PHOTO: Napoleon Benito/Flickr
Jesse Frost
November 18, 2016

Let’s face it, if you’re a farmer, chances are you don’t sell food—you sell ingredients. Generally speaking, your kale is not eaten on the way to the parking lot. And the ground lamb you sell isn’t just nibbled on as a snack. The kale becomes part of a salad. The ground lamb becomes a burger. Both examples require someone to cut them and cook them before they’re consumed. Save for fruits and certain veggies, like cherry tomatoes, most meat and produce is prepared in some way before use. More often than not, this task falls to the customer.

Why is this an important distinction? Let’s look:

1. It May Determine What You Grow

Most people won’t buy food they don’t know what to do with. Some customers like the adventure, sure, but your average market customer is generally going to pass over the tatsoi for something more familiar because they will know what to do with it. Knowing what your population is like and what they will generally buy should determine to some degree what you produce.

Appreciating that everything you grow is an ingredient may also determine what you grow because you may find that your market really likes the things it can eat on the way home, such as fruits, cherry tomatoes, baby carrots and the like. While customers are at your booth picking up these sorts of “snack” foods, they may also pick up the sorts of things that take a little more time to prepare. This may especially be true if the customer’s purchases are incentivized through buying more items at a discount.

2. It Provides Marketing Opportunities

If you know that customers have to prepare the food, then you may have an opportunity to help them learn how to use those ingredients to their greatest degree. Perhaps this could be something as extravagant as cooking classes on your farm or as simple as passing out recipe cards for each ingredient. At our booth this year, we put up a nicely drawn picture of a dish each week (my wife’s an artist) with a recipe and offered anyone shopping that day to take a picture with their phone. Don’t have a camera phone? No problem, we’ll email it to you! We sold some of our more odd ingredients, like pea shoots, in great numbers with the help of these digital recipe cards.

3. It May Encourage You to do Some Home Processing

You may find that prepared goods sell better than raw ingredients, and that could encourage you to start creating one or two different jams, jellies, sauces, baked goods, pickles or what have you from your own kitchen—following your state laws, of course. These goods could then serve two purposes: The first is to “value add”—that is, to take your own raw ingredient and turn it into something more valuable for yourself—and secondly, it could give your customers an idea of what to do with this or that ingredient when they buy it raw. It’s a win-win.


Next Up