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Some Observations

Posted by dirtdigging101 7 - NC (My Page) on
Fri, Nov 9, 12 at 19:04

In the past i have grown and sold at local farmers markets. The last 3 years I have not. I have done a lot of observation, gone to a lot of markets and have gotten to know a lot of growers in my area. I live in Hickory, NC population of 35,000 and unemployment of 10 %.

In this area every one with a shovel and no job is growing and trying to sell. Most growers who made their living doing so now have part time jobs. We have a huge local flea mar ket at the fairgrounds on Thursday mornings. U can buy a lot of good local food at good prices. The local people from Laos are everywhere and doing well.

So the pie is divided up more than ever before. So I kept looking who is doing well. It is the good consistent bakers. And if no one else is there the flower grower. Any market with two cut flower growers and prices fall in half.

What else surprised me was the certified organ growers had lines of customers! They built there business in the beginning as a CSA.

Lastly, years ago, 1970 i think, I read that there is always a market for "Fancy" strawberries. Well at one small market I found a lady with Just that. Every one was getting 3.50 to 4.00 dollars a quart. She got twice that and sold out quick. I could not believe it as I stood there talking to her and she kept taking money. They were big red berries with lots of air space in the berry box due to their size. She only sold pints and no quantity discount. And yes they were organic. I looked very close at some baskets and counted 8 or 9 berries in each basket. Most baskets had 9 big berries. And I thought to myself she is getting like 40 cents a berry.

Ok I now what i am doing now, Strawberry trials! And when i see all the eggs at the market I am thinking strawberries in egg cartons. Cheaper by the dozen? ok starting to ramble.


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: Some Observations

The strawberry business in my area is about growing under plastic to get an early crop. I'm in a more rural town, and our market does not even have a certified organic grower.

Your location near the warm US Southeast and more temperate climate might make things different for you, but for me in Zone 6 Illinois, greenhouse growing is where the money is. When I'm the first one at market with a product, customers fight over it, but when everyone else has the same thing, I don't even try. I'm focusing on early tomatoes and a few cucumbers, but I don't think the cukes return as much on a sq ft basis as the tomatoes.


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i'm trying plasticulture strawberries in a hoophouse this year. we'll see how it goes.


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I would love to grow some strawberries, I know they would be great sellers. I just don't have the labor to pick them. If I planted them in the High Tunnels, they would be ready before school is out. It is just really hard to teach and get home to harvest on time. I have a hard enough time with the things I do grow in the spring.

Also, with a new baby coming in early March, it is really going to be hard to get everything done.

Jay


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I have been growing not certified organic ever-bearing strawberries for years on plastic and in the spring and fall under plastic (move a hoop house over top) and i used to sell out pints at $4 but than the guy next to me started selling smaller berries for less and he got most of our business (even from the people who swear Organic/chem free is very important, more import than price, even-liars). this year I did not do farmers markets and concentrated on my farm store and CSA and started selling to a local Co-op/natural grocery and I believe (I have not tallied up what we made yet) we are very close to last year's take with a lot less work shlepping food and equipment to FM's each week and less cost as far as gas and vehicle wear and tear goes (by several thousand dollars as I know if the market van were in full use it would have had at least 3 major break downs this year and that alone would have costs several thousand to repair or $6K or more to replace (used cargo vans are pricy around here).

I noted last year (2011) that at the FM's there were a lot of new growers and they were most certainly taking around 40% of my business and they kept dropping prices and they only way to compete was to do so also which meant in the end our net income was down about 20% over the year before (and it had been going down for the past 3 years) and that is why we decided not to do FM's any longer.

I did note this year at the FM where I sold that along with my farm leaving two of the other big farms at that market also left along with about 1/2 the new growers. They probably figured out that farming is a lot of hard work for low pay, but you eat well, but working part time at the local stop and shop pays far better than working 90 hours a week growing for market with a lot less physical work.

All I know is I am sticking with my CSA, Farm store, co-op account and the very real possibility of selling to a food hub in Dayton, OH that will cater to restaurants and other institutions and staying away from FM's.


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I just noticed you are expecting Jay, Congratulations!!


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Congratulations Jay !! Babies are such fun. I'll be a grandma for the 7th time in May, so excited.
DEB


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RE: Some Observations

Congrats Jay. I guess you'll have to work even harder. LOL.

