First market tomorrow—rain or shine!

The season officially begins!
Tomorrow morning, we’re going to wake up extra early so that we can harvest for our first market! What excitement! This will be our first big harvest, and we are nervous, excited, hopeful, anxious, and more. For those of you in Mac, we hope you can stop by. The McMinnville Farmers’ Market is held on Cowls Street, between 2nd and 3rd streets, from 1:30 to 6:30 in the afternoon.

Since it’s early in the season, we’ll mostly have greens, but a good variety of them to choose from. We’ll be selling: bok choi, spinach, salad mix, baby turnips, bunched mustard greens, kale, and broccoli raab. We’ve tasted all of these items already this season and can attest to their sweet spring tenderness. (There’s also a potential that we’ll have baby radishes, but we’re not sure if they’re ready quite yet.)

As well as the vegetables, we’ll be selling tomato plants of two varieties: Brandywine and San Marzano (a paste tomato). They’re just the right size for planting any time in the next three weeks, so if you want some extra tomatoes in your own yard, you should stop by.

Other things too
Although we’ve mostly got market on our minds, we have been doing other things out here lately too. As I’m sure you all are very aware, the last week was rainy. It rained hard almost everyday. Consequently we were forced to take some time off from fieldwork, which was a bit of a gift really. A few friends dropped by, and we got to show off our work. Our friend Todd visited last Friday and helped Casey finish a quick rain-inspired project: a permanent shade/rain shelter for the CSA pick-up site. After less than one day of labor, it’s pretty much done except for the siding on the backside:

Two of our friends from Bellingham also stayed with us this weekend and under their influence we almost had a complete weekend off from farm work. We pulled them out into the fields briefly on Saturday and weeded in the mud, but we quickly ended up sitting in our break room drinking hot tea and talking. It was a lovely break.

Yesterday the ground finally dried up enough for us to till and transplant again, which is good because the sight of our hothouse was practically giving me heart tremors—so many things were ready to go out in the fields and it just kept raining! So yesterday we had a ground prep/transplanting blitz. We planted: more tomatoes, a few more varieties of flowers, our first planting of sweet corn, green onions, shallots, cipollini (a small flat onion), more melons, more delicata squash, bush beans, edamame, head lettuce, and salad mix lettuce. This morning we followed up with beets, broccoli, bok choi, ornamental corn, and popcorn. All told, we planted well over 1000 bed feet (4000 row feet) in less than 24 hours! Whew! Good thing though, because it’s supposed to rain again later today and through the weekend, so we might not be able to transplant for a few days. Here’s a picture of the upper field, which is now fully planted after the blitz:

Our lowest field is also doing well these days:

Pricing—intimate painful details
(for the farm geeks out there & other interested parties)

To return to the original subject, we also spent the last few days preparing more for the market season. We practiced setting up our booth (it looks great—we’ll post pictures from market), and spent some more time thinking about our prices. We don’t plan to fluctuate much through the season, so we wanted to make sure that we’re comfortable staying with the prices we’ll be starting with tomorrow. Someone asked after our last post how we determine our prices, so we thought we’d share some of our logic here, since it might be of interest to other growers and our own customers as well.

Admittedly, pricing is a bit of a headache. We attended a seminar on prices at a fabulous direct marketing conference at OSU this winter, and none of the panelists seemed 100% confident with their methods—neither are we, but we do feel fairly good about it because of how much thought we put into the process. There are quite a few things we take into consideration:

First of all, how can we make this business sustainable? That’s a question we ask about everything we do, but finances and economics are part of this equation: if we can’t afford to make our living off our farm, then we’re not going to be very sustainable for long. Likewise, if people can’t afford to buy our produce, then we also won’t last long. So we’re always trying to find the middle ground where we can make a profit and people in all income-brackets can afford to buy our veggies. We don’t buy into the image of organics as an elitist item, perpetuated by high-priced stores such as Whole Foods. Honestly, we can’t even afford to shop at Whole Foods ourselves. Rather, we think of organic vegetables as something that can and should be a part of a frugal food budget based primarily on whole and bulk food items (rather than expensive processed organic items), and we want our farm to be a part of making that diet possible for many people in our community.

