool video on ways people do self serve and ways to keep the money locked away. In 2010 I was going to get a locked box but it was hard to find. I didn't end up setting up the stand since I was short on produce after starting the CSA.

I pack huge amounts of produce into my little Ford Ranger. I put the tables upright on each side of the bed so they block boxes from sliding off. Then I load double or triple high all the way to the end gate. Then I shut the end gate and lay the canopy back there with another table to keep it from falling out the back. Then bungee the canopy so it doesn't slip. For some reason I have a harder time packing when I leave market.
I suppose it is around 15 totes/coolers/banana boxes and 3 cinderblocks, 4 water jugs, 3 tables and 1 canopy. Inside the cab is the flowers and herbs, baked goods, my cooler, boxes and bags, fan and additional baskets.

    Bookmark   August 31, 2012 at 9:15PM
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Whoohoo! Don't know what happened, I thought since school has started we wouldn't get that much traffic (as people rush home to meet the bus), but I had 1 lady at 2:55, I wasn't even done writing my sign yet. Busy all night right up til 6. Lots of $20's - and one lady halfway through market handed me a $20, saw me fumbling (I'd made so much change already), said she'd go buy corn and come back for her $1.68 worth of tomatoes and she did (they weren't even heirlooms)!

Not much squash selling any more, and funny not a lot of heirlooms, but only 1 person bought more than 1 "volunteer" as she was making sauce and I had them marked down to $1/lb (had to ask less than my $2 special on Glaciers). And I didn't sell many of my "special of the day" tomatoes either but OMG I could not keep up restocking the pints of cherry tomatoes! I only had room on the table for 9 pints at a time, had the rest in a bin in the back of the truck, still $3/pint but everyone wanted them today, and 1 person noted they were a "good price" (think other vendor still had them for $4/pint but I can't see asking more per lb for Sweet 100's than for heirlooms).

I did mess up on pricing my jalapenos at $2/lb, grocery store had them (I checked after market) for $4.99/lb but since I didn't have that many I didn't lose much.

And I did have more of the people who bought heirlooms from me last week come back for more this week - one woman bought $15 worth.

Actually had 1 couple come buy from me and pass by the free samples of flavored oils and vinegars next door without a glance. Made us look at each other with our jaws dropping!

    Bookmark   August 31, 2012 at 9:17PM
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Problem with honor system isn't so much people stealing the money (as long as you have box bolted down) but just not paying as Marla said. Though I know someone who sells meat that way - self-serve out of freezers (eggs in cooler), but the store is just on the side of the barn, close to house and road, and someone's always around. I don't know how often they check the balance vs the stock, still would be really hard to catch "drive-offs" but I guess they don't have a problem.

My quad cab has a 5 ft bed and the toolbox takes up a lot of room - can slide the EZ end under, and fit 2 bins of veggies under too tonight but it's tight - fit a good amount inside the toolbox but have less than 4ftx4ft space I can stack things in - and without sideboards can't stack too high either.

    Bookmark   August 31, 2012 at 9:32PM
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Holiday weekends are always busy. Plus if the temps are going down, people start to scramble for the goodies of summer.

    Bookmark   August 31, 2012 at 9:35PM
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Maybe that was it - I actually expected fewer people, between the first week of school and the holiday weekend (we've had a lot of people over the summer say "I can't buy that much, I'm going on vacation or I'm just visiting and staying in a B&B/camping whatever). Temps were high though not the 90 predicted (so I didn't bring pumpkins but a regular asked for them - though he won't be here next week).

1 person did ask if this was the last market, I told him no it goes into October. Don't know if traffic will drop off as the weather gets really cool a month from now. I don't remember last year - thought market ended around Labor Day, though I think I remember having to rush to get my entries into the Columbus Day weekend Grange fair after market Friday night?

I should have planted winter squash - at least I have pumpkins and my second planting of straightneck squash. Think I can try another planting of cukes?

    Bookmark   August 31, 2012 at 9:49PM
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You can try, but not to totally expect. You never know with Mother Nature, it could be a early winter, or late, she doesn't want to share that info. If it looks good, you can mention that you MIGHt have cukes even after your market ends. Our big market has extended the markets into Dec, instead of every week after end of October, it averages 2x per month in Nov and then 1st Sat in Dec (same day as our Christmas parade). You might ask about extending if there are enough interested vendors.

So many markets end Labor Day weekend, one my kids attended was one of them. Of course, in 2 weeks the entire town has a huge festival, and some of the vendors 'do' that then.

BTW, I've found that if you have a market the day or day before a holiday, the market is usually a good one. but the day after, forget it.


    Bookmark   September 1, 2012 at 11:21AM
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I've got 50 day cukes and in fact have some Little Leaf in hanging baskets (didn't do so well but still alive) that I might try transplanting. Another neighbor bought lb of tomatoes and a large zuke today when she saw me coming home from grocery store she walked down to house, I told her I was thinking of a CSA but she said she doesn't do well buying/eating veggies (lots rot in fridge) so she didn't even want to commit to $100 in advance for $10 worth of veggies per week over 12 weeks. But she does want a couple of pumpkins for the front porch.

    Bookmark   September 1, 2012 at 9:57PM
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CSA or prepays just doesn't work for some people.

    Bookmark   September 1, 2012 at 10:18PM
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