If you’ve ever wanted to start a farm and make money doing it (or you’re in the process), a lot of big-picture thinking probably got you there. Big ideas are fine, but I’m here to tell you that making money by selling food at farmers markets is all about the little things.
Little things such as how you conduct yourself at the market and how you organize yourself on the farm can have an enormous effect on whether you meet your financial goals. While hundreds of not hundreds of thousands of small ideas exist, I’ll look at the top few that have helped our farm over the years.
1. Price Items Correctly
Whatever you sell, it should be sold at a price that makes sense for what it cost to produce. It is tempting, especially in the face of customer complaints, to reduce the price as low as possible to get crops to move off your farmers market table. But doing that will only drive your income down. If something isn’t selling, make note of it. Look at how it’s displayed. Is it pretty? Is everyone else selling the same thing? Lowering the price is often not the answer. Sometimes it’s just the wrong crop at the wrong time. Also keep in mind that if no customers are complaining, you might not be charging enough.
2. Stay Slightly Out of Season
Speaking of “wrong crop at the wrong time,” all successful market farmers are a few weeks ahead of the competition on everything and don’t bother competing with the typical bounty in the summer. If you’re serious about making money at the market, this should be your goal, at least with a few crops. Trying to sell squash and even tomatoes in July and August is a futile chore, and the lowest price will win. Having these in spring, however, or even in the fall, might be the best way to get a decent price.
3. Be Efficient
All the little footsteps one takes at the farm—the traveling back and forth to water the animals, turn on the irrigation or get your tools—add up. All the time spent doing anything that is not planting, harvesting, cleaning and selling should be done as quickly (while still being effective) as possible. For a better plan, check out The Lean Farm by Ben Hartman.
4. Resist Experimenting Too Much
Rare seeds and rare breeds can be enticing—and certainly, people have made money with them—but the majority of your labor, especially in the first few years, should go toward proven varieties. Why? Rare seeds tend to be less predictable and uniform. Rare breeds tend to be expensive to get into, and sometimes they’re slower to grow. By all means, have fun on your farm. But perhaps at first make the rare stuff a side project, not a focus, and also make sure not to try too many different experimental growing methods until you have been at it a while.
5. Get Rest and Stay Positive
One of the easiest things to do on a farm is burn out. Making sure to give yourself adequate breaks, taking occasional vacations and getting enough rest even in the busy season is essential to success. Moreover, customers will enjoy seeing you looking happy and healthy on market day. If you’re exhausted every week, it might show—to your customers and in your sales numbers.