We have a roadside farm stand here on our 50-acre family farm, and each year our season runs from Memorial Day weekend through the last Saturday of November. We choose to have hours just two days per week- Saturdays from 10-4 and Tuesdays from 12-6. This allows me to run the stand without hired help and maintain a personal connection with my farm stand customers, while also giving enough time each week to do what we need to do in the gardens, barn and pastures.
Opening at the end of May is quite early here in northwestern Pennsylvania. We open before any other local farm market. It’s challenging to have produce ready by Memorial Day weekend, as it’s not uncommon to have our final frost of the year occur the first week of June. Like most years, our selection of organically grown produce was limited- rhubarb, lettuce and spring onions, all crops that can be planted early and tolerate cool temperatures. We always try to plant spring veggies like peas, radishes, and other cool-season crops as well, but they typically simply are not ready to harvest by opening day. This used to stress me out terribly, I worried nothing would be ready and the tables would be bare. But I’ve also worked each year to make the farm a more beautiful and more productive place by tucking perennial plants in many spaces. So not only is the rhubarb ready, I fill additional table space with fresh-cut herbs. Our opening day selection this year included peppermint and apple mint, oregano, lemon balm, chives and chive blossoms. Each year I try growing a few new things, so it’s a selection that will continue to expand. I love perennials because they not only give me a bit of a jump on the season, but they also tend to be reliable, low-maintenance crops.
If our only product was produce, I wouldn’t open this early in the year, but we do a number of other things as well. We work with a local USDA-inspected processing facility to offer grass-fed, farm-raised meats and had pork and chicken available. The beef and lamb will be ready next weekend. I had a selection of jams and jellies, and we work with other small, local businesses to offer raw milk cheese and locally roasted coffees and organic teas. All together, it makes a solid selection of edibles to have on hand to open the doors for the year.
We run an online storefront on Etsy, and the items we create over the winter help provide much-needed income when the farm stand is closed, but again, these items are ready to go and are great additions to the farm stand. We find that folks usually come looking for food, not necessarily gifts, but the more we put out the more we sell. We’ve partnered for the past few years with a customer who makes goat’s milk soaps from her own goats, and that has gone well. I was pleasantly surprised to sell out of my all-natural sunscreen on opening day, and we also sold some of Dan’s hand-forged fire pokers and some tote bags I crafted out of old feed sacks.
I find getting all this ready for the first time of the year to be enormously stressful, but I’m working on keeping calmer each year. I no longer worry (as much) about bare tables or fear that no one will show up, and I’ve learned running out of something isn’t the end of the world. This year, we were sold out of chicken in less than an hour, but as we have more to process each week for the next month or so, it hopefully just gives customers an incentive to return.
Cleaning the cobwebs and dust and accumulated clutter out of the farm stand is another major task leading up to opening day, but I find I stress less if I break it down into specific tasks and make a list- sweep rafters, wash down refrigerators, order coffee, etc. Having a concrete list of tasks and the ability to cross them off helps me to feel as though I’m making progress in the weeks and days leading up to the big day. It also helps me to prioritize what needs to be done vs. what I’d like to see done.
A lot of effort is also put into yard work, as I firmly believe that the appearance of our farm is part of our advertising. Mowing, weeding, raking all make the place look just a bit nicer and encourage folks to drop in and see what we have going on. It’s important to me to make sure the front yard is clear of clutter as we allow visitors to walk up to the poultry runs and check out the birds. I offer small cups of pelleted feed so folks can feed them, and this tiny bit of agritourism has been very meaningful to a lot of our customers. It makes us not only a store, but an attraction. This provides me with a way to raise awareness about heritage breeds, why they are endangered, and why saving them matters and to contrast the way we care for our critters and how that differs from industrial agriculture.
I’m always happy to have opening day over, it’s easy for me to settle into a routine now that I know that the opening day setup is complete. We had a successful day, with beautiful weather, and lots of customers. It’s always nice to see some of our farm stand friends after a long winter and look forward to catching up with other folks as the season continues, and we hopefully made a good impression on other folks who visited for the first time. I feel like we are off to a great start, and am optimistic that 2017 will be the best year yet!