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Small farm marketing

 
Posts: 37
Location: Glasgow, KY zone 6b
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I've searched and haven't had much luck. My wife, kids and I raise pastured broilers on Salatin-style pens and have 55 layers in a Wheaton-style paddock rotation system.

We sell at two different local farmers markets and have had dismal success. We just started this year though. We have less than five customers who have bought chickens from us more than once.

Everyone here has eggs. We have friends that beg their Facebook friends to buy eggs for $1 per dozen. But most folks here either raise them in a dungeon with a tiny run that hasn't had a sprig of grass in it for years, or totally free range them and they hang out in the same spots year after year.

A few people appreciate our extra work and are willing to pay for it but the farmers markets aren't working out. I work a full time job and Saturdays are the best time for us to go have fun, instead we're spending them at a market. We drive 10 miles and 50 miles round trip and have sold as little as 1 chicken and 5 dozen eggs. The most has been $150. We're only $3.79 per pound and $3.50 on eggs. So we're priced right and we are the only ones selling chickens st either market. The two towns that we're selling in have a population of 200k combined.

How do I establish customers who come to me(the farm, meet in town, etc.)? I've thought about mailers(too expensive), email lists(nobody will sign up), referral incentives for existing customers, knocking on doors in the right parts of town, etc. We should sell out of our 125 broilers for this year. I'd love to have 20 families who would buy one chicken per month and eggs every now and then. That shouldn't be hard to do in two counties.

What works for those of you who are doing this type of farming for profit?
 
gardener
Posts: 6785
Location: Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
1545
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It sounds like the CSA model would be your best fit.
You might try putting flyers at churches and other non-competitor locations advertising that you are starting a CSA for chicken meat and eggs.

Getting started can take a lot of effort and time so the first thing to do is determine just how much you want to do this along with how much work you are willing to put into getting the business going.
 
pollinator
Posts: 1985
Location: Big Island, Hawaii (2300' elevation, 60" avg. annual rainfall, temp range 55-80 degrees F)
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If I were you, I'd focus on getting your story out.

We have a local small farmer here doing pastured-grain supplemented broiler chickens. He gets $15 for a ready-to-roast brined chicken. He uses Cornish crosses, so they are meaty birds. I don't know their weight. At first he couldn't sell them. But after several local papers and online local news sites ran his story, he grew into a thriving business. I notice that he arranges to get a write up every year. I'm guessing that he presents a ready-to-print article to a news site then let's them modify it as they want. He also appears to supply an assortment of photos. How ever it actually gets done, it brings him lots of publicity and customers. He emphasizes the pasturing, the organic and natural food, the fresh air & sunshine, chemical free, and that sort of stuff.

As for eggs, I can sell mine for $3 to $4 a dozen more than the supermarket. How? By emphasizing the fresh air, sunshine, natural behavior for the birds, natural feed. But most importantly, my customers are really focusing on the fact that the eggs are really fresh, laid in the past week. Plus I got the word out so that people learned about the quality of my eggs. Oh, there are buyers who won't pay the price, but I manage to sell most of my eggs at top price. During the spring glut I sometimes have leftover eggs that I discount $1 the following week. That actually gets customers attention and also gives me a chance to talk about the fresh value of my eggs. It's fun to see someone pick up the discount dozen and ask why, and once they hear the reason, I've seen many put it down and buy the freshest one at a dollar more. Fine with me.
 
Posts: 308
Location: Stone Garden Farm Richfield Twp., Ohio
24
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You wrote: "Everyone here has eggs."

So, alternatively, instead of trying to fill a market that may be already full, try growing/selling something more people want. What that is, you may have to do a survey to find out. Maybe you should be raising pumpkins, or blueberries, strawberries, or Christmas trees. I get a lot of "young" folks coming to me asking how to get into farming. I always advise them to do what few others (or no one else) is doing. Don't be a copy cat. Get creative. Just because you want to grow something doesn't mean anybody wants to buy it. Fill a niche where there is little competition.

