Even small vegetable produce farmers should start with a business and marketing plan as a basic roadmap. This will help you pinpoint the vegetables that grow well in your area, the demand where you live, and your potential markets. For example, if organic produce is in demand you will need to check into any required organic certification processes, associated costs, and whether you can make up those costs through higher sales prices. Then you can create your marketing strategies to get your produce on consumers’ tables.
In wholesale marketing, you target one large customer, such as a grocery store or restaurant, to sell to in large quantities. This customer would purchase your vegetables at wholesale prices, so you would not make as much as you would selling smaller quantities to individuals or smaller customers. Also, if you lost the customer it would represent all of your income from vegetable sales, at least temporarily. It is, however, a simple and fast option, particularly if your vegetable farm is a hobby or second job.
Farmers’ markets and roadside stands are considered direct marketing methods of selling produce. If there is an organized farmers’ market in your area, you can rent a stand and quickly set up shop for just your time and your rental fee. Plan ahead to apply for a space at the market and to complete any paperwork required by the market operator. Roadside stands can be done with your own table or from the back of a vehicle. Before doing that, however, check ordinances that might prevent roadside selling. You can charge more selling this way but it also takes more of your time.
The self-serve, pick-your-own option is ideal if you enjoy interacting with people but prefer to spend more time on your farm and less time off-site. It is particularly convenient for larger farms that can accommodate crowds. Customers come and pick from your fields; you can charge by the container or by weight. You should offer basic instructions to ensure your fields and plants are not damaged by inexperienced pickers. Check local laws to determine if you must have a certain amount of parking allowance, restrooms, or hand-washing facilities.
Community-supported agriculture markets your vegetable produce through subscriptions. Your customers pay an annual or seasonal subscription fee or share in exchange for a share of your produce. You can market the same type of subscription to everyone, offering X pounds per month, or offer varying sizes based on desired frequency or pounds. Some CSAs deliver the produce, but you can ask subscribers to come to you or to a public location such as a farmer’s market. CSAs offer a guaranteed, pre-paid income stream and are an effective way to ensure you have operating funds throughout the growing seasons.