Marketing and Sales
Marketing and selling garden produce can be a great way to financially sustain a gardening program. Whether you are interested in starting an entrepreneurial gardening program, or you would just like to sell some of your excess produce, it is a good idea to have a strategy for marketing and selling produce from your garden. This page provides you with some ideas of possible outlets for the sale of your produce, tips on how to ensure that you have the best produce available for sale, and marketing strategies to help you sell what you have. We also provide you with a series of links to online resources for further information related to selling your harvest.
For ideas on products you can make and sell from your harvest, check out our Value Added Projects page.
Possible Sales Outlets
This section will help you explore the benefits and drawbacks of different types of sales outlets. The list of possible sales outlets we provide you with is not exhaustive - see if you can come up with some alternatives to selling produce from your garden!
Selling to Individuals:
Farmers markets are growing in popularity and people shopping at farmers markets may be willing to pay relatively high prices for food they know is fresh and has been grown close to home. Farmers markets give you a chance to interact with the people who are cooking and eating your food, and that can be a very rewarding benefit. Markets also give you the opportunity to interact with other growers in your area, who may be able to give you invaluable advice on growing and selling your crop.
Farmers market organizers usually require that growers pay an annual fee to set up stand, or may require membership to a farmers' market association. You may also need inspection and certification of the goods you are selling, particularly if they are processed. Make sure you know the rules and regulations of the market. You will also need to take care to plan for the transportation and storage of your produce, and you will need to be able to estimate how much you will sell, so that you do not bring too much or too little to market. And for you late risers, selling at a farmers market will usually mean that you will have to wake up very early to get set up on time!
Selling directly from your own garden at a garden stand will mean that your produce will be as fresh as possible, and that you will not have to worry about transportation or storage costs. And if you are having a slow sales day, you can just take time to water or weed your garden! Because buyers will be coming to your garden, direct sales will also give you the chance to show off your handiwork, and perhaps recruit a new gardener or two.
Depending on where your plot is located, it may not be possible to sell directly from your garden. You should check with your city planning and zoning department to see if you will need any special permits or a vendor's license to sell in your area. If your garden is located in an area that is zoned residential, for example, it may be prohibited to sell any goods in your area without special permission (often called a zoning variance). Another drawback to selling directly from your garden is that you will need to bring the customers to you! Depending on your location, you may need to invest in signage or other advertising to make sure that people know where to find you, and when you will be open for business.
Mobile markets are a great way to get the word out about your gardening project. They provide an excellent opportunity to reach people that may otherwise not have access to fresh produce in their neighborhood. If you want to make your food count for the people who need it most, a mobile market may be one of the best ways. Click here to watch a promotional video about the mobile market of People's Grocery, a food justice organization located in Oakland California.
Since a mobile market is, after all, mobile, you will need to have a reliable van or truck for your market sales. You should make sure that it is decorated or painted in a way that will make your vehicle recognizable to your customers, and if possible you should always use the same vehicle to establish consistency. Since you are mobile, vendor's licenses and zoning restrictions may seem like they do not apply; but be careful to consult with a member of your city planning and zoning department to make sure that you do not get charged with any fines for "illegally" selling your goods.
Community Supported Agriculture
Community supported agriculture, or CSAs, mean that you sell directly to the consumer, usually by delivery at their house or at a specified pick-up location. CSAs are usually managed by requiring that customers pay for produce up front, at the beginning of the season, and then receive a weekly assortment of food. This type of sales format can be beneficial because it means you have cash when you most need it - at the beginning of the season. CSAs also help in the establishment of a loyal customer base, and have the potential to reduce transportation costs.
CSAs take a good deal of planning and organization to manage. You need to be able to tell people how much they will be receiving and when they will be receiving it, and you have to make sure that what you charge them will be equal to the amount of produce they actually receive. You may also find it challenging to gather your first round of CSA customers.
Selling to Businesses and Organizations:
If you live in an area that has a number of locally owned or gourmet restaurants, you may find restaurant sales to be profitable. In specialty or gourmet restaurants, chefs will be willing to pay top dollar for produce that is unique and/or exceptionally fresh. Because these types of restaurants will not be buying very large quantities of produce, you will still be able to grow a variety of crops. And because restaurants will have their own refrigerators and other methods of storage, you may save on storage and handling costs.
Because restaurants may want unique produce, you may need to expand your horticultural knowledge. You may find that it is just not worth your while to grow white asparagus or harvest baby zucchinis, even if that is what the chef would like to serve. But if you do some investigating, you may be lucky enough to find a restaurant that wants to support your gardening efforts and likes anything you can provide because it is fresh and locally grown!
