For the first three years of selling we were at a farmers market that was trying to rebound. It was located in a stayed community of old houses and income levels. We didn't learn this until later but it didn't matter. I liked being part of nostalgia by trying to bring back the old farmers market.
We were learning how to grow organic on a large scale and also learning about farmers markets. Each market has its own personality, procedures and clientel. Our enthusiasm and drive were not lacking, but week after week foot traffic was minimal and we often wondered if we were in the right place. It certainly was not making copious amounts of money. Slowly we started to build up a clientel and we were bringing in fruits and vegetables that were coming into season.
For six years my wife and I were the only ones doing the work. As with most small farmers we too had full-time jobs. We both gave up our weekends and evenings. In the off season we would plow through insect, plant identification, pasture management and animal husbandry books. We attended lectures and classes on small farming and other specialties. We belong to the Maryland Small Farm Co-op, the Pastured Poultry Association, CASA-Future Harvest and the Maryland Organic Food and Farmers Association.
Each of these groups have specific functions but all are setup to gather, trade and disseminate information with most of the emphasis on providing education to there members. These groups are great for getting started and networking. It doesn't matter who you are or what you know, or if you've been farming for years there is value to joining and participating in the events.
It is in these groups were you find kindred spirits, market stories, working knowledge and moral support. The first three years selling was hard for us, we were putting in maximum effort but were getting little if any return on our investment and time.
We kept hearing one phrase over and over again at the market. There was a point where we could identify the person that was going to say it. We heard the phrase in English, Spanish and German. We couldn't tell what they were saying but the body language of some of the Asian customers spoke loud enough.
It was always the same thing, different languages but the same facial expressions, "Is this all there is?". We tried not to take it personally but weekend after weekend it did wear on us. I would often engage the people and ask sincerely what they would like to see. Mostly the answer was more vendors. We would pass this information on to the market manager.
What struck me as odd was we had plenty of a variety of fruits and vegetables, we were transitional organic and our prices were a dollar. We joked that we were the other dollar store. Cucumbers 4 for a dollar, tomatoes dollar a pound, onions same thing, berries they sold at a premium. Everything else went for a buck. Because there wasn't a big vendor presence most people just turned and left. There were days when we ended up giving more food to our local soup kitchen then what we sold. Giving to the soup kitchen had its own intrinsic reward and helped us gain perspective with the days events.
It was hard but we made the best of it and made some really good friends that we still have to this day. The market provided us with a way to sell our vegetables and have fun. Besides, without the market how would we learn?
Buy Local - from a farmer not a chain advertising "Local"