Lucy, I noticed that same thing happening to me a few years ago. This year, I did the market thing for a few days and noticed that people were selling ALL over the place. Some days there were more vendors than customers. After a few weeks of that, we stepped back and sent our stuff with others or to the auction. Didn't make much money, but I think we barely covered the costs. Planning on going back to a small local market next year, but we will be using up the left-over seeds and not buy much to produce. Not sure how much we will be producing, since only hubby and I will be regularly working the gardens.

The rest of the garden space will become cow pasture, which will feed us with beef, instead of veggies.

Marla


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Thanks everyone, we are kinda excited, kinda scared. You would think with 4 kids already, #5 would be a piece of cake.

About sales and Farmers Markets.

People are very tight with money, so am I. I had lots of people try to haggle on prices this year, more than before. My policy is the price on the card, is the price you pay. You don't do that at a grocery store, neither do I. Now with that said, if you are a good and regular customer I will add more to your purchase, throw in an extra bunch, give you something that we aren't selling much of on a weekly basis.

Sales were down, but also I think that is because of the drought and heat. We were lucky, with our high tunnels, that most of our tomato crop was ready to harvest in the 3 week prior and 1 week after July 4th. Sales were awesome then. We were doing 3-4 markets a week and kept picking more. Then we lucked out and our melons started up right at the end of the bulk tomato season, then we started paying the price for the drought.

We noticed several new vendors, many undercutting the regular folks. It made lots of people very mad. One guy wised up and made money off their dumbness. On new vender only sold tomatoes. He had tons. One of the regular old vendors sold some produce by mainly had wooden crafts. He would go by 60 pounds of tomatoes every week from this guy, walk 10 booths down and sell them for $2 a pound, every week for 5 to 6 weeks. He made 100% profit. The other guy wouldn't listen to raising his price.

I am struggling with my winter markets. I have a high supply and very low demand. I can't get people to order or buy. People just aren't spending money. I have lowered my prices 25 to 50 cents, to help out but it isn't working.

I wish I knew what to do. I have another 1200 seedlings to transplant. I am going to put them in, but I hope I don't have to eat THAT much salad!

Jay


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RE: Some Observations

Indeed the most difficult part of farming is connecting to consumers who want it! It is ridiculous with all the pro-local, naturalness now a days that you can bring beautiful, local seasonal produce to market and come home with most of it. FM markets and CSA customers both would rather have cake and pie than green veggies. I was so glad I had lots of green veggies to bring to the 11/3 market after I filled the CSAs but I hardly sold any. I did sell out on pie and cake and cranberry sauce.


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If you have a co-op grocery store nearby, you could ask if they are interested in buying from you. The one near me will always buy local if they can.

Good luck with the new addition :)


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All of this news is scary to me. I've sold at farmers markets in the past and thought of it as my fall back plan for the future. I bought a new house with more sun and better soil that is conveniently right down the street from the huge state run farmers market. I've been expanding the garden and planting fruit trees. I figured that when my day job finally ends I will be set to sell produce down the street. I work in a dying industry that maybe has 5 years left before total collapse. I'll be 55 in January, finding a good job will be difficult at my age. I talk to the vendors at the market and they all complain about poor sales. I just don't see many options other than growing food.


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trianglejohn, good luck with that idea. Unfortunately LOTS of people are thinking the same idea as you.


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Sales were still good, just they tapered off more than usual this fall. Growing veggies and selling them isn't the easiest way to make money, I can tell you that. It is fun and relaxing, to me.

I would keep up with your plans. I would also work on high tunnels, all my early stuff is always gone. Yes you have added expenses, but they pay for themselves in no time at all.

Jay


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Jay, how are your on-line sales doing this year?


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we are lucky to have the market we do here after reading through this. it is in a college town with a lot of upscale people who work at the college and the market has been good this year. our sales have tapered off as well now but i attribute that to my reluctance to transition to fall/winter crops from summer crops. i expect the late fall/winter market to be good as long as the weather is good since the market is outside.
growing in high tunnels is worth the investment. early tomatoes are the biggest money makers.


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The market that I was talking about is also a college town, and one of the oldest farmers market in the US. Once we found some college people to show up, they did buy, but only enough for 1 meal. They foreign students were some of the best customers, but it took a different style of selling and more time, also only buying for a day or 2.

