There are more ways to become a part of your local food community than just “buying local.” In many places there’s not even enough local food to meet demand. Next summer, why not showcase your talents and passion for homemade, high quality food by becoming a producer? Perhaps you have an amazing herb or flower garden? Love to can fruit or preserve tomatoes? Or have some of your grandmother’s muffin recipes you know your neighbors would enjoy? The Muffin Mafia aside, showcasing your talents at your local
Like all things, success does not come risk, commitment, and hard work Growing food and selling produce at Farmer’s Markets is less complicated (as far as the market politics go) than producing something from raw foods. The first thing you need to do is check out your state’s laws on “Cottage Food Industries” (a quaint way of talking about anything produced in your home). 100 years ago, no one thought twice about buying food from a neighbor. Today, thanks to our globalized food system that has f%$#ed everything up, the government is so paranoid of food-borne illnesses they are actually stricter with home produced goods than they are with giant corporations. OK, I sound a little bitter on the subject, but honestly- have you have ever worked in any restaurant or food processing facility? They are scarier than even the messiest home kitchen.
This summer I baked for two markets- Driggs, Idaho, and Jackson, Wyoming. Wyoming requires that I bake in a commercial kitchen; Idaho could barely be bothered with filing my name and setting me loose at home. I had to pay $25 per hour for a commercial kitchen for the Jackson market one day a week, and ended up hiring an assistant for $12 an hour so we could really crank out some baked goods. Last summer I averaged about $350-$400 gross at the Jackson market- this summer I had to sell a minimum of $650 and had one day I sold $800. That’s a lot of muffins. In the end, I paid myself about $2000 after paying sales taxes and market fees, about $300 a week, or $15 an hour before personal taxes. If I didn’t have the commercial kitchen it would have really been worth it. The days I cooked at home, though, I got to set my own hours, spend time with my daughter and water my garden at the same time.
Words of Insight:
1) Get good at a few things. Too many choices and too many products make you less profitable and overwhelm you customers. See The Paradox of Choice
2) Real or not, people “think” we are in a recession. While, thankfully, farmer’s markets continue to thrive (I sold out in 1 ½ hours every week), I found people are less willing to spend $20 on a pie than years past, but have no trouble buying cookies at $2 each.
3) I always thought that commercial restaurant food suppliers sold bulk ingredients at a discount. NOT. I guess they do if you are a huge buyer, but I went through the effort to set up a few accounts and the food often cost much more than the grocery store. I understand you are paying for convenience, but sometimes it is dramatically more expensive. The hardest decisions I made were finding creative ways to make my products affordable without sacrificing quality or social responsibility. I abhor Sam’s Club, but I reluctantly drug myself there three times this summer- it was either that or look for a new job. Such great choices we have gotten ourselves into. It helps to think in terms of “off-sets” though. If I went to Sam’s, I also made an effort to stick to only high quality products and seek other sources for local fruits and veggies and ingredients like honey, and cheese.
5) If you register your business with the State, you can get at the minimum a tax exemption at the grocery store, and at our local market I also got an account with 7.5% discount.
6) Homemade pies don’t freeze well. Hmmm, must be the lack of stabilizers, thickeners, and preservatives. If you don’t sell it, eat it.
7) Barter. At the end of the market everyone is willing to trade what they have left over.
8) Keep good records of what you buy and sell. Include bartering in your record keeping so you feel better about how much money you actually make, even though it isn’t cash. Try to keep home and business ingredients somewhat separate, or at the minimum try to estimate in your record keeping what % of, say, 5 lbs of vegetable oil is used for the business.
9) Have fun and cook what you like to eat. Enjoy the people you talk to at the market. Share with your neighbors who have to smell the baked goods all day.
Much trial and error went into finding the best recipes for the Farmer’s Market. These are not only my best sellers, all are easily quadrupled, and are not finicky if you make a substitution, and look beautiful when displayed. Many are adapted from other cookbooks and reference is given where due.
I’m happy to share advice. Please feel free to contact me or check out:
Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all.
Harriet Van Horne
Recipes- Best of the Market
Farmer’s Market Pie Crust
Breakfast Bounty Granola
Mixed Fruit Cobbler
Very Berry Cake
Giant Ginger Cookies
Julia’s Date Bars
Oatmeal Pecan Chocolate Chip Cookies
Chocolate Chip Zucchini Cake
Lemon Blueberry Bread
Kuchen Rio Verde
Blueberry Maple Flax Muffins
Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Bars