Selling Produce

To Market to Market

A major goal of the garden may be financial self sufficiency, in which case selling produce is a necessity. This may also fall within educational goals for students learning about math, business, economics, and entrepreneurial skills. Selling to the public could take place in the form of a market stand, either at the school (even in the garden), or at an established farmers market. Considerations include who the target audience is. Parents and school staff are likely customers as they will be familiar with the project and willing to support it financially. Foot traffic is important and farmers markets often have an established customer base looking for fresh produce. Wholesale may also be an option, with natural food grocery stores and gourmet restaurants eager to buy high quality local produce.

Growing for these markets opens up the possibilities of what to grow.  Items not commonly found in school cafeterias, such as beets, kohlrabi, fennel, arugula, leeks, eggplant, turnips, kale, swiss chard, tomatillos, sweet potatoes, okra, winter squash, and many more, become an option when selling to the public or wholesale accounts.

 

 

 

Farmers Markets

Selling your harvest at a farmers market throughout the season is a great way to help build financial sustainability and community awareness of your project. Whether you decide to establish an on-site market or take part in a citywide market, there are quite a few details and expenses that you’ll need to plan for.

You will need equipment to set up a successful market booth including tables, signage, packaging materials, display containers, cooler, certified scale, small calculator, and cash box with a starting bank of small bills and change. If you’ll be out in the open you will also need a tent for shade and some type of tent weights or tie downs to secure your tent. Since this will be the most public opportunity to promote your project, it’s important to set up an attractive display with colorful tablecloth, a system for clear pricing, and good signage that explains your project. Shoppers may be more likely to purchase your produce if they understand that it supports a school garden project.

Establishing a successful market booth can be a challenge and a test of endurance, but also incredibly rewarding and fun. Talking to customers, recommending recipes, making sales, and handling money are all new skill sets for student gardeners to learn and benefit from. 

 

On-site Market

If you decide to establish an on-site market at your school, it is a wonderful way to connect with the neighborhood and school body. It is also a great way to connect your produce directly to your garden, with an opportunity for shoppers to tour the garden and see students at work. During down times in selling, time can be spent productively with weeding and watering. The challenge will be to build a customer base and to offer enough selection to maintain those customers. Connect with the neighborhood association and local media to help spread the word about your market. Signage out on the nearest large intersection can help. Timing your market with the end of the school day provides a customer base of parents picking up students and teachers leaving for the day.

 

City-wide Market

Entering in a citywide market is another option with different benefits and challenges. The advantages of participating in an established market are the increased potential for sales, and exposure for your project. There is definitely more work involved in selling off site.  It requires a vehicle and a lot more moving of equipment and produce. You won’t have the luxury of being close to your garden or your storage space. There is often a fee required for participating in city markets, and a required tax id so that you can charge and pay necessary sales tax. You’ll need to decide if the volume of produce you grow can support this effort.

If you do decide to jump in to a larger market you will need to be mindful about pricing. It is important to establish fair prices in line with other growers at the market. Don’t hesitate to walk around to other vendors and compare prices. A school garden project selling at a market can add a great community component but it’s important to be sensitive to growers who are selling for their livelihood. Each market has their own rules and regulations and usually there is an application process, check with your local market for more info.

 

Selling Wholesale to Retailers

Selling wholesale doesn’t get as high of a price as selling retail, but it requires less time and is more dependable then selling at a market. Wholesale is a guaranteed sale at a set price, and there is little uncertainty. It is recommended to talk to potential wholesale accounts before the growing season to get an understanding of their interest and to get a commitment for quantity and price. Potential wholesale accounts include restaurants and grocers, particularly ones that focus on fresh, high quality, local and natural foods. Stores and restaurants may like the uniqueness of selling or using produce grown by students to support a school garden. They too can benefit from the image of being your community partner.

  

CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) or a Subscription Vegetable Service

Another option for selling produce is through Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). CSA is an agreement in which consumers pay a lump sum at the beginning of the growing season and in return receive a predetermined amount of produce each week throughout the season. The benefit to the grower is that there is early season income generation, at a time when expenses are high and income is low. It is also a commitment, like wholesale accounts, but at retail prices. The consumer gets fresh, high quality produce every week, as well as getting to know their grower. It is a win-win situation.

CSA’s were originally started as a group of consumers investing in a share of the farm and sharing the farm’s risk and uncertainty of each growing season. If a flood or drought wiped out the season’s crops, then the CSA members would help shoulder the financial burden. In a highly productive year the consumer would be rewarded with a bountiful share. CSA’s have adapted this model to fit their needs. CSA’s now mainly require an upfront investment and a set weekly amount of produce.

This can be risky for inexperienced growers or for those growing in unpredictable climates, which Kansas certainly can be. A lot of planning is mandatory and a consistently high quality product is required for return customers. Seeking parents and teachers for CSA members would be a great opportunity for a school garden CSA. Partnering with a local business to provide weekly produce deliveries for employees can be another option.

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