Thanks for mentioning our "system," Jocelyn. Yep, we tried the farmers market for awhile. We'd pick on Thursday, clean/package and price on Friday, get there early on Saturday to setup and spend the day selling. One day, standing there mid-afternoon with a fistful of dollars, I (foolishly) used the lull time to figure out true costs. I added up the hours we all spent doing prep and the day spent selling, and -- with paying ourselves a whopping $5/hr thereabouts, realized our TRUE PROFIT was about $64.
That was a stinging realization. For $64 I'd rather have my Thurs-Fri-Sat back. That was the last farmers market we ever did.
Instead we came up with alternatives and I like these processes better. Here's the new (non-safeway) markets we came up with. These fit with our politics and the entire process is richer in many ways, for us.
1. A woman who has a small but growing business selling ready-made meals (frozen) to people who have food allergies. [barter & cash]
2. Another woman who bakes and sells her gluten-free organic hand-pies to stores and at the farmers market. We provide apples, grown organically and biodynamically. [cash & barter, but mostly barter because I can get a delicious year's supply and I know we'll eat them all over the next six months.
3. Friends and neighbors buy eggs ($5/doz), veggie/herb starts, fresh produce. [mostly cash]
4. We barter or gift our meat (chicken and beef) for projects. When we hire someone to do a task that involves heavy machinery, we use the meat as a tip. This is a real people-pleaser and it's made a big help in service. If I called my plumber at 3am and I bet he'd be here in 20 minutes. Because we don't have USDA certification, I can't outright sell any meat, so 'gifting' it works.
5. Referrals -- We don't grow everything, so I refer a LOT to my friends who grow other stuff. Nope, not a nickel of profit here, but I love doing this. [good will]
6. Outright trades -- I got 50# of something and you have bacon. I want bacon. I don't even measure tit for tat. I figure this kind of stuff done long enough balances out and I have longstanding relationships with friends where both they and we feel we got the best situation. For years we grazed our beef and dairy cows on my neighbors fallow fields. We paid for fencing, installed it ourselves, and all he wanted was to have a year round supply of beef. We just tallied in a half a cow a year and that 'paid' our end. He thought he had the best deal (no work, free beef) and we thought we had the best deal (we didn't have to buy additional land, yahoo!). [trades]
7. My favorite arrangement [mostly cash & some trade] -- I'm in a buyers' club, a group of about 25 small scale farmers plus about 100 families, all on facebook. Each of us sets up "buys." This is an awesome system. The non-farmers choose something many of us want, like wholesale organic coconut oil, purchased in 5 gallon tubs. She finds out from the company how many gallons she needs to buy to get the wholesale price, posts it to the list and we each sign up for whatever we like. I buy 50# nuts, blueberry bushes, bulk organic chocolate at the wholesale price. Last year I bought 40 various heirloom melon starts for less than I would have paid for a half dozen seed packets and minus the work of starting them (though we do seed buys, too). The buys are all over the map and they work out really great. Non-farmers do the commodities and deal with larger companies or directly to other farmers. We farmers post and sell what we grow and it's FAR FAR easier for me to pick on the perfect day of ripeness and then post that I've got 50# of ripe heirloom tomatoes for sale today. I post it at 10am and they're sold and picked up by noontime. Oh man oh man, that's far easier than farmers market.
As farmers we pick and sell within this group and nearly everything goes out the door in quick order. I am no longer confined to picking too early or late to match up with the market or store's schedule. I have a guaranteed market for everything I grow. They get a great deal because I would rather charge $30 a bin for our organic/biodynamic apples and have the entire pick-to-sale process be done in under an hour. They get quality and fresh and it's still cheaper than a store.
As farmers, we also arrange our own sales, like an enormous tractor trailer of organic straw from the east side of WA at a kick-ass price, or bulk sales to each other for garlic bulbs or tree starts. Last year I wanted to buy some fancy cool recycled socks but they cost $20/pair, so I went to the company and asked how many socks do we need to buy to get the wholesale price. Turns out we only needed to order 100 pairs. I posted this to my group the month before Christmas and we ordered over 400 pairs. Everyone gave them as gifts and for $9/pair, they were a steal. No middleman.
My group is closed at 125 families and we have a wait list to join. I highly recommend you create more of these. I believe they are the wave of the future for farms like us.
Friendly Haven Rise Farm www.FriendlyHaven.com Spirit Bee (our bee site) www.SpiritBee.com