Okay, so keeping that in mind, how do we find that middle ground? We consider a few angles. For example, what do we need to make to meet our financial goals? We picked up a good ‘ag math’ way to look at this from the farmer we worked for in Bellingham. Using all hypotheticals for simplicity sake, let’s say I’m a market gardener who has one field with ten beds. If my goal is to net $8,000 for the season and my costs are $2,000, then I need to make $10,000 or about $1,000 per bed over the whole season. If I can get two plantings out of each bed, then that’s $500 per bed for each round of planting. If the beds are 250 feet long with two rows, then—on average—I can figure that I should be selling my produce for around $2 per bed foot. Once I have this average number, I can consider my yields. For example, if I yield on average one pound of broccoli from each bed foot, then I need to charge around $2 per pound to meet my financial goals for the season. (Again, all hypotheticals here.)

This system is very approximate and intended to give rough goals in pricing, since not all items are in the field for the same amount of time, have the same yield, or require the same amount of attention. Obviously tomatoes are much more high maintenance than head lettuce. Therefore, we also need to consider a few other things, such as labor and market value (and crop failure). Again, beautifully vine-ripened tomatoes require more work, but they also have a higher market value.

So, we also like to research what the market can handle in terms of price. We frequently check out The New Farm’s Organic Price Index (Casey was actually a field data collector for them last year) as well as local grocery stores. Just this Monday we went by Roth’s and Harvest Fresh (two nice stores in Mac) to see what they were charging for equivalent items. That’s always an interesting experience, because often the grocery store prices can be all over the place (quality as well). For example, some items are very inexpensive (two bunches of organic green onions for $1) and others are outrageous (extremely small heads of conventionally grown radicchio for $5 each!). Either way, we write down the prices (as well as the weights) of everything for further consideration.

Finally, we try to balance all of these many factors to find prices that will average out to being sustainable, for us and for us customers. It’s not simple, obviously. We don’t have an easy formula, but we hope to set fair prices this way. Most of our prices are about the same or slightly lower than what we saw for the gourmet and/or organic items at the grocery stores, and our produce is much fresher than what we saw at either store (that’s just the nature of local food really—not any produce manager’s fault, since both stores are very well run and have beautiful displays). But a few of our prices will be higher too (green onions, for example).

In the final price setting, we also try to price things for ease of math at market, since that’s a real consideration for us. We love the number two, because it’s easy to work with—and also because we accept WIC checks at market, which are in $2 denominations. So, we’ve set many of our bunched item prices for $2 and will size the bunches accordingly to meet the price we want for weight (so some items will be heftier bunches than others, depending on the product). We hope this simplifies the buying process for our customers as well.

At this point, this is lots of guess work and planning. Once we’re actually at market, we’ll also scope out other prices to make sure that we’re not under-cutting anyone or way too high priced. While we do want to sell our produce at the prices we need, we don’t want to hurt the rest of the vendors or the market as a whole somehow. But at this point we’ve visited enough markets to feel like we’re squarely in the range of normal. We’ll give an update on how the pricing ‘system’ (i.e. big mess of numbers and thoughts) is working mid-season.

Either way, folks, you can be sure our prices are intentional. And I suppose that counts for something.

In closing, we hope to see some of our Mac friends and CSA members at market tomorrow! They’ve predicted rain, which is a bit disappointing, but hopefully there will be a good show of hungry customers anyway. We promise to have some yummy veggies, and there are lots of other delicious vendors too. See you there!

P.S. Have we mentioned that we have a few open blossoms on our tomato plants? Well, we do! Summer is just around the corner, folks …

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2 Responses to First market tomorrow—rain or shine!

  1. Good luck! And thanks for sharing your pricing methods. Even though I can’t imagine myself ever being organized enough to do a market garden. But maybe someday!

  2. Kris says:

    This is impressive!

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