For the last twenty years I've been a regular at farmers markets, both for personal consumption and during my many years in food service. Actually, it was my patronage of local farmers that originally set me apart from my competitors with the catering business and restaurant. So when I purchased my farm in 2000, my goal was to one day sell my products at the local farmers market.
Although I did go as a drop-in farmer to the Pomfret Street Market in Carlisle a few years ago, I really don't count that as reaching my goal because at the time I was only trying to make an extra buck on a bumper crop of greens that were soon to be tilled under to make way for the peppers. It seemed like such a waste so I procured a space for the day, spent hours in the rain picking and packing produce the night before and the next morning trying to sell my organically grown chards, kales, lettuces (washed & bagged, no less) and spinaches at a market where people were more interested in the Amish guy next to me selling baked goods.
One man complained that, at $1.50, my free-range brown, green and white eggs were too expensive. He could get a dozen at Wal Mart for .79 cents. The only thing I sold out of were the flower bouquets I had also brought to liven up the table.
After paying for my fuel and the space rental, my net gain was $10.19. I had estimated if I would have sold half of what I took, I would have made around a hundred bucks. That told me two things about this area--the farmers market location stunk and the consumers were uneducated about nutritional local foods.
I hung up the idea of farmers market until I began helping out friends who do two markets in the Washington DC area. I've also witnessed an increase of support for locally-produced foods in the wake of killer produce and toxic meats.
Still unwilling to hock veggies for a living, and happy with raising meat animals I held with the direct marketing approach. Having customers come to the farm and pick of their products is not only convenient for me, but also more profitable.
But I still had this nagging lust to be the farmer on the other side of the table.
In order to sell meat products at a farmers market, there are a number of hurdle to clear. First, it's a trip to the insurance man. In our litigenous society, selling at market requires a minimum of a million dollars liability coverage. Then, all meat sold has to be slaughtered and packaged by a USDA-certified butcher with a USDA-approved label.
My label design was fairly innocuous, but Mr. USDAman told me it had to be changed. I wasn't allowed to call my meats "Naturally-Raised". That constitutes a qualifying statement and if I want to use it, I have to be certified natural by an accredited oversight organization to verify that my meat is, indeed, natural and not cardboard or plastic. I knew the government had the word 'organic' locked down, but natural? Give me a break! So I took out the offending words and Mr. USDAman gave my label his stamp of approval.
Two veal calves (I also couldn't say they were humanely raised--that's another certification) and two goats went to the USDA butcher and came back all neatly cryo-pack vacuum sealed and flash frozen just days prior to Dickinson College's third annual local foods dinner which this year featured a farmers market three hours prior to the dinner.
So this was my big day. While getting ready it hit me that it has taken just a little over six years to reach my goal. Dreams (and farms) don't happen overnight, but if you persevere, you do get there. Six years of building pastures to feed multiple generations of goats where I finally feel that I have the quality and inventory to sell individual cuts at a farmers market.
My goat was to sell $100 in meat at the market and I far surpassed it as well as made several contact with people from out of town who were there visiting their children who would like to have goat shipped to their home.
Was it stressful? Yes. A lot of work? Absolutely. Exhausting? Definitely. Satisfying? Well, let's just say that's it's going to be a long time before anything will be able to wipe the smile off my face.
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