Why Market Gardeners Should ( mostly ) Avoid the Farmers Market!

You've grown some wonderful veggies in your market garden and now the time has come to sell them. So you head off to the farmers market, right?

Wrong! If you are a market gardener ( or want to be one ), there are good reasons to stay away from the market.

This is from my book Bootstrap Market Gardening:

There is a number of problems with the farmers market ( if you are a farmer ):

We grow a LOT of great veggies but they (mostly) don't go to the farmers market

Problem 1: Competition

Other growers at the market will have many of the same goods you do. It is possible to establish a niche by trying to be the earliest grower, or growing unusual or gourmet vegetables ( we have done both ).

But these all take extra time and attention, and the demand is still uncertain.

And inevitably as the season progresses, there is 'price erosion'; e.g. one of your neighboring market growers has a great year for growing tomatoes, so all of a sudden he is selling them for $0.50 less a pound than you are.

Your choices are to match his price, and reduce your profit, or don't match it and lose sales.

Problem 2: Wastage
When you set up at a farmers’ market, you are never sure what is going to sell that day i.e. unpredictable demand.

So you sell out of tomatoes by 8 a.m., and at 1 p.m. bring 50 lbs of unsold cabbage home. And the problem is, next market day it might be the other way around.

This leads to lost sales opportunities. And because fresh veggies are a perishable item, it inevitably leads to wastage and spoilage.

And if you only go to one market day a week, it’s hard to keep produce at the peak of maturity and freshness.

Problem 3: Can't adjust demand
Let's say that you have a couple of items that turn out to be big sellers. The problem is, the season is well under way and it is hard to 'ramp up' to grow more of a popular item. Result: lost sales opportunity.

Here's the solution: Community Supported Agriculture - CSA

Simply put, CSA means that customers subscribe to your farm, and pay you in advance for a season's worth of fresh veggies.

Why CSA is the better business model

Okay, before all you farmers market folks decide to string me up, let me say I have sold (overflow produce) at markets, and by and large marketeers are wonderful folks. But we think CSA is a better model for your main sales outlet

Lets look at the Bootstrap Market Garden model we designed for our farm, which is a kind of CSA.

Our customers subscribe to the produce coming from our farm. They pay us, in advance, for the growing season.

In return, they receive a share of the farm’s bounty, delivered right to their door. No farmers market. What are the advantages of this business model?

Advantage 1: No competition

In our model we have no competition - we set our price to make a profit, and find customers willing to pay it. Our customers are 'locked in' for the season. ( ps is there another business that customers will pay you to start? )

Advantage 2 - No waste

Nothing we grow is wasted because everything is sold before we grow it! Whatever we harvest is delivered directly to our customers.

Advantage 3 - Better Planning
And finally, because we meet all our customers before the season starts we can plan our production and grow more of the most popular items.

There are more advances but this is enough for you to see that CSA is the way for market gardeners.

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