This observation is considering the years from 2000 til 2012. As the economy was getting worse, the produce sales went down, but the plant sales went up until other vendors decided that what I was doing must be the thing to do and copied me. I was a major competition, and over the years other vendors would stand outside of my booth and just listen, then the next week, imitate what they saw. Gradually, vendors learned enough, and then undercut me. After a few years, the new vendors formed a committee and change the rules, making changes that would intentionally kick me out.

It hard to find out by helping a few people, that a group of them would backstab you. Makes you leery of helping anyone.


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Boulderbelt:

Online sales have been sluggish. Decent one week, slow the next. They are no where I would like them to be, but I also am not having to kill myself to keep up, which is nice too. One of my problems is my stuff lasts so long. If someone buys 2 bags of salad mix they can eat on it for over 2 weeks and it is still good. Sometimes I wish my stuff had shorter shelf life! :)

We have added several new customers and I think some customers just aren't ordering, don't want to order or aren't interested.

I have a small core group that order just about every week and they are the ones that keep my spirits up.

Jay


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RE: Some Observations

Even after the much needed infusion of some young, enthusiastic blood and a complete relocation, our market is still not what it ought to be. At various times, we attracted some "new" vendors, but eventually, it came down to the 5 or 6 of us regulars, most in their upper 80's-- a pt of cherry tomatoes for 50 cents. A $100 day is a rarity. Our other market completely dissolved when the wholesaler took over--3 large multicolored peppers for $1. What was once a local, thriving little market became a one-man show.

The drought certainly affected business in the summer, but like the rest of you, I've not seen the fall business like it should be. Restaurant sales have been very steady, and the online sales have been up and down but still pretty steady. I'm still moving quite a bit and have enough winter squash to be selling into January. Another mild winter will see cole crop sales for another month or so.

Overall, I'd say we probably did slightly better than last year. Fruit accounts for most of our profit while the veggies pay the bills. Of course, this summer wiped out a good portion of our bushes, which will be costly to replace. Three years of floods and now a drought have really taken their toll. Still, I really can't complain as to our progress overall. My goal of this being a retirement job is still questionable though.


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I have seen prices like that, it sucks. We have 2 big outfits at our market. One grows alot and brings in some. The other outfit brought in more than they grew all year. Their "migrant" help were sent back due to invalid green cards. It left them with no labor, so they just bought and resold more.

The stuff they bring in is mainly seconds and old stuff that is on its last day. However, it is usually cheap. Many of their customers buy it because they are cheap. I quit trying to compete and sell my stuff for what it is worth and explain why. It has been working.

$100 days, I wouldn't be going that is just not enough. Less than $200 and I get upset (unless it is bad weather or other explained events).

Jay


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Brook, we have one vendor in our local market like that. Until he brings stuff in, we can do rather well. As soon as he shows up, the prices hit the basement, due to him pricing so low. I can't say his stuff isn't quality, but he needs to raise his prices. He's just doing as a hobby during his retirement years.

Keep me in mind when you get pears next year, I may need to make a trip over.

Marla


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Are they going against your market rules by selling produce they didn't grow? The market I attend is supposed to be producer-only. Sometimes people cheat, but typically not with anything that is in direct competition with someone else. For example, one daily vendor had sweet corn in May. Even though it was absurd to call it "local produce," no one else had sweet corn, so no one cared.

Although under the law, a market can't set minimum prices, they certainly can enforce a "producer only" requirement.


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These markets, you CAN sell others produce. He just doesn't realize how much his work is worth. Other main market, you can sell others produce providing that you buy directly from grower AND only sell 30% or less of the total $$s per year, plus the other growers must be willing to have spot inspections at any time without notice.


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Cole, At this particular market, there is not a manager per se. Rather, it is the person in charge of tourism for this small town. As long as you pay the small yearly fee, pretty much anything is ok. People have tried to get it stopped but to no avail. This is sad because it was such a nice little market w/good vendors and a good supply of customers, but buyers usually think price over everything else. I have no problem w/vendors supplementing their stocks w/a few purchased items; but when everything comes from a warehouse and is sold as local, it totally defeats the locally grown priciple.

