[NAFEX] Selling fruit (small scale)

Jim Fruth 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 
Lakes, MN.
    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.

 Jim Fruth
Brambleberry Farm
Pequot Lakes, MN  56472
For jams, jellies & syrups:
(877)265-6856 [Store]
(218)831-7018 [My Cell] 

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