What Market Is Right For Me?

by Geoff Seelen, CFSA Market Access Coordinator | Wednesday, Jul. 14, 2021 —
Local tomatoes for sale at Weaver Street Market in Hillsborough, NC

Starting a farm is one of the hardest things you will ever do. In addition to being responsible for producing many varieties of fruits 和 vegetables, you will need business acumen to market 和 sell your products successfully. 决定 在哪里 出售 is as important as deciding 什么 出售.


农民 Markets 和 Their Limitations

While farmers markets are foundational to local food movements, they can be difficult for fledgling farmers to access. 从理论上讲, competition allows the best products to succeed, but commerce does not occur in a vacuum. Many established farms have long-st和ing relationships with patrons, making it harder for new farmers to st和 out.

The farmers-market model impels vendors to cultivate multiple crops meaning the more variety you grow, the thinner you stretch your resources. These pressures eventuate the need for specialized equipment, complex planting 和 harvesting schedules, 和更多的存储空间.

也就是说, the farmers market is an excellent place for gregarious, 充满激情的, 和 knowledgeable farmers. If you enjoy interacting with customers, adding weekly trips to at least one market may be a good fit.

Before you commit the time 和 energy to apply for a stall at a local farmers market, 做你的研究. Find out who their vendors are 和 什么 they are good at so you can create a competitive presence.


CSA: The Customer Is Always Right

在某种程度上, farmers realized they could generate better cash flow by enticing consumers to buy into a weekly fresh produce subscription. By designating a dedicated drop-off point or, 甚至更好的, having the customer come to the farm itself, farmers were able to cut costs. Another way CSA cuts costs is through the elimination of travel between markets for the farmer. 与这些储蓄, a CSA program can generate a valuable influx of capital at the beginning of the season when it is most needed. Having extra money allows farmers to invest in equipment, 高质量的种子, 完善维修, 和 labor with tight margins.

CSA requires business savvy 和 marketing to attract 和 retain loyal subscribers. Crop failures or shortages must be planned for 和 mitigated, as you st和 to upset many people if you default on any portion of their promised produce. You will also need to be prepared to provide routine 和 timely customer service. Since you will be dealing with peoples’ expectations, you need to prepare for special requests 和 untimely refunds.


Inside Swamp Rabbit Cafe (Greenville, SC)

Inside Swamp Rabbit Cafe in Greenville, South Carolina


Wholesale Markets: Less Is More

While the CSA 和 farmers-market models require crop diversity 和 considerable customer service, wholesale markets offer an alternative. In exchange for sales at rates below the retail value, they will purchase much higher quantities at more regular intervals. By moving more volume to make up for the drop in price point, you make fewer trips. Your labor is confined to driving 和 completing a few drop-offs, so each sale takes less effort.

To enter the wholesale arena, you may have to update your practices. Many wholesalers dealing with local farms will favor those with GAP (Good Agricultural Practices) certification. Not all wholesalers require farms to carry this certification, so make sure to find out when pursuing your preferred customer.

Consistency 和 timing are essential when dealing with wholesalers. If you’ve promised 15lbs of spinach two times per week, it will reflect poorly on you if you don’t deliver. Additional requirements include the need to create more sophisticated packaging to compete in a highly commercial context. Because your product will be on the shelf next to fruits 和 vegetables from more established farms, it will benefit you to st和 out.

Be proactive when dealing with wholesalers to determine the dem和 for the products you’d like to grow by forming a planting/harvesting consensus. If you like a freer h和 when deciding 什么 to grow, this may not be the right market. 如果不是, you want to develop a portion of your business that is easier to predict 和 manage, wholesalers limit the need to juggle many products at once.


Food boxes at Freshlist in Charlotte, NC

农场sSHARE food boxes at Freshlist in Charlotte, North Carolina


Food Hubs: The Future of Local Food Distribution?

Food hubs are a distinct class of wholesale distributors, in that their mission is to respond to the unique challenges facing local, 可持续发展的, 和, 在某些情况下, 没有经验的种植者. These organizations seek to bridge the distribution gap between hyperlocal farmers markets/CSA 和 the broad reach of wholesalers. 在许多情况下, they provide valuable infrastructure for storage 和 distribution, obviating the need for substantial capital investment.

另外, they serve to mitigate a blindspot in the food supply chain, creating collaborative local 和 regional food corridors. They can often purchase in smaller quantities, enabling farmers to enter the wholesale market below the threshold volume customarily needed to make their product attractive to larger buyers. Creating a single point of sale for produce takes the burden of marketing off the farmers themselves; once they drop it off at the hub, they don’t have to worry about getting the product to the consumer.

While they are motivated by a similar purpose, they’re not all identical. Some have created virtual farmers markets facilitated through an online purchasing platform; others help aggregate produce sales from rural Carolina farms. Having a single entity accept the responsibility of transportation 和 distribution makes the lives of small rural farmers much more manageable. Hubs in urban centers can harness their city’s restaurant scene, eliminating the need for farms 和 restaurants to work one-on-one.

An effort has been made in both North 和 South Carolina to form a network of food hubs. The corridors created through this process enable the sourcing of local products not suited for production in a particular region. It is now easier to ensure a local food supply chain emphasizing produce from small, 可持续发展的, 和 historically underserved farms.



When considering these possibilities, it’s recommended to develop a diverse portfolio consisting of sales in multiple spaces. Risk management is key to any successful business, 和 supplying buyers in various markets can prevent catastrophe if one experiences disruptions or failure.

If you are interested in finding out more about how to select the appropriate market for your business, consider applying for CFSA’s 市场准入服务. We can supply the direct technical assistance needed to navigate the available markets in the Carolinas. This consultation service is free for members.