Dear Aggie: Can I sell vegetables from my garden? Do I need any special certificates or approvals?
A: My first venture into agribusiness was selling tomatoes from a wheelbarrow at the end of our driveway. They sold quickly. Whether our neighbors took pity on the poor 9-year-old standing with a for-sale sign or whether they saw a rare opportunity to buy some of my father’s heirloom tomatoes remains up for debate. Either way, I was hooked. Selling vegetables can be fun and profitable.
New York state requires no special permits to operate a simple farmstand. Stands can range from a table on the lawn to a shed with refrigerated cases to u-pick gardens. Many stands operate on the honor system; the gardener leaves vegetables every morning and returns (hopefully) to find cash. Honor systems require a certain level of trust that your neighbors will not steal from you, or acceptance that some will. Otherwise, consider opening during peak such as after work or on Saturday.
Roadside stands work best on heavily trafficked roads. Some businesses and landowners will allow farmers to set up for a few hours every week on their property. Be sure to obtain their permission first. Advertising, whether using flyers, signage, or social media, lets people know where and when to find your stand. A free listing in the Cooperative Extension’s Local Food guide is one place to start.
Farmers markets can be great for beginning market gardeners but typically have strict contracts for participation. Most require that growers have liability insurance, which farm policies typically include. Inexpensive insurance can also be obtained through the New York Farmers Market Federation. Keep in mind that entrance fees to farmer’s markets can be several hundred dollars per season. Fees cover marketing expenses and related costs. Some markets allow farmers to sell for a single day at a pro-rated cost. A list of Jefferson County farmer’s markets is also contained our local food guide.
Experienced growers might sell through a CSA (Consumer Supported Agriculture). This arrangement requires meticulous planning and coordination. In the spring, buyers purchase a share of a farm’s crop. The grower then packs bags containing whatever is available that week. Customers pick up the bags at a specified time and place. Another option growing in popularity is to allow customers to order and pay for products online using e-commerce platforms. Growers then pack the bags for customers to pick-up either on-farm or at a central location. Some growers offer delivery.
Larger CSAs and stands often buy wholesale from other growers, particularly for popular items in short supply. Selling through food hubs or cooperatives are also good options. Few restaurants purchase from small growers; most prefer going through brokers to ensure consistency from week to week. Similarly, supermarkets require that farms be certified for Good Agricultural Practices (GAP), have insurance, and use specialized packing.
Regardless of where you sell, the federal Food Safety Modernization Act requires growers to handle produce in a manner that reduces the risk of food-borne illnesses.
Question answered by Mike Nuckols, Local Foods and Commercial Horticulture Educator, firstname.lastname@example.org .