Rather than bringing fresh produce and meat to the customer, such as at a farmers’ market, some agripreneurs opt to have the customer come to the produce, perhaps picking it up at a stand or perhaps by participating in a CSA program. While there are definitely advantages to this style of marketing food, such as transparency, it is also definitely not for every farm.
Deciding to sell food directly from the farm is a step that requires extensive research and preparation. Here are a few of the most important pros and cons to get you started.
- Transparency. Selling direct from the farm adds transparency to the food supply. Customers have an opportunity to see the farm for themselves, and this builds trust, which in turn builds loyalty. A truly dedicated agripreneur will take it a step further and use the opportunity to share information on sustainable practices with his customers.
- No travel required. Selling at a farmers’ market generally requires farmers to hit the road early in the morning so they can set up shop at the venue and spend the day away from the farm. If this sounds burdensome to you, you might prefer to sell directly from home.
- Seasonal production. When selling produce wholesale or to a restaurant or similar business, small farmers are frequently pressured to provide the same goods in large quantities all year long. Selling directly from the farm reduces this pressure.
- No middleman. And no middleman means that you have an opportunity to reap the full profits of your harvest.
- Opportunities to pair up streams. Already have customers coming out to the farm? Add new streams of income! For instance, many agripreneurs find it quite easy to add handcrafted gifts or their own books to the product lineup. Others add agritourism elements.
- Location, location. Where your farm is located makes a big difference in the feasibility of this option. Farms in remote areas can rarely pull this one off.
- Mishaps. Inviting people to your farm means that accidents could happen. A self-pay system is prone to theft. A U-pick farm is prone to plant damage due to inexperienced hands wrestling with the berries.
- Legal liabilities. If a personal injury occurs on your premises, you could be a prime target for a lawsuit.
- Regulations. Are there regulations and codes that apply to your proposed business venture? Do zoning restrictions preclude this option in your area? Will inspections be required? It is essential to know this up front!
- Potential for increased costs. What type of structure will you be using to sell your produce? Do you need to build a shed or stand? Will you be able to serve all the customers who come to this facility, or will you need employees?
- Marketing and advertising. Selling food at a farmers’ market reduces your marketing workload to some degree because the market will pick up part of that responsibility. Customers who have been attracted to the farmers’ market will have the opportunity to discover you just by walking past your table.
- Lower sales volume. There is a certain degree of security farmers feel in being able to sell large quantities of produce. How much volume a small-farm direct marketing situation can achieve will vary based on many factors. U-pick operations are notoriously low-volume. On the other hand, a CSA can achieve high volumes if marketed well. Of course, a lower volume may be ideal for a small farm.
Selling fruits, vegetables, meats, dairy products, and more directly from the farm is a tried-and-true method of cultivating a healthy relationship between farmer and customer. Under the right circumstances, it can also be quite profitable.
Before leaping into this sales option, however, it is crucial to examine the pitfalls. In particular, make sure that you have a sound marketing plan and that you are prepared to meet any and all legal requirements. Also be prepared for the potential downsides that come with inviting people out to the farm, such as unsavory characters and the risk of lawsuits.
If this sounds daunting to you, perhaps you would be better off looking into another marketing possibility, such selling at farmers’ markets, marketing to other businesses, or even offering your products online, depending on what you are raising. But if you are prepared for the challenge, this option just might be for you. Good luck!
Kansas Department of Agriculture Licensing Guides
Good starting point for research on legalities.