Yet no matter how many times I go back and look for data on any individual farmer's sales, I come up blank. Searching for "farmers market sales statistics" yields a plethora of useless charts on the proliferation of farmer's markets in the U.S. (Spoiler: Each year, there are more farmer's markets.)
However, one intrepid farmer posted sales figures, by vegetable, for two increasingly outdated seasons -- 2007 and 2008 -- although we have limited market data beyond what's in the link.
Baker City, OR (USDA zone 5a) (I'm in Wisconsin, zone 4a)
I'm drawing up a potential budget and farm plan, part of which really want to hear from experienced farmer's willing to give a peak at the books. What's your daily break-even? Which categories sustain your booth year-to-year -- roots? salad mix? heirloom tomatoes? And especially this: Farmers selling at markets, what did your sales numbers look like in your first year, and how far off / spot on were they to your projections? I would also encourage anecdotes about wild risks and experiments that took off.
What boomed and what's doomed?
Almost every stand has tomatoes. A Farmer's Market staple.
I would seriously look for what is not there, but can be grown in your region. After I have walked by 45 booths of tomatoes, and come to a stand with something I haven't seen yet, now you have caught my attention.
I know a couple that sells @ FMs, and one weekend she took in a bunch of fresh cut flowers just to see if they would sell. She sold out quickly, so brought more the next week. They now claim to make more money on flowers than tomatoes.
If you can't gross at least $1000 in a day then it isn't worth your time. We now average $1500 to $2500 on a good day. If it's raining or a 120 degrees sales are about $1000. We also have to drive from about an hour out with a full trailer. Consider gas, time, market fees, etc... There are a ton of expenses you just don't think about.
I'm not a market veggie guy, but you can't go wrong with seasonal items such as Thanksgiving turkeys. They sell for a premium and it's almost guaranteed you can move them. We are now venturing into herbs (fresh and dried) and dried peppers. We will see how it goes..... Look for something no one else is doing, that niche that hasn't been filled. Good luck!
We had the same problem with pricing veggies at markets. Where do you start? We went to markets saw prices and marked ours accordingly. If it's something that we can't price well we don't grow it for market.
That said, we've switched to more CSA sales in the last two years. We make more profit and its guaranteed sales
Salad greens for organic vegetable farming and gardening for small scale commercial use is almost always a good idea as a base.
Then you can branch out into more specialty foods and also unique produce.
At the end of day, salad is ubiquitous (less risky), and demand is high for the tasty organic affordable variety. Sorry I don't have supporting stats; only life experience.
Travis Krause wrote:
If you can't gross at least $1000 in a day then it isn't worth your time.
Not trying to quibble, but I would definitely say that your gross is your least important number, it is your take home net profit that matters.
One of the biggest reasons that I see new small farmers going out of the business is a finance model that fails to realize that high gross means running faster on the treadmill without benefit.
Your net to gross ratio is critical to maintaining labor efficiency and preventing burnout. Just a small point, but one that I have found is absolutely essential to running a viable small farm business.
wild fruit blackberries/raspberries/pawpaws
tomatoes, in unusual varieties
early spring , seedlings-
soap/lipbalm/solid lotion bars
1st year costs .
10x10 pop up tent 120.00
weights for tent 12.00
tables chairs 120.
display stand 30.00
bamboo rug 40.00
farmers markets 3x per week , 2 in same location 3rd in neighboring community
customers were VERY different in each location , and in what they wanted.
market 1. just food, not interested most times in farm or growing methods
market 2 , wanted information on growing methods varieties planted etc . which led to
the garden binder:
3 ring binder with pictures and seed packets of every plant brought to market as well as descriptions etc. in plastic sleeved pages , interspersed with photos of our farm
cost about 50.00 for sleeves photo paper time etc.
((keep in mind this was 10 years ago))
avg income was 200 on wednesdays
saturday at same location as wednesday avg 500
sunday market at alt location was 700-1000
add in "black market" goat milk and cheese for another 300.00 week
commercial sales of greens , basil and tomatoes 150 per week
thats all i can reliably recall.
Suggestions to look at farmers markets and determine what is not being offered deserve consideration, but the absence may be a sign not of a product missing from the market but of a market not demanding a product. Definitely worth looking, but look at both possibilities.
Point being that constructing a business plan really demands some numbers. Of course they will vary, of course they are only projections. But you want the best information you can find, rather than building on wishful thinking.
As an example, Permaculture Voices has a podcast with a fellow who was doing microgreens and turning as much as $2,500 a week in sales of various sprouts at farmers markets and to restaurants. According to him, fifty dollars a pound is the low end of the market for this product. Wow! Sounds like we should be growing microgreens, right? Maybe, if you are located near a major city with lots of high end restaurants, lots of money and lots of people willing to pay five bucks for a cup of sunflower sprouts. I genuinely doubt that anyplace in Michigan is going to support $2,500 a week in sales of microgreens. I could be wrong, but I think it would be pretty easy to establish that Portland, OR does not have an economic analogue in Michigan.
So in drawing up our business plan, we could plug in a $2,000 a week figure for microgreens gross sales, based on x hundred square feet of growing space dedicated to microgreens. We could work up cost projections based on the expense of an appropriate size hoophouse and related infrastructure (irrigation system, power for same, growing trays, water, washing equipment, packaging, coolers), expenses for delivery, marketing and whatever else should be figured into the overhead for the operration (accounting costs get distributed over the entire operation, for example). I am entirely certain that I could put together a functional operation that could operate producing these microgreens on a seasonal basis in Michigan for years for significantly less than that weekly sales figure.
