Summary: Over the past several months we’ve been keeping a monthly journal of the first year on our homestead with all of the high points, as well as the trials and tribulations of transitioning from life in the city to life in the country.
In March, our fourth month, my husband took a leave of absence from our computer consulting business to see if full time work on the homestead was a possibility.
We have been working since January to have enough produce to sell both wholesale to a small local grocery and at the local Farmer’s Market. If you want to read our entire journey from month one up to this point you can find all of the posts listed here.
Month Six was entitled reality check. Month seven was basically a continuation of that as we made our first sale to the local co-op and made our first appearance at a few local Farmer’s Markets.
Expectation: The Farmer’s Market Community with the vendors and market managers is a friendly community. Everyone works to help each other and everyone observes the rules and regulations. The manager is there to see that everything runs smoothly.
Reality: This is only partially true. Some markets did have a friendly feel amongst the members, and the market manager was supportive and helpful to potential new vendors. But there were those that were not. We learned (the hard way) that it is entirely possible to show up on time, registration papers in hand, market fee paid in full, set up, and then be asked to move some of our stuff to accommodate a returning member ~ even though that member had arrived late after the market was open. We also learned it is possible that said member will proceed to ignore the rule of having prices set before the market opens, thereby undercutting you and keeping you from making a sale for the first few hours. It is also possible that the market manager will fudge certain details to save face with said returning member, never take the time to introduce himself, make sure you are comfortable, or learn your name; preferring instead to smoke and hobnob with fellow long standing vendor buddies.
I left our first farmer’s market feeling like I had been shunned from a middle school clique.
Expectation: Everyone loves locally grown, striped tomatoes in funky colors.
Reality: The majority of the people who stopped by our booth could have cared less where our stuff came from or how we grew it. We were later told that this crowd preferred round, red hybrid tomatoes. And many want them out of season. I was shocked and saddened to overhear a conversation between a prospective customer and vendor in the neighboring booth:
Customer: What makes your garlic different from what I can purchase in the store?
Vendor: It is healthier for you!
Customer: I don’t care about healthy.
Expectation: Fellow local growers are knowledgeable about cultural practices and have no problems visiting with their customers about how their produce is grown.
Reality: When I was a potential customer scouting out a local market I was taken aback when I asked about some radishes.
Me: Can you tell me about how these are grown?
Grower: I’m not sure I understand. What do you mean?
Me: I mean are they organic or conventionally grown?
Grower: What does conventional mean?’
Me: Do you use pesticides?
Grower: Oooooh! Oh no. No. We don’t spray at all. If we have to, we start with something mild like Sevin, and then work our way up to something much stronger such as a pyrethrin spray.
Expectation: All the growers sell produce they have grown themselves.
Reality: In Oklahoma the only requirement for selling at the farmer’s market is that 70% be grown by the vendor. The remaining 30% can be purchased from someone else.
It is very difficult to set your table loaded with your own vegetables you’ve struggled to grow in wonky weather next to someone else’s who purchased out of season produce from a much larger grower.
No one is really enticed by baby kale when they can get 12” cucumbers, chard the size of elephant ears, or red tomatoes that have apparently been grown in a green house. Although the vendor was upfront about the fact that they were not hers and she did not think they were organically grown, hers was the busy booth that morning. We didn’t make a single sale.
Expectation: A pretty booth will draw people in.
Reality: We went to a lot of trouble to put together what we thought was an attractive booth
with a tablecloth, pretty baskets, chalkboards, cut flowers, and recipes for our produce. I even bought a cute gingham pinwheel and stuck it in a tin milk pail.
However, few people paid attention to our display.
While we did get customers who eventually came our way, they immediately bolted from their cars to those who had little more than a table set in front of their pick up.
Expectation: Home grown heirloom produce commands a much higher price than conventionally grown in the grocery store.
Reality: Farmer’s Market products were, relatively speaking, priced much cheaper than I had anticipated; and most customers will only purchase a few small items at a time. Where we live, customers have not really seen the value of paying a higher price for better food. If you don’t price your products comparatively, they won’t sell no matter how healthy or unique.
Expectation: It would be more advantageous to sell full price at the Farmer’s Market that to be the middle man selling wholesale to the co-op.
Reality: The local co-op was more than willing to give us a fair price for our lettuces, a price that was only slightly less than the going rate at the Farmer’s Market. They were also willing to take whatever we could give them while at the market we have yet to sell out.
Expectation: Once we figure out the right combination or hit upon the right series of events this endeavor will take off. We have the technical knowledge, so all it takes is hard work. One year, or even two, will be sufficient to establish a thriving little produce business.
Reality: Given the opinion of our general public towards locally grown, this will take a marketing strategy that includes educating those around us about why we do what we do.
Given the going rate of products sold both at the market and wholesale, this will take a much larger infrastructure and much more volume than we had originally planned.
We were not given the advantage of inheriting the family farm. We purchased an empty pasture with a pond and have literally started from the ground up.
All of these things will take more time. Much more time.
Expectation: It’s just vegetables. You don’t take it personal.
Reality: We have invested much blood, sweat, and tears in what we sell. We personally selected varieties that were favorites of ours for significant reasons. While harvesting, we thought often of those we hoped to bless with what we’d grown.
When someone takes a passing glance and wrinkles their nose, it really does sting.
But at the same time, when someone lovingly takes a bunch of your rosemary, inhales deeply, and says wistfully “This reminds me so much of my grandmother…”
…it totally makes your day.
Takeaway from Month Seven:
In spite of the harsh reality, we still believe in what we do.
We love yellow cream sausage tomatoes.
We think Forellenschluss leaves are the most beautiful things we have ever seen.
We still love our over-decorated booth with the chalkboards and the obnoxious pinwheel.
We believe naturally grown, local, in season, is the best thing you can put on your table.
We believe that if we persist, others will come to love and believe in those things too.
We may need to adjust our plan, it will take much longer than we expected but we intend to keep at it.
And anyhow, the chickens will be here next week.
Find this post and others like it linked to: Clever Chicks Blog Hop, The Homestead Barn Hop, The Scoop, Tuesdays with a Twist, The Backyard Farming Connection Hop Frugal Days Sustainable Ways, Wildcrafting Wednesday, The HomeAcre Hop, Down Home Blog Hop, Simple Lives Thursday