Jay, I stick to my prices, but I don't sell much until the old guys sell out. I do love them though and admire them for what they have done and are still doing. I just wish they realized diesel is $4/gallon and some of us still have bills to pay.

Marla, This was to be a breakout year of sorts as lots of our small perennials reached an age to begin bearing on a large scale. The drought fixed that though and really wiped out nearly all our blueberries, gooseberries, and currants. I also lost over 100 rhubarb plants. We had a great year for asparagus, and I'll be planting 3 more rows in back of the pond dam to help meet demand. Of course, that's another 3 year wait. Our fruit trees are still very young, but most bore for the first time and gave us great encouragement. The pears especially were impressive. We have both European and Asians. All bore a small crop and were both beautiful and delicious. They are very easy to care for as well and are prolific bearers. The majority of my trees are peaches and apples, but they are just a lot of constant work, and getting a consistent good crop from them is always questionable.

Honestly, I don't attend the markets as often as I could--as much for the time factor along w/the poor sales reason. I am pretty much a one-man operation and have a full time job most of the year as well. I also have over 50 email customers that usually take care of my supplies. Actually about 20 are regulars. I do like the markets though for when I'm loaded up on certain crops.


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this year was hard on almost everyone, so i don't think we can count this year as far as our production. We should have still seen as much, if not more, customer demand. My kids did notice a increase, but they were on their 2nd year which is usually better than the first year.


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I'm lucky in that I have multiple markets to sell at if and when I start selling. There are a few small town markets within 30 minutes. They are seasonal and have good crowds and they struggle to find solid veggie producers. The reason they can't keep anybody is that once people get good at selling they move to the larger markets where there are more customers or they switch to total CSA. The large market right down the street is state run, nice facility, open year round, well established customer base, but in order to sell there you have to line up and sign in at 5am. Doors open at 6am and there are customers waiting. All of the produce vendors tend to resell rather than grow their own. They have designated stalls that they maintain all year. They may grow some of the produce but most of it is purchased from the warehouses within the same complex. Most of the produce offered is grown within this state. The only problem I have is that these people pretend to be the farmer that grew the crops. Their stalls are large and packed with produce - and they all look alike as does all their produce. They must be making some money because they never seem to go out of business.

If I can't make it selling my own stuff I may just join them and be a pretend farmer. There are not a lot of options for good employment for people over 40 around here. Due to a lifetime of low wage jobs I will have to work til I drop.


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My larger market, you had to been at market no later than 6. It opened at 6:30. I always tried to get there by 5, so that I could park my huge van without too much trouble, it barely fit into my spaces. Plus I needed some time to set up before customers really started. After I set up, I could go around and check out the other vendors. I did this for 2 reasons, 1 to see what others were pricing at and another was if I didn't have a certain item I could refer a customer. It was amazing how customers would ask me if anyone had a certain, and who I would recommend. It built a trusting relationship that worked well.


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"Pretend Farmers !!" You/I know who they are, but there are still alot of customers that don't know or don't care who their "Farmer" is. There is this couple (husband/wife team) that comes to one of the markets that I bring my "Truly Home Grown Produce" to, they play the role of the "Farmer" "All" the way. They wear Dirty, I mean Dirty clothes as thou they just came out of the field, their clothes look like they wore the same ones for a month. Not to speak of their grimy hands or the dirt you can see in the creash of their necks. But yet they bring their produce in the most prettest, cleanest, whitest boxes you have ever seen. Oh ya, they bring bushel baskets (20 yrs old) full of mud covered cukes too, Sometimes they bring the prettest looking sweet rolls in pretty white boxes with clear plastic lids. I use to have a stall one stall away from them for 2 yrs, but I couldn't take any more of over hearing them (lying) telling customers where and how they grow their produce so I moved to a the stall as far away from them as I could get, the stall on the end (anchor) of a "L" shaped market. My sales have improved ever since (doubled). I also have a sign that reads " Local and Fresh is the BEST"
DEB


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I still say, if the seller can't or won't tell you what variety the produce is, or something about how it's grown, they didn't grow it. Even what I got from fellow farmers, I asked them about the items so that I did know at least the variety.

We had a farmer that was bearded and looked the dirty part, he always wore bib overalls that were well worn. He used to not wear a shirt under the bibs, until the market committee showed him the rules about wearing shirts and shoes. He thought he could get by, and look like a hick, but rules are rules. The only reason that we added this rule was a young lady decided that she didn't need to wear undergarments under her see-thru dresses.

