Selling farm fresh fruits and vegetables can be a seasonal business or a full-time operation if you live in a milder region that produces produce year-round. Not only do you make money from selling what you grow or acquire from local farmers, but you also provide customers with the fruits and veggies they need to put healthy meals on their tables.
Perishable Food Means Extra Licensing
If you plan to sell 2,000 or more pounds of fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables, you must obtain a Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act license, commonly known as a PACA, from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. You're exempt from needing the license if you only sell what you grow. If you plan to sell produce from your own stand, inquire about any permits required by your state, county or local government. In some states, you may be allowed to sell minimally processed produce without a permit. Do proper research to comply with the law and avoid hefty fines.
Source It While It's Fresh
A couple of options exist for getting the fruit and veggies you need. You can grow it yourself on land or in a greenhouse. If you choose this path, make sure you have the space and equipment needed for the job. Consider the cost of soil, seeds, gardening tools, building supplies, mulch and soil testing equipment. You can also opt for starter plants, which are more convenient but have a higher price tag. To keep the costs low, visit gardening organizations and nurseries in your area. Many of them have plant and seed sales in the spring. You can also check websites like Craiglist and eBay for discounted gardening supplies.
Another option requires contracting with local farmers, gardeners, orchards and co-ops to buy their produce at wholesale prices and resell at retail prices.
What Equipment Will You Need?
Selling fruits and vegetables requires investing in the necessary tools to transport and maintain the produce. A vehicle, such as a van or truck, and a hand truck for moving produce and making deliveries are necessities. Containers for keeping the produce from being damaged during harvesting, in storage and in transit are required too. Tables, an umbrella or some form of shade are required if you sell at outdoor markets.
If you plan to set up a shop to sell your produce, look for adequate space with plentiful parking. Shelving for display and refrigeration units to keep produce cold keep food fresh and make them appealing to the customers. You also need scales, bagging products and a payment processing system with a cash till.
Where to Sell?
Set up a table at farmer's markets, fairs and at flea markets if you have enough produce to sell at a market that lasts a few hours. Convince consumers to sign up for a subscription service to receive a box of fresh produce every week or bi-weekly based on what's in season. If you have a large farm, consider a U-pick operation, ideal for harvesting large quantities of produce, such as that used for canning and preserving.
Another market consists of restaurants, bakeries, caterers, schools and nursing homes that need to prepare fresh food for their clients. You also can sell to produce stands and grocery stores.
Getting Customers to the Door
Figuring out what types of fruits and veggies to offer requires analyzing the market. Start by figuring out who will buy in the geographical area in which you plan to sell. Identify what unfulfilled markets exist before you decide what to grow or buy from local sources. If you choose a direct selling approach, such as a fruit stand or farmer's market booth, use signs to attract and convince people to try your fresh produce. Ask customers to sign up to receive emails about where and what seasonal produce you'll be selling next. This will help you to build a following.
Educate customers by using labels and small cards to add descriptions of each fruit and vegetable you sell. Add information about where each item comes from and give an idea or two for how it can be used.
Nancy Wagner is a marketing strategist and speaker who started writing in 1998. She writes business plans for startups and established companies and teaches marketing and promotional tactics at local workshops. Wagner's business and marketing articles have appeared in "Home Business Journal," "Nation’s Business," "Emerging Business" and "The Mortgage Press," among others. She holds a B.S. from Eastern Illinois University.