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Farmer's markets DONT want my produce...  RSS feed

 
Jeremy Droplet
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Location: Central Maine (Zone 4b)
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Never saw this one coming. I was approached recently to take over operations at a small farm in Massachusetts close to where my family lives. I never thought I'd see myself going back to the state, but the idea of being close to family and bringing an old business back to life has its appeal. The lease on the land is cheap money and the place has boat loads of potential. But, I've run into a roadblock; a situation similar to the one that caused me to leave the state in the first place. No farmer's markets within 30 miles want to take us on as a vendor! We keep hearing the same excuse 'sorry, we already have too many farms'. They want things like lotions, and soaps, and organic dog food. When did farmers become unwelcome at the market I have had the exact opposite experience here in Maine. Most all of the markets have been SUPER welcoming and treated us with total respect. They support what we are doing and want to see more like us. What gives? Has anyone experienced this before? I know some states are unfriendly towards local ag, but this blew me away! I'd like to help, but the idea of composting hundreds of dollars of produce every week because we have no other outlet is a no go. Sadly, the owner is aging and seems he will likely give in to the pressures of development and sell the place to someone who will level it and build more high-income housing instead. Too bad.
 
Harmony Hunden
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Have you looked into a CSA? Or possibly approaching some local health food stores or organic/vegetarian restaurants. Or using the fresh produce to make a cannoned or dehydraitd item to sell. Perhaps it is because I have no land but I would look into other outlets for sales if I were being offered a small farm. What type of produce do you have? Is there extra space to grow feed and forage for ducks for duck eggs or goats or sheep for artesian cheeses? My local farmers market nay has one vendor for both eggs and one for cheese but tons of organic veggies. Also home gardens and community gardens are really trendy right now so I can see why there's less of a need for fresh produce at farmers markets.
 
Su Ba
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I ran into a similar situation, though I wasn't declined as a vendor. But I looked around and saw that there were already several produce vendors selling that already had their followers. (And that they were all selling the exact same stuff!) So I knew that I needed to be different in order to get promoted to a premier space, attract customers and thus be able to sell my stuff. I tried a few things.....
... I hooked up with a couple of small local bee keepers and arranged to put their honey into my booth, on consignment.
... I found a home baker that had a permit to sell but didn't want to sit at markets anymore. So I arranged to sell her breads on consignment at my booth.
... I offered farm raised eggs. Not many, but a couple dozen with a nice sign that I left up even after the eggs were gone. I was just letting people know that I had eggs early in the day and the sign drew people over to look and ask.
... I grew many veggies that were a little bit different from all the other vendors. Purple filet beans. Purple broccoli. Mini cabbage. Bunches of broccoli greens. Wing beans. Purple, yellow, white carrots. White beets. Kohlrabi. Plus more. These were in addition to some of the other best selling "regular" veggies. And I offered recipe sheets for unusual vegetables.
... I found a local person who made goat milk soap and allowed her to have a small spot at the end of my booth at no charge.
... When the soap person lost interest and left I set up a sugar cane press and let people press juice for free. I couldn't offer it for sale, but I collected the juice in a bucket to save for the pigs. People loved the idea of squeezing juice for the pigs. It brought people to my booth.
... When times were slow I'd set up my hand crank oil press and run some macnuts through it. Or I'd bring out the hand macnut cracker and start cracking nuts.
... I grew some veggie and flower starts to sell. Later in the season I offered bunches of cut flowers. And I put my leftover seeds into small packets and sold them.

Around here the farmers markets are still open to new vendors. But I know that in the more populated areas the spaces are full so it's tough the break in when you want sell what other vendors are already selling. Perhaps if you make yourself a little bit different in some fashion, the market managers might be more willing.

 
Rebecca Norman
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Wow, Su Ba has some great suggestions for diversifying.

Or maybe your limit of 30 miles is too small, and the market is already full. Maybe you have to go farther to a bigger town, or to Boston.

Or maybe there's a need for more farmers markets in Mass.
 
John Wolfram
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Location: Lafayette, Indiana
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At least around me in the Midwest, most of the farmers' markets list the vendors on their websites and most of the vendors have websites. With a bit of research during the slow season you should be able to accurately gauge what is areas are missing from the market. In starting up my orchard, I stayed away from planting apples simply because there were already so many other vendors selling apples. In general, it seemed that the easy to produce stuff was already well supplied, but there was plenty of spaces in the niches.
 
