When it comes to selling produce and livestock that we have raised ourselves, we have two main options:
- Market products directly to our customers.
- Sell products through conventional commodity channels.
One of the problems with the latter route is that commodity markets do not lend themselves to fulfilling producers’ unique purposes.
If we decide to sell our crops or our livestock as commodities, we will have to stick pretty closely to market standards. Unfortunately, market standards tend to be antagonistic to innovation. We’ll have to produce the same thing everyone else is producing whether it makes sense to us or not. And what if we disagree with conventional practices or have a different set of goals? The commodity markets can’t make allowance for that. We have to fit in or pay the price.
Furthermore, market instability and soaring costs make it difficult for small-scale producers to survive in the commodity world today. The current maxim is, “Get bigger or get out.” Those who survive in the long run are usually the ones following that advice. Most producers are keeping their costs down by spreading them out across huge acreages and large numbers of livestock. So how does a beginner with only a modest bank account start out big enough to survive? Usually debt—and lots of it.
To a certain extent, direct marketing gives us the freedom to create a product we are satisfied with and then share it with customers we feel comfortable working with. We can go in any direction necessary to fulfill our unique purpose. We can directly serve those we were put here to serve.
Even if a constant stream of customers coming to our home doesn’t sound appealing, we can still direct market. There are no rules that say everyone has to have an on-farm store or set up shop at a farmers’ market. Our creativity is really the only limit here. For example, some direct marketers have successfully used self-serve roadside stands. Don’t overlook the Internet, either. Even grassfed meat can be shipped across the country with a little know-how.
Yes, commodity markets do have their place. If nothing else, they can be a convenient way to salvage a product that doesn’t meet our direct marketing standards. In general, however, most of us will probably find that the benefits of direct marketing far outweigh the extra work involved.