Makes it sound like we should do microgreens, doesn't it? But the fact is we have absolutely zero information about the demand for the product in the area we plan on operating. We have one person's figures from a different marketplace. We also know, from his reporting, that he was located within bicycling distance of virtually all of his market outlets and that he spent a great deal of time on his restaurant marketing. Growing the microgreens, harvesting and making deliveries was not even a part time job, in terms of hours. But, my impression was that getting them sold was at least a full time job.
Rational numbers, projections grounded on realistic information, are really critical for putting together a business plan that has a decent chance of modeling actual results well enough to be worth doing. Jumping off a cliff without a plan is a bad idea. Jumping with a parachute is a better idea, but is the cliff high enough for the parachute to deploy and slow your fall? Is the parachute big enough to slow your fall if it opens? Is the 'chute strapped on so it does not open and you plummet to the ground while it drifts down gently?
So where do you find the numbers? Where are the figures on prices in an area and what people, and businesses, spend their money on? There are industries, government agencies and businesses built around gathering this information and making it available to their various constituencies. We know that there is solid historical data available for the price of soy beans, or corn, or concentrated orange juice. We know industrial agriculture is watching the commodities market like vultures for next month's prices.
As small - and generally specialty and niche market - producers, we need to learn where the relevant data for our products and markets is aggregated.
I am hoping that there is someone reading this who can point us toward at least one source for one of these areas (say, cider apples in Michigan) and save all of us some time chasing them down ourselves. But in the meantime, I will be dragging the web looking for the data - and bringing it back to share as I find it.
Peter Ellis wrote:Suggestions to look at farmers markets and determine what is not being offered deserve consideration, but the absence may be a sign not of a product missing from the market but of a market not demanding a product. Definitely worth looking, but look at both possibilities.
Biology is the biggest factor driving what is available at my farmer's market... Some crops simply will not grow here, or productivity is so low that they can't possibly be produced at a price that people are willing to pay.
Biggest sellers at my market:
Eggs (illegal to sell here but everybody wants them. They are an under-the-table item.)
Snow and snap peas
Sell well enough to be worthwhile bringing a basket:
Only bring 3 units:
Shell or dried beans
I can't grow melons here, so they're not on the list.
10 years ago I bought a good quality tent with rain & shade sides, several tables, two chairs. They are still useable today. I also bought cheap display bins and signs that I had to replace after about 4 years. About every 3 months I'd buy those cheap cardboard display boards from Walmart and make new story boards about the farm and gardens.
Financial statistics can vary wildly from market to market. My town market doesn't have lots of vendors, meaning little competition, so everybody does well enough to keep them happy. Nobody's getting rich.
As for a CSA. To date they haven't worked out in my area.They start up, last a year, then dwindle away. Growing a consistent crop is real difficult here in the tropics. So a small farm has a real challenge trying to keep 20 subscribers happy. If variety in the basket diminishes for even 2-3 week, then subscribers tend to go away.
Peter Ellis wrote: ...I am hoping that there is someone reading this who can point us toward at least one source for one of these areas (say, cider apples in Michigan) and save all of us some time chasing them down ourselves. But in the meantime, I will be dragging the web looking for the data - and bringing it back to share as I find it.
I have bought some of the books mentioned and they are good. I am thinking that we just need to start small and grow, but I do not know.
I hope that Peter Ellis posts numbers once he has them!!!
thank you for this post.
I guess it matters if this is your full time income or not, but first year figures are expected to be low.
Even in the average entrepreneurial dream it takes several years to work up to enough profit to be called a living wage, why would farming be different.
A good resource for you with sales examples: http://farmmarketingsolutions.com/
Someone also mentioned your display is important. I agree 100% and I started a business I believed it so much (link below).
I also wrote an article several months ago that may help with the planning piece. The thing to remember, especially if this is not your sole source of income, is to have fun. Do not burn yourself out. As long as this passion to grow good food and share with your neighbors lives on, then happiness is not too far off.
I'll leave you with a quote from a song I heard in a sailing documentary, "we all need a little bit of money to live, but some of us take so much." Acres and Acres in the documentary Twenty-Eight Feet
Elwell's Supplies-A Farmers' Market Supply Store
Your local extension service (in the US) might have something similar.
Market 1 is in a town of about 30k people in a generally rural area. Lots of people have their own chickens so eggs only go for around $3 a doz. It is much more of a meat and potatoes town with little disposable income for boutique items. Housing values around market 1 generally range from $60k to $150k with the high end being $200-$250k.
Market 2 is in a town of well over 100k people in a highly suburban area. Very few people garden (or even have the space for it) much less keep any animals. Housing values start around $130-150k an go up to over $1M on the high end. There is tons of disposable income and lots of soccer moms. Organic eggs go for $7 a dozen or more. A jar of pickles can fetch $5-$8 and the bread makers lowest cost loaf is $6.
I guess I typed all that to say that your best source of market revenue is to actually go to the market near you and ask the people there how much they make. Ask how much they bring, how they determine prices, etc. You'll probably get a better reception later in the day when things have slowed down. I know this post doesn't answer your question, but I hope it does illustrate why you are having such a hard time finding the answers you seek.
The answers you're looking for vary greatly by geographic region and certainly within the micro regions within those geographic regions.
So true. I know a couple who go to a FM in a high-end neighborhood every Saturday. They sell a lot there. Then, they spend the night at in-laws house, and on Sunday, they go to a FM in a nearby very poor neighborhood (virtually a food-desert). They sell the left overs at a much lower price.
The bottom line is that Sunday doesn't yield as great a profit, but it more than pays for their trip to town, and they don't need to bring home 200 pounds of old produce.