How to sell your crops: Marketing
Before you plant your first seed, answer this question: How will you sell your crops? A good marketing plan is an absolute must for a successful farm business. Know your market and your customers. Start by growing vegetables that are popular with people in your area. Make sure you grow enough of each crop, and make the quality of your vegetables good. Then consider the best way to sell them to your customers.
Sell everything to one place
If you have a big farm or live far away from customers, you might want to sell your crops to one place, such as a store, restaurant, food co-op. This is called wholesale marketing. Selling your crops this way is faster than other ways of selling. It is also a good choice if you are not comfortable meeting and talking to a lot of people. Wholesale marketing will probably not make you as much money as selling directly to the customer, and you may not get paid right away. But it is a simple, easy way of selling.
Selling directly to customers
If you do not have a big farm or if you are a new farmer, it is a good idea to sell your crops directly to customers. This is called direct or retail marketing. Although you can make more money and get paid faster this way, you will need more time to sell. It is a good way to sell your crops if you are a good planner, have time, and enjoy meeting and talking to people.
How to decide the best retail market
Many farmers sell vegetables at a farmers market or a roadside stand. Some farmers let customers pick their own vegetables. Which market is best for you?
The farmer's market
Many people come to the farmer's market to buy vegetables. You can sell a lot of vegetables, so you need to bring enough vegetables to last the day. You have to plan carefully. If you want to sell your vegetables at a farmers market, look for a market that is:
- In a busy area
- Well known by a lot of customers
- Clean and well managed
Here are some ideas to help make your booth a successful display:
- Make the area around your booth attractive
- Customers like a large display to choose from. Put as many of your vegetables out as you can while still keeping them fresh in shade. Tilt every item to give your customer a better view and make your supply look larger. But be careful to place the vegetables so that they don't fall over when a customer takes some.
- Put your crops up on shelves, not on the ground
- Put each of your crops in a group to make large blocks of color. Yellow vegetables, especially, catch the customer's eye
- Make signs for all your crops with each name and price. Customers also like to read information about your farm.
- If you would like, hand out recipes (in English) that are from your country and use the vegetables you are selling.
For more ideas on how to best display your vegetables at a farmer's market, see the publication, "How to Pick, Store, and Sell the Vegetables You Grow."
People like to stop at roadside stands to buy fresh vegetables. Roadside stands can be close to your home or garden. You can sell your crops without traveling far, and you can make money selling only one or two crops. For instance, fresh-picked sweet corn, tomatoes, and pumpkins sell well.
Customers who stop at roadside stands like to see colorful plants, gardens, animals, even clean gardening tools. They also like to see your crops growing. If your stand is near your garden, make sure your garden is in good condition and customers can see your crops.
If you want to sell your crops at a roadside stand:
- Call your University of Minnesota Extension county office to ask whether there are any rules about roadside stands and signs.
- Find a place close to a town or city, where people would not have to drive more than 10 miles to reach you.
- Find a place where a lot of cars go by. The cars should be going slow enough to be able to stop. A place next to a stoplight or stop sign is a good place.
- Find a place that people can see as they drive by.
- Find a place where people can park their cars.
- Ask customers what they think about your stand. You can learn a lot about what they want. This will help you plan for next year.
Pick your own or you-pick
Some customers like going into fields and picking their own vegetables. This is sometimes known as a You-Pick or "U-Pick" field. The best customers for a you-pick field need a lot of vegetables for canning or freezing. If you are near people who can or freeze vegetables, selling this way may be a good choice.
If you would like to sell your crops this way, first call your University of Minnesota Extension county office to find out if there are any rules about You-Pick selling. For instance, you may need to have restroom and hand-washing areas for your customers. Selling your crops this way can save you work, but could also hurt your crop if your customers don't know how to pick. Plan on taking time to show people how to handle your crops, and then watch them work.
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)
CSA is a retail way of selling where a customer subscribes to a season's worth of fresh produce from farms. A subscriber or CSA member will pay you money before the growing season begins. You will make your money back as your crops sell. Most CSAs have several drop-off locations where members come to pick up boxes of produce each week. Because CSAs try to build connections between farms and the people who eat produce, many CSAs give newsletters describing the produce, recipes, or news about farm activities. Call your University of Minnesota Extension county office to find out how to sell your crops using a CSA.
The best plan is to sell good crops
Selling your crops successfully starts with making sure your crops are fresh and healthy. No matter where you sell, customers want high quality. Next, think about what is important to you about selling your crops. Do you want to sell them fast? Do you want to meet and talk to your customers, and can you give them excellent service? Do you want your customers to pick their own vegetables? Do you want your customers to pay for a summer's worth of vegetables at the beginning of the season? The answers to these questions will help you decide which market best fits for you.