If you are in a school garden program, the benefits of selling to your own school are clear - distance! Since you will not have to transport produce and will not have to worry about transportation and storage costs. This will also mean that you can grow delicate crops like berries and fruits without having to worry about spoilage during transport.
Schools may not be willing to pay much for produce grown in a school garden because it is part of the school's educational program. Even if you are working a garden that is off school premises and otherwise unaffiliated with the school, you may find that schools will not be able to pay as much for produce as other buyers.
One of the primary benefits of selling to grocery stores can also be considered a drawback - quantity! Depending on the size of your operation, you may find that a grocer will buy "whatever you got" because they know that they will be able to sell it. Another benefit of selling your produce to a local grocery store is that you may get some free advertising - asking the grocer to put a sign next to your fruits and vegetables identifying where and how they were grown is a way to reach people who may otherwise not learn about your garden project.
The benefit of quantity can also be a drawback, and is the factor that often makes it very difficult for small-scale growers to sell to grocery stores. Because the stores need a continuous and reliable supply of produce, they may not be willing to buy from someone who cannot promise them a supply of large quantities of produce at just the right time. And because grocery stores buy in bulk, they are also used to paying bulk prices, which will most likely be much lower than the prices you can expect other buyers to pay.
Growing for Sale
Even with the right outlet and marketing strategies, the overall quality of your produce is what is going to keep customers coming back. Here are a few basic rules of thumb for ensuring that your products will sell.
- Harvest crops as close to the time of sale as possible to ensure freshness and quality (and yes, this may mean harvesting before the sun rises!)
- If you have to harvest crops some time before sale, make sure to store them in a cool, dry place
- So fruits and vegetables will keep as long as possible after purchase, harvest when they have just ripened, or just begun to ripen
- Harvest only the best-looking produce - those with the least amount of blemishes
- Handle produce carefully during harvest and handling; do not overpack crates or boxes
- Do not wash produce unless you absolutely have to, and then do it right before sale - moisture may cause spoilage if produce is stored for any amount of time
- Bunch crops like radishes, carrots, and beets - this will help keep them from becoming bruised or damaged during transport
- Place bands or bags around crops like Swiss chard, collard greens, bok choi, and lettuces to protect them during transport and sale
- Keep records of how much you pick and sell if selling at market, to help you from picking too much or too little
When selling your from your garden directly to customers, a few marketing strategies can help you improve sales and develop a loyal customer base. Make sure your customers understand that what you offer them is unique, and well worth the price!
- Be consistent in quality, price, and service
- Provide attractive and easily-legible signage that includes the name and price of each item - a drawing or photograph is a nice touch
- Offer samples of any unusual or unique fruits and vegetables so that people will become familiar with them
- When selling at market, take care that your display looks good through-out the day - it may need some re-arranging every once and a while
- Try providing recipes to customers, or informational sheets about your gardening organization
- If there is anything unique about the way you grow your produce, let your customers know
- Interact with customers, and make sure that they know who you are, and that you grew the products yourself!
Sustainable Food Center
This site offers health and nutrtion information. The knowledge of food systems and the relationship with food that young people develop through Sprouting Healthy Kids empowers them to make positive decisions concerning their own health and nutrition and the health of their families and their communities.
Alternative Farming Systems Information Center
Hosted by the USDA, this site provides useful advice on how to start a CSA, as well as information on organic production, alternative crops, and funding sources.
The New England Small Farm Institute
This site provides information for small and start-up farmers, including a Small Farm Library that contains articles about producing, processing, and selling fruits and vegetables.
BLAST Youth Initiative: New Farmer
The BLAST Youth Initiative of The Food Project provides a great series of links to resources for new farmers, with information on marketing and sales.
Books and Articles:
Backyard Market Gardening: The Entrepreneur's Guide to Selling what you Grow
Entrepreneurial Community Gardens: Growing Food, Skills, Jobs and Communities
G. Feenstra, S. McGrew and D. Campbell
Follow the link for ordering information: http://ucce.ucdavis.edu/files/filelibrary/5089/34485.htm
Growing Ventures: Starting a School Garden Business
National Gardening Association
Follow the link for ordering information: http://www.kidsgardeningstore.com/11-3110.html
Market Gardening: A Start-Up Guide
Metro Farm: The Guide to Growing for Big Profit on a Small Parcel of Land
Nuevos Mercados Para Su Cosecha (New Ways to Sell What You Grow)
Download file in PDF format or contact the National Center for Appropriate Technology at (800) ASK-NCAT to request a printed copy.
Selling at Farmers Markets
Nada A. Haddad
Sustainable Vegetable Production from Start-Up to Market
Follow the link for ordering information: http://www.uvm.edu/vtvegandberry/Pubs/svp.html