This is the first ever guest post here at Permaculture Apprentice, by my good friend Pete Widin. Pete is landscape architect and ecologist focusing on permaculture design for holistic farms and healing centers internationally. Here he’ll be talking about finding buyers for your products and setting yourself up for profit and success….
What’s the point in growing something you can’t sell? And what do you do when you can’t sell what you’ve grown?
This post is all about what to do before you grow to set yourself up for profit and success, leading to growth in your business, and a positive outlook on the season that will carry you forward toward the next goal, rather than being stuck in the mud with a huge crop of who knows what while you come up with excuses to tell your friends about season 1 of My Farm Fail.. Not gonna be you!!
First off, I’m assuming if you’re on Permaculture Apprentice you understand that knowing your site is the first step to success. This post will be about the market research and connections that need to happen for your crop to transform into dough to keep your plant addiction satisfied.
Alright, what’s the first and most important thing you can do before you decide what to plant?
Talk about your dreams, the more people you share what you’re doing with and ask them if they have ideas on where and what to sell, the more idea fodder you’ll have to hone in on your ideal cash crop. You will likely end up with connections through friends or acquaintances that can give you a leg up on the trust factor when approaching potential customers.
- Think of your favorite local restaurants, make a list of them and look up their menus online. What items or ingredients could you grow? Give them a call and see when you can get in to talk with the manager or head chef. If you happen to have a sample for them to taste, even better!
- Go to the local farmers market and see what other people are growing; this can be used in two ways. First, you can make a list of what you see that not only grows well in your area but how well it sells. Don’t be afraid to talk to the other farmers/growers about their products and even their ideas for what else to grow. Another valuable piece of info you can get from seeing what others grow/sell is that you can select different varieties of the same plant or different plant products to grow that make You stand out to the average consumer and also to higher end bulk buyers like farm-table restaurants, hotels, college cafeterias, etc. A lot of farmers markets are also saturated with the same old type of farmer – you’re more likely to get a stall at the market if you’re offering something new and different that will attract more customers and fill a needed niche.
- Do you use any culinary herbal or herbal medicine products – tinctures, lotions, salves, teas, etc.? A lot of these plants are grown as perennials in temperate climates, and can be easily incorporated into border plantings, understory guilds, etc. in a permaculture farm setting. There is so much coming to mind that you could grow it’s making my head spin! Talk to local health product artisans who need material, local naturopaths or holistic nutritionists, tea shops, etc. Walking around town for an afternoon with a notebook writing down all the places that may be interested in your future products, and knowing what they currently offer and especially can’t source easily is going to give you a giant leap forward. Here is a short list of some very commonly used medicinal herbs, P meaning Perennial, A for Annual:
- P – mints, rosemary, sage, oregano, thyme, calendula, lavender, marshmallow (root), st. john’s wort (also good 4 pollinators), nettle, dandelion (it’s useful!), Chamomile, lemon balm, chives (spread like crazy)
- A – lemon verbena, basil, cilantro/coriander, parsley, summer savory, tarragon, dill (reseeds), fennel (reseeds)
Diversity is the Key to Your Profitability
Carrots Love Tomatoes, and Roses Love Garlic are two wonderful books by my garden hero Louise Riotte.. they’re all about companion planting, and how certain plants either like or dislike one another. Plant compositions of mixed species and varieties can add a lot of value to your operation (also see Toby Hemenway’s Gaia’s Garden). Diversity not only helps your crops’ integrity in the midst of pests, disease, and variable weather, but also creates a greater wealth of offerings at any time in the season. An example could be finding companion plants that are great for certain value-added products, such as planting beans with dill. Ever had canned Dilly Beans? They sell like wildfire.
Make the Decision to Buy an Easy One, Add Value!
In what form do your customers want their plant products?
For example, are you selling whole, fresh herbs, fruits, vegetables? Or are you adding value by drying and blending herbs for culinary or tea use, creating tinctures, stewing tomatoes or drying them in the sun before sale, or making jams for a local cafe to serve at breakfast or a local store to sell? There are so many ways to present your products, and ways to add value if need be by further processing from fresh (even blanching and freezing for a winter CSA!). In the end, it’s all about what your customers are looking for, and what products really stand out to them as unique and eye-catching for the end user.
And, always remember to Stagger your Plantings!! If you plant a certain amount of, say lettuce greens every week or two, you will have a continuous harvest throughout the season vs one giant load of lettuce that you can’t get rid of. Plan ahead, the greatest success stories are created by identifying what you don’t know, or at least areas of the overall process you feel uncertain about. That way, you’re always a step ahead of yourself. Be honest, be excited, and most of all – be FRESH! Grow big out there. Pete Widin, MLA, PDC