That being said, I have a friend in Wisconsin who raises chickens for the local Mung community (they are people who fled Vietnam after the war). The Mung's come to his farm because he lets them do the butchering themselves. ...So, if you must do what others are doing, find a specialty hook (more than just "you do extra work") that really makes your product more attractive to a certain or select clientele.
 
pollinator
Posts: 526
Location: Missouri Ozarks
81
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I would venture that:
1 - You haven't been doing it long enough to see a reasonable reward (you just started this year, but when exactly?).  These things take time.
2 - You are doing a terrible job advertising what you have, how you raise it, prices, etc.  Why aren't people buying from you?  What is your setup like?  Does it entice people in?
3 - The farmers markets are terrible markets, and/or are not attracting the crowds they should.  Is there just no demand for local food?  I'd think that with populations that size, and with your prices, you should be selling chickens and eggs all day long.
 
Jared Blankenship
Posts: 37
Location: Glasgow, KY zone 6b
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Sorry for the delay and thanks to everyone for the help?

We're just seeing hurdles getting the chickens sold, not the eggs. We missed one week and my wife sold 17 dozen eggs at $4, while I sold 7 dozen. What I'm trying to figure out is how we get from selling so many impulse sales(at the market)to a handful of loyal customers who are willing to meet with us outside of the market. It would take a very small percentage of the population of the two towns I mentioned(.01-.03%) to get this done. I'm pretty sure that this is how Joel Salatin started out. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think most of his customers came to the farm to pick their items up and he eventually moved toward "buying clubs" and selling to restaurants and retail. I don't want to be Joel, but I enjoy raising them and would like to do a few more meat birds.

Most of the folks reading this would benefit from knowing how to get this done. Do you all think that door to door handshakes and handing out flyers would turn anything up or do you think most folks will tune me out because they see me as a salesman?
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Posts: 6785
Location: Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
1545
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The easiest way to get to the point you say you want is to set up a CSA and offer it to those impulse buyers you already have purchasing the eggs. Start with eggs and whole chickens, X number of dollars for a box that contains eggs and whole chickens, Y number of dollars for just eggs and Z number of dollars for just chickens. Once you have people under contract they will start asking for other items (count on it, since they are getting top quality eggs and chicken meat they will ask for other items) at which point you can add those items most requested should you want to expand, or you can just tell them you only do chickens and eggs.

The CSA model is pretty easy to set up if you have someone buy eggs, offer them a CSA contract.

Redhawk
 
Posts: 9002
Location: Victoria British Columbia-Canada
700
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I know of one guy here, who has a deal with an upscale restaurant, for chicken and duck eggs, along with leafy greens. They buy all that he can produce, which isn't a huge amount. His entire marketing plan, is to load up whatever he has and drop it off to the restaurant. I don't think they take meat. The rules surrounding meat are much different than those surrounding eggs and swiss chard.

Farm gate sales have always bothered me, when people are expected to drive from the city, to pick up a few things at a distant farm. There are people here, who will operate their car, for half an hour on a Saturday morning, to pick up eggs and a small quantity of other items from a farm. It's a huge waste of fuel.
 
Bryant RedHawk
gardener
Posts: 6785
Location: Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
1545
hugelkultur dog forest garden duck fish fungi hunting books chicken writing homestead
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Yes Dale, I have to agree with you and there are large numbers of people who will not make the drive.

When we were doing pork the difficulty was lining up a butcher, not finding Chef's who wanted the pork.
It costs a lot of money to get licensed and set up an on farm butchery.

We are changing our approach, the CSA model is great for many farmers but that too doesn't work for our situation.
And, now that there are health issues, everything is changing again. Farm life is like that for us, one change after another lately.
It will end up working out to our advantage, no matter what direction, I've had to adjust to rolling with the swells on the ocean of life.

