Selling products is not always an intuitive act for farmers. Although you may have a good handle on land management, NOP policy and even know how to deal with basic farming emergencies, your farm won't be in business for long if you're not selling any products.
Some organic farmers want to give away goods, but to be blunt, you've got to think of your farm as a real business, and real businesses sell their products to consumers. If you want to include a charity component in your business, that's fine, but be sure to take care of your own needs first. This allows you to later give goods away, without going into financial ruin to do so.
Following are some ideas about ways that you can find buyers for your organic agricultural products.
1. Local Buyers
Organic sellers can build a successful business even if they sell only in their neck of the woods. In fact, selling locally is much easier than selling nationally, and it's a more sustainable method of sales as well. Plus, local foods are a growing trend. Once you build up a local presence, it often translates into more sales nationwide as well.
Consider getting listed as a local retailers of organic goods at the following sites:
- Find tons of local farmers' markets at Local Harvest.
- Visit About.com's Guide to Local Foods.
- 22 lessons in running a successful farmers' market stand.
- How to sell herbs at the farmers' market.
Farmers' markets are not a one-size-fits all sort of deal. It's important to note that all farmers' markets have rules and regulations specific to their operation. Be sure to get the full scoop on all your local farmers' markets' rules before choosing one or consider starting your own farmers' market - which comes with some major start-up headaches, but it could give you the market you want.
3. State Department of Agriculture
Talk to your local state departments of agriculture. Most state departments often production and marketing assistance, including help about where to sell your products.
Consider starting a CSA. Starting a CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture program has pros and cons. Basically a CSA means you offer consumers a set price per month or year which helps to pay for crop production costs, and then after harvest, you give the subscribers fresh in-season crops.
To run a successful CSA a farmer needs strong people skills and marketing skills. CSA owners often run into time constraints due to the time needed to interact with consumers, fill orders and market the CSA. Already time-crunched farmers may find running a CSA overwhelming, but for those with a good system, they can pay off.
5. Organic Mills & Brokers
In some cases, contacting organic grain mills, brokers, and processors directly is the best way to sell organic grain. This move requires some work though and networking with other organic farmers or state agencies may help cut that workload down. Start with a local search and move outward from there.
6. Wholesale Companies
7. Contract Buyers
Look for a reputable contract buyers. Many organic crops may be produced under contract production. Contract production has the benefit of ongoing sales. However, if a buyer fails to honor their contract or fails to pay the contracted price, the farm can suffer. Farmers have some responsibility (pdf) in this relationship as well.
Before entering into a contract sale, check out industry publications to check up on buyer reputation. You can also speak with other growers or your certifying agent. Any reputable buyer should be able to provide you with good grower references. Lastly, make sure you're legally protected. Visit the National Agricultural Risk Education Library to learn about contract protection.