I truly commend all of those who are successful in the farmers market circuit. This is in no way a post discouraging people from participating in your community market. In fact, I love to visit our markets throughout the week.
But for us, participating in the weekly market became too much work and time.
Since offering U-Pick at our farm, it has solved many of the difficulties we had keeping up with the farmer’s market circuit. Perhaps it might do the same for you.
Pros for U-Pick
It’s the freshest!
You can’t offer a fresher product than still on the vine, in the ground or on the tree. Your customers are harvesting live produce.
Your customers do the harvesting
Well…for the most part. You still have an obligation to pick the remaining products that your customers aren’t buying. But for the bulk of your sales, your customers are doing the harvesting.
No booth fee
At most farmers market setting there is a booth fee where you pay to set up your table and tent during market hours. Some markets make you pay for the whole season, others you can pay week to week.
You don’t have to leave your house
Any work-from-home situation is nice because it cuts out commute time. I can also watch my daughter and run our small farm business at the same time!
You make your own hours
Within reason…I feel like there needs to be some consistency and common sense with your U-Pick offered hours to be successful, but in the end, you are deciding when you offer your product. You don’t have to adhere to a market schedule.
Hauling everything to the show
This was the hardest part of the Farmers Market for us. The picking, packing, and hauling of all the stuff. The tent, and tables and chairs and tablecloths…baskets for display, money box, signs, coolers…and then picking the produce, and determining how much we should bring…etc. Then packing it all into the truck and hauling it to the market. Then setting it up for 4 hours worth of sales and taking it all back down again, and unloading everything when we got home.
It was exhausting and didn’t justify the money we made at the market.
U-Pick is more forgiving in that once we put up signs etc. they can stay up for that picking season.
You have to have a plan for un-purchased produce
If the market has a bad turn out, you may not sell all of your harvest for that week. Produce with a short lifespan may not make it to next week’s market before it spoils. It will need to be dealt with either by finding another buyer, going to a second market, or processed in a preserving way.
With U-Pick, the product stays on the vine until it’s ready to be picked. This gives you a lot more freedom of time. You may still get un-purchased produce, but there’s less of an emergency to deal with it.
Cons for U-Pick
You have to make your farm presentable
Well, you don’t have to, but you might feel the pressure to make things look nice for visiting customers. I always like to have the surrounding grass mowed and weed whacked around the trees. We try to stay on top of weeds and wipe down the plastic chairs we offer for people to sit in.
U-Pick is a very transparent business
When you take your crops to the market, you have the choice of leaving the cabbages eaten by worms at home…or the onion patch that you forgot to water, or the strawberries that are so taken over by weeds that you can’t see the plants anymore.
At the market, you can line up your reddest, juiciest tomatoes and offer your customers the best of your farm. With U-Pick…it’s all there to see.
People will be on your property
This brings a whole list of issues including insurance and safety concerns. The public is not always respectful of your property so losses may occur. You will also need to deal with parking and traffic. Your township may also need to be contacted if you plan to operate a home business. One of the things we’re still trying to work out is bathroom usage. Do we rent a Port-O-Potty, or let people use our home bathroom? All things to consider.
Not all crops work really well
U-Pick works best for crops that people want to buy in bulk. It might be tough to do a U-Pick Basil for example. Most people don’t want to trek out to your farm to get a few sprigs of basil for their spaghetti. Now if they’re canning lots of tomatoes with basil, they may want to have a bunch…it all depends.
You also have to consider how the plant is picked. Using the Basil example again. Basil needs to be picked in a certain way so that it continues to produce throughout the season. Will you customers know that when they go out into your field? Or will they chop it down to the ground?
Advertisement is in your hands vs the popularity of farmer’s markets
The last issue is in advertising. When you visit a farmer’s market the market gets lots of advertising in your community. That is partially what the booth fee pays for. When you have a U-Pick Farm, the advertising is in your hands.