It takes all, doesn't it.

Marla


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I do both, I grow my own and I buy too. We are allowed to do that at the market where I sell as long as you grow 51%. I am one of the ones that follows the rules, but we do see people cheat and for example, sell apples that weren't local this year because there was an apple shortage locally because of a hard freeze. Or produce from out of state or a wholesale warehouse where it comes from all over, but now even the customers know who those people are.
The up side is that I have some really good friends that are Amish now. I can get produce from them and feel very confident that my customers are getting good stuff, sometimes better than what I can grow. And I buy all my greenhouse supplies throughout their buyers group and get good prices too. I know which ones are low spray, and sometimes they will come up and tell me if it's been sprayed or Not and with what.
It's nice too that I feel that I'm helping them out. Many of them have no desire to sell anything at the farmers market, they like to grow and sell there close to where they live in their community.


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Sandy, you and I are alot alike. Lafayette used to be 51%, then it was changed to 70% and absolutely no auctions, even the Amish ones that I personally know who is who. My nearby community members will get in trouble with the community if they sell elsewhere besides the community's auction. But my market will not attempt to understand, to them an auction is an auction, and NOBODY can know who is selling/growing an item.


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  • Posted by magz88 5a - Central Ontario (My Page) on
    Sun, Nov 18, 12 at 22:52

Congrats on the baby, Jay! 5 kids, a market garden and a teaching career, you have a lot on your plate. :)


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BTW Dirtdiggin, I think rambling is very understandable when it comes to trying to figure out how to do best in this business! It ain't Field of Dreams. If You Grow It They Will Come. Nope. So brainstorming and putting in a lot of thought are important. Watching, reading, listening. I think it is hardest on farmers who are not close enough to a metro market. You somehow need to farm in farm country but sell in the metro. I wish I could look into the future and see what I end up going with or how I specialize. It would be a big step to grow for restaurants and lots of season extension but that is where my interest lies. I mean I watch Food Network all the time! LOL. I also think about specializing in certain crops and selling wholesale. Being a single farmer would make that enticing.
A Whole Foods is sleighted to open 30 miles away. I always said if a Whole Foods opened there I would quit at my part time grocery job to work there. It would be cool to specialize in certain produce and then just sell right to them when I go to work. I suppose I would have to get certified though.


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Hey - little_minnie 4, I agree with you about brainstorming. I never thought this thread would go so far. I love hearing what all are doing, thinking and planning. The internet is great that we can do this. I do think that in many ways farmers markets for many are a failure. Nobody is enforcing rules very much and many are not well run. What I hate as a customer is I never know who is going to show up.
On lady I met at a market only brings samples and a note pad.
U sign up for what u want and she calls u when it is ready for u to come to her place to pick it up, she does blueberries and grapes and her quality is top notch. She only comes to market when her list is low. Most of her marketing is word of mouth. I actually think she inspects each berry!


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I've been thinking of making lists of people that want certain produce, then call when ready. I know 1 orchard that does that.

I don't blame her, I inspect every piece of produce that goes out on my stand. then I inspect them again when I bag it for the customer.


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If you are going to sell at Farmers Markets, you MUST be there every week NO EXCUSES! That is what I don't like sometimes. A few years ago, we had a bunch of obligations come up and I had to get people (other family members) to run the booth or at least tear it down and take it home. They were happy about it first, then they told me how much work it was and how tired they were. I told them yes it hard work. Now go pick everything and do the other 2 markets a week and we will be even. I earned some respect from them.

The funny thing is the customers don't have to come each week. If you miss a week, and they came, you will never hear the end of it.

I live in a rural community, 3,500-4,000 people. I have worked hard to build my market. I just wish I could get more customers involved.

Jay


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You're right, Jay. Even if you tell everyone for several weeks ahead of time, there will be at least 1 that will tell you about missing.

Over the last few years, I have hired family friends and friends to work to stand with me. They never realized how much work just doing the market was. I was lucky, they all enjoyed it, but we all want to take a nap afterwards. Our market was 6 hrs, plus set up and tear down.


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I say it is like having a garage sale every week. That is a lot of work.


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