Ghislaine de Lessines
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Location: Vermont, annual average precipitation is 39.87 Inches
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This is a surprising problem to me as I know our market is always looking for farmers over the crafters. I'm not sure where the rule comes from but my local market has to have an equal or greater number of farmers to crafters. My understanding is that there are more crafters than there are farmers so the crafters are wait listed until more farmers join!

Another source of customers, besides restaurants and creating your own CSA might be caterers. Find out what they are looking for to get an idea of what the market isn't providing. I once got a caterer very excited when I said I wanted to pasture pigs as there was very little pastured pork on the market at that time. Finding the opportunities might take some work but they are surely out there!
 
Jeremy Droplet
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Location: Central Maine (Zone 4b)
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Harmony Hunden wrote:Have you looked into a CSA? Or possibly approaching some local health food stores or organic/vegetarian restaurants. Or using the fresh produce to make a cannoned or dehydraitd item to sell. Perhaps it is because I have no land but I would look into other outlets for sales if I were being offered a small farm. What type of produce do you have? Is there extra space to grow feed and forage for ducks for duck eggs or goats or sheep for artesian cheeses? My local farmers market nay has one vendor for both eggs and one for cheese but tons of organic veggies. Also home gardens and community gardens are really trendy right now so I can see why there's less of a need for fresh produce at farmers markets.


My primary market outlet now is CSA. But I always plant in excess of my projected CSA needs. I need a secondary outlet for produce beyond this. Otherwise I end up feeding high dollar crops to the chickens.

I grow intensive vegetables, and there is a 2 acre apple orchard on the property. Value-added is not an option for me as the cost to build a commercial kitchen, cost of DPH licensing, and the liability insurance needed to sale these products in the state exceeds the potential revenues from these products by a few hundred thousand dollars.
 
Jeremy Droplet
Posts: 25
Location: Central Maine (Zone 4b)
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Ghislaine de Lessines wrote:This is a surprising problem to me as I know our market is always looking for farmers over the crafters. I'm not sure where the rule comes from but my local market has to have an equal or greater number of farmers to crafters. My understanding is that there are more crafters than there are farmers so the crafters are wait listed until more farmers join!

Another source of customers, besides restaurants and creating your own CSA might be caterers. Find out what they are looking for to get an idea of what the market isn't providing. I once got a caterer very excited when I said I wanted to pasture pigs as there was very little pastured pork on the market at that time. Finding the opportunities might take some work but they are surely out there!


That has been my experience in Maine as well. The markets I vend at serve a MUCH smaller population, and there has been no trouble with saturating the market. New farmers keep popping up, and the markets keep growing year after year. I'm stifled as to how it's possible for 2-3 farms to saturate the market in an area with a population 100 fold greater? I don't think that's the case at all.
 
Kate Muller
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Location: New Hampshire
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I have seen farmers at flea markets here in NH. I go to one that caterers to vintage and antique items on Sunday mornings and the farmers who vend there do well.
 
R Scott
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Location: Kansas Zone 6a
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Established vendors don't want too much competition. I have seen it at several farmers markets. Micro-cronyism and petty tyrants.

There is a dance of unique/specialty crops plus workhorse staples that get you into a market, get traffic, and get reliable cashflow.
 
Angelika Maier
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If you want to sell to restaurants you do not have to limit yourself to arganig or vegetarian restaurants, all restaurants want good produce. They want herbs too. I second the idea with shops.
And you could drive around with a bell and sell directly from your truck, I don't know if you would need any permission were you life. Older people like that (especially if you carry the stuff inside) and you could stop in
front of schools at pick up time or in front of offices, factories etc.
 
Nicole Alderman
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Jeremy Droplet wrote:
Harmony Hunden wrote:Have you looked into a CSA? Or possibly approaching some local health food stores or organic/vegetarian restaurants. Or using the fresh produce to make a cannoned or dehydraitd item to sell. Perhaps it is because I have no land but I would look into other outlets for sales if I were being offered a small farm. What type of produce do you have? Is there extra space to grow feed and forage for ducks for duck eggs or goats or sheep for artesian cheeses? My local farmers market nay has one vendor for both eggs and one for cheese but tons of organic veggies. Also home gardens and community gardens are really trendy right now so I can see why there's less of a need for fresh produce at farmers markets.


My primary market outlet now is CSA. But I always plant in excess of my projected CSA needs. I need a secondary outlet for produce beyond this. Otherwise I end up feeding high dollar crops to the chickens.

I grow intensive vegetables, and there is a 2 acre apple orchard on the property. Value-added is not an option for me as the cost to build a commercial kitchen, cost of DPH licensing, and the liability insurance needed to sale these products in the state exceeds the potential revenues from these products by a few hundred thousand dollars.