Redhawk
 
Jared Blankenship
Posts: 37
Location: Glasgow, KY zone 6b
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I'm with you guys on the energy/resources that would go into making a special trip for a couple dozen eggs. We only live 4 miles from one city and 20 or so from the other. I personally wouldn't drive 8 miles if I were a customer either. I was thinking about a route that would allow me to drop off enough to make it worthwhile in close proximity. Recently, I dropped my kids off at cross country practice and walked 4 miles round trip to deliver 2 dozen eggs.

I'd never really thought about a CSA before. More than likely, there would have to be a flat fee for the chickens. John Suscovich on Youtube guarantees a 4 pound bird once per week for 20 weeks, but he gets close to $30 each for his. My 4.00lb birds are $15.16. Obviously, my profit margins are pretty thin and I have a hard time getting into the processor. One of my biggest challenges has been to hit my target weight and processing date. One batch will be 3.25-4.25 lbs and the next will be 4.00+. I'll study on the CSA thing though and see if that will work for me. THanks again.  
 
pollinator
Posts: 4328
Location: Anjou ,France
249
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Here in France at the market I go to the stall selling chickens also sells Pate and sausages made from chicken as well as chicken wings thighs legs breats etc
I also think the person above who suggested catering for local communities is on to a good idea . Certainly worth your time looking in the phone book and having a chat with the local mosque and synagogue what have you to loose?  as long as you dont keep pigs these folks could turn out to be your best customers .
 
Posts: 121
Location: Brighton, Michigan
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I direct market beef, walnuts and some vegetables. First off, takes at least 3 years to even get a little bit of business. I have also found that farmers markets are a complete waste of time for me, I have only gone a few times and made no money and that I lost more money being away from my farm. Another issue with farmers markets are that at many re-sellers are allowed to come and compete with you and under cut your prices. I instead advertise locally and do sell at one local retailer. People I know that do well at farmers markets tend to have a good variety of products to sell and also go to markets that have few vendors and more people.
 
pollinator
Posts: 1345
Location: Virginia USDA 7a/b
344
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This is an area that is really of interest to me. I have been a farmer's market customer, a CSA member and now am looking into being a producer. This summer I tried to implement an alternative distribution network, which so far has been impossible to implement but I think has promise.

I think of these in economic terms as microeconomic problems. There is a producer and consumer, and their interests will be drawn to the intersection of their optimal curve.

I made some spreadsheets based on the prices charged at Farmers Markets around here (which mimic the median price at grocery stores for produce), the CSA cost around here with a very rough estimate of the average weekly value of the produce, and what I believe you could get with an honesty box farmgate operation. I made a separate time estimate for each approach for producers/consumers.

Then I merged it into a "good deal" index, which I think encompasses the main inputs for each of these. This is a super rough sketch, but I think you have to organize things to test them. What does Travis say? "If you do not test it's just a guess."

So Farmers are going to try to run things on their side of the "Good Deal" index, and consumers want it on their side. An optimal for the farmer would be a U-pick operation with a subscription model, while the optimal for consumers would be a web-based ordering/delivery system. I didn't put those on here, since they seem like they are not common. For my operation I am attempting to use a social media platform to drive people to a real-time reflexive pricing platform (like Uber for vegetables) with CSA-style local-"ish" delivery. So there are lots of potential models and unfortunately it takes time to see if what you are doing works. Still it is a good exercise to understand the value the consumers see versus what you see...
deal.jpg
[Thumbnail for deal.jpg]
 
Tj Jefferson
pollinator
Posts: 1345
Location: Virginia USDA 7a/b
344
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That was more for veggies. For meat, you can have three processing models: self, customer or commercial.

Self is time intensive and you have to sell as animal food or the department of Making You Sad will be all over your. If people choose to eat their animal feed it is on them.
Customer is fickle, you need a rudimentary facility, and the time committment is elevated. I can't see myself trying to arrange an alternate time for someone to slaughter a chicken. You need to evaluate your motivation/capabilities.
Commercial will make you much less cost competitive. You may not want to hear it but generally they are less sanitary than I would be as well...

A similar curve production based on your local conditions is the best place to start.
 
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