The author at the info booth for the farmers market she helped found, the Market on Main in Somerset, Kentucky.
“The best markets probably have waiting lists, so be sure to get on the list for your dream market well in advance.”
Special events such as a farm-to-fork dinner, hosted at a local farm, further connect customers to each other and the source of their food.
Many a homestead dream is built on the idea of self-reliance, and part of that is having the ability to earn an income from your own property. It is only a natural progression to sell one’s homestead goods at local farmers markets. Use the following tips to have tons of fun and earn a good profit!
#1 : DO MARKET RESEARCH
There are plenty of small, thriving farmers markets in rural communities, but there are also many struggling to get by. If you want to provide real cash flow to your homestead and build a financially viable operation, you may need to drive farther and join a market in a bigger city to do well.
Talk to other vendors at potential markets and, if there is an option, try it out for a few weeks before you commit to the entire season. The best markets probably have waiting lists, so be sure to get on the list for your dream market well in advance.
#2: CAPTURE BUYERS
Hundreds of potential customers might walk by your booth on any given market day. How do you get their attention? It might seem obvious, but be friendly. Customers don’t know that you were up at 4 a.m. milking cows, loading the truck and driving a few hours to market. They want to know you and your smiling face. Having an attractive booth set up is also a must. (This might not be your thing, but ask a friend with an eye for design to help you develop a distinctive booth feel.) Sampling can drastically increase sales as well. One research project at the University of Kentucky found that 55 percent of customers who sampled a product said they purchased it that day when they wouldn’t have otherwise.
#3: KEEP ’EM COMING
You want to retain the customers or potential customers you meet each week. Have an email newsletter signup sheet at your booth. Newsletter services like MailChimp (mailchimp.com) are free for small numbers of subscribers.
At the very least, a Facebook business page is a no-brainer. If customers see your posts throughout the week, they are more likely to come back to your booth at the next market. You can also alert them to any special products, farm events or other happenings this way. A website is a good idea, too, and chances are you can find a web designer willing to barter for food or farm products.
#4 : BE TRANSPARENT
Consumers want to know where their food comes from and how it was raised. The best way to do this is to host regular farm tours and visits. Posting frequent pictures on your Facebook page or website helps, too. A photo album of farm pictures at the booth gives people insight into your growing practices while also serving as a great conversation starter.
#5: PACKAGING POINTERS
Customers can be very sensitive about the way a farm’s produce is packaged. Be professional, but not so professional that you look like a large-scale commercial operation. A farm I know purchased very nice cardboard tomato boxes to bring its beautiful heirlooms to market. Soon, rumors were swirling that their tomatoes had been purchased at a produce auction rather than grown on their farm! Many customers avoided their tomatoes and went to the next booth, where the farmer had brought their tomatoes in well-worn bushel baskets.
#6: GROW PROFITABLE GOODS
Paul and Alison Wiediger of Au Naturel Farm have been selling at farmers markets in Bowling Green, Kentucky, for over 20 years. They have watched many a farm come and go during that time, as passion faded under the weight of financial failure. Alison says, “To be a successful market grower, you must make enough income (profit, not sales) to live on. Not all crops are profitable at all scales or in all markets… Know what your costs, including labor, are so you can price your product appropriately. We have found there are crops we love, but are not profitable at our scale and/or in our market. So, if we really love them, we grow small amounts for our own table and focus on the crops that are profitable—and that includes the cost for our labor—for sales at market.”
This article originally published in THE NEW PIONEER® Fall 2014 issue. Print and Digital Subscriptions to THE NEW PIONEER magazine are available here.
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