[NAFEX] Selling fruit (small scale)
jfruth at tds.net
Sun May 25 11:40:18 EDT 2008
Mark Angermayer asked about selling fruit. I'll report to the two methods
we have tried, at farmers' markets and U-Pick.
FARMERS' MARKETS We have sold apples, pears, black raspberries, red
raspberries, red currants and gooseberries at various markets.
The trick is to find the right market. When I first started selling
produce here in Minnesota, there was only one farmers' market within fifty
miles, so that's where I became a vendor. What I soon learned was that a
long established market has long established customers and the new vendor
had to 'pay his dues', so to speak, that is, to keep showing up for years
before some will buy from you. Customers would walk by my booth without so
much as giving my wares a glance. When the longest established vendor sold
potatoes for one dollar per pound, I made signs that read, "five cents per
pound," and didn't well any even though my potatoes looked just as good.
When raspberry season arrived I soon learned that I had to sell my
berries at a price that netted me about a dollar and a quarter per hour back
when minimum wage was $5.00.
The following year I started a farmers' market in my home town of Pequot
My biggest volume of fruit came in the form of black raspberries, from a
plant variety I developed. We believe in "Charge what the market will
bear," so we sold half pints of black raspberries for $3.00 and half pints
of red raspberries for fifty cents less and people told us we were selling
too cheap. Eventually we charged the same for both kinds.
Customers were waiting for us at 7:00 a.m. when we arrived with our
crates full of several hundred half pint boxes of berries. We usually sold
out before noon. Some folks would buy $60 or more at a time and come back
the following week and buy more. When wild raspberries came into season,
local pickers came to market expecting to sell a quart of berries for less
than $2.00. We told them how much they should charge and were told, "Oh no,
we can't charge that much," so I bought their berries, re-packaged them and
sold for our price while the locals never did figure out that customers were
willing to pay a worthwhile price.
Red currants rarely sold but there was such a big demand for
gooseberries that customers would come to the house to buy them. Pear sales
haven't been brisk because we live near the Northern boundary for growing
pears and customers suspect we brought them in from somewhere down South.
Crab apples and small plums don't sell at all - Ladies in their 70's and
80's used to say, "ME? Make jelly? Huh! My grandmother used to do that."
Large plums and apples sold very well but ONLY if the variety names were
familiar; we learned that we had to invent names for our unfamiliar
The biggest farmers' market lesson I learned is that customer buying
habits can be very different from one part of the country to another. I
started out being a vendor in several California farmers' markets, then
expected people in Minnesota to have similar buying habits. The biggest
difference was that Californians will buy new items just to try something
new whereas Minnesotans tend to not buy anything has can't be found in a
local grocery store.
U-PICK It is amazing how much a farmers' market can change within a year.
We tried doing a U-Pick after new farmers' market vendors disrupted the
market so much that customers stopped coming. We brought our berries to
market and sold almost none so we advertised our farm as a U-Pick.
WHAT A ZOO! We quickly learned that we had made a tragic mistake. Most
of our U-Pick customers were (sort of) wonderful but the minority turned
out to be too much to deal with. Some people who paid to get in felt they
had the right to pick anywhere and anything they wanted, and worse; they
stepped anywhere, smashed bushes wrecked stuff and more. We had to treat
them like four-year-olds! The biggest problem is that all pickers,
including those that seemed wonderful, dropped alot of berries. All those
dropped berry seeds grow! And become weeds that I have to pull out. Added
to the problem is that not all seeds sprout in the same year so year after
year I'm having to pull seedlings from the same spots.
And then there is the problem of pickers eating more berries than they
put in their container. Two people would enter at the same time and leave
together, one with several gallons of berries and the other with only a
handful, having eaten the rest. A fellow I know who runs a U-Pick has a
scale at the entrance to the berry patch; he weighs pickers coming in and
going our and they pay the difference.
It was the horrible U-Pick customers who convinced us we needed to do
something different with our berries, so now, we make jelly and sell it.
Pequot Lakes, MN 56472
For jams, jellies & syrups:
(218)831-7018 [My Cell]
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