Maybe try selling eggs or meat, too? When I go to the Farmers' Markets here, I often don't see things that I can justify spending money on. The fruits and veggies are far more expensive than organic produce at the grocery store. While this is for good reasons, I'm sure, I just can't justify the cost. There's also a lot of "value-added products" and crafty things. Once again, I can't justify the cost for "trinkets." What I will buy at markets is meat, eggs, and honey--since I cannot find pastured eggs and meat at the store. Since you said you have chickens, you could sell the eggs, too (if they aren't all going to your CSA customers). And, like others have mentioned, if you have friends or acquaintances that knit scarves or make jewelry or have honey, you could offer them space at your booth as a way for you to have an "in" into the market. Once you're "in," you should hopefully be able to sell your produce.

I, honestly, really don't care for the trend of making Farmers' Markets into local art and craft fairs. We have two markets in our neighborhood. One is full of food vendors (hot dogs, etc) as well as crafty and arts items. There is usually only one or two produce vendors at the market, out of about 20 vendors. No one sells meat or eggs. We don't go to this Farmer's Market anymore. The other Farmer's Market, however, is smaller, but has a guy who sells lamb and eggs, another lady who sells eggs and chicken, a booth or two selling cut flowers, two or three produce stands, and only two-three craft or food vendors. This is the market we go to!
 
Dale Hodgins
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In Victoria, the arts and crafts people pay most of the fees that keep the market open. Many return week after week despite poor sales. Vegetable vendors tend to sell most of their product, so their retailing cost is a small percentage of the price of produce. Crafty type vendors often spend far too much on table rental. They effectively subsidize the operation of many markets with a willingness to work for close to nothing.
 
Gail Gardner
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Location: SE Oklahoma
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While possibly more of a challenge to get started in, there are websites that contract with growers to sell through their ecommerce store, but ship directly from the farmer. An example of this is https://tropicaltraditions.com/organic-produce-from-wisconsin.htm - I buy some excellent produce from that site and also grass fed butter, cheese, beef, bison, chicken and turkey. They have arrangements with the growers directly.

There are other sites that sell produce and appear to ship it all from one place. I'm not sure exactly how they're doing it, but I've bought a couple of "Grub Baskets" so far through https://www.grubmarket.com/grubbox/organic-vegetables and also purchased individual items there. (The orders are separate, with the Grub Box including shipping and the individual items packaged separately and I pay shipping.

I used to buy grass fed chicken and beef from https://grassfedbeef.org aka https://tendergrass.com/ until they started selling everything they produced to Whole Foods.

I buy fruit from https://FrogHollow.com - they have figured out how to ship even fragile fruits like apricots and peaches without damage.

The methods each of these sites are using could be used by permies growers either by partnering with one of them, setting up your own ecommerce site, or even having a group of permies members collaborate. If anyone here ships, please let me know as I buy 100% of what we don't raise here online and have it shipped to me until we get a hoop house up and can grow most of it.

If you want to sell to restaurants you do not have to limit yourself to arganig or vegetarian restaurants, all restaurants want good produce.


I finally found an organic grower in north Texas, but he sold 100% of everything he could grow no matter how fast he expanded to high end restaurants. None of them featured "organic" on the menu - they just wanted his produce because it tasted better. Restaurants are always a good option to explore.

Where I am now, there is also a program to sell to the schools (farm to table), but there are a lot of requirements to qualify.
 
Deb Rebel
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Our state is one of two in the nation that have some really draconian cottage industry laws. We had the Extension office build up a really nice farmer's market but oh dear, a few people were selling jelly, jam, salsa, and tamales made in their home kitchens. It must be done in a state certified commercial kitchen. So although we are five hours drive from the capitol and they never bother with us otherwise, they sent a representative up last year to quash the market.

I asked around and legally if I give you a sheet telling you about you can't sell those particular goods, and you can NOT hand out samples of anything; plus a sheet on the tax rates and how to remit your sales tax and make you sign a little receipt saying I gave you those... I can operate a farmer's market on my own land. Near my truck garden I have a row of trees and a 125 foot driveway that goes from a street 'that does not exist' (it has curb cut though) to an alley, so this year I will run my own.

OP you might try that. Run your own. Invite a few more to join, put a stand or a few at the road/turn in, and with some flyers and notices in the free places around you, maybe you can draw some customers. I see this is a last year thread, please update on how things are going?
 
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