This week’s Whole Farm basket includes 1.5 pounds of mixed yellow squash, cucumbers, and zucchini, a tatuma squash, a half pint of mixed sun gold and cherry tomatoes, a third pound of okra, a small bunch of basil, and either a small bag of carrots or a couple of jalapeño peppers.
The biggest excitement on the farm this week is that we’ve picked the first cantaloupe and watermelon of the season! Since we don’t know exactly when each one will be ripe, we’re going to take “pre-orders” so that we can cut and deliver them on their schedule. Let us know if you’re interested, or see more info on the Currently Available page.
You may notice that we keep trying new ways of selling veggies. First it was word-of-mouth only, then the website, then setting up at weekly farmers markets, then Whole Farm baskets, and now pre-orders. I guess you can’t embark upon an adventure without learning new things along the way, and that is so true for the development of Calamint Farms. One thing I knew almost nothing about beforehand was sales, which turns out to be a somewhat critical facet of running a successful farm.
I’m not a natural salesperson by any stretch of the imagination. I think I quit Girl Scouts when I was about 9 because I couldn’t take the pressure of selling Girl Scout cookies. And let’s face it, they practically sell themselves! I’m also not particularly motivated by or interested in money, which is probably a requirement for starting a business… Oh well!
And so, how do you sell something that you believe in wholeheartedly when you’re not very good at the whole sales part of it? When it comes to veggies, there are a couple main ways of selling your produce: direct sales, including farmers markets, and wholesaling.
If the three farmers markets we sell at are any indication, there’s no set format for how a market runs. The environment and atmosphere of each market is different, as are the rules about what you can sell, how long you have to stay, and the fee for setting up. As I look around on market day, I see that some of the other vendors are so much more gregarious and able to lure customers to their table than I am. Me, while I try to smile and greet everyone who walks by, I tend to let the veggies speak for themselves in attracting customers to the table. I may miss out on some sales that way, but for now it’s an approach I’m much more comfortable with. At each market you start to recognize and look forward to seeing the regulars, even if you’ll never know their names. The camaraderie among vendors is also really fun. As a customer was finishing buying cucumbers from me this week, he wandered over to the table next to mine, where Mrs. Ruby was selling vegetables. He came back a few minutes later and semi-apologetically explained that he bought tomatoes from her, even though I had tomatoes too. I assured him, “It’s ok, it’s good to spread the love.” And it is! Sure, I want to do well at market, but I know Mrs. Ruby works just as hard as I do each week, and I want her to do well too.
Our experience in wholesaling has met with much more limited success. For one thing, to sell wholesale requires a large volume of produce, and for most items, we’re just not at that scale yet. Second, the price you can get selling wholesale is about half of what you make with direct sales. It’s hard to let such a large volume go at such a low price, and yet the trade-off is not having to do the work of finding a retail buyer. One thing I recently learned is that the food you’ll find at at a grocery store, even if it appears to be from a local source, may have traveled a much greater distance than you’d expect. At a local, independent grocery store near us, the owner explained that because all of the produce sold at his store goes through a regional distribution hub, the tomatoes from north Florida actually had to travel to Atlanta before returning to southwest Georgia to be sold.
I know I have so much to continue learning about farming, especially concerning sales and marketing. While I realize I’ll never be a natural salesperson, I enjoy putting together every basket we sell, and look forward to each farmers market because I truly appreciate the opportunity to be providing “artisanal produce from our fields to your table.”