Now that the Brookside Farmer’s Market has started, I’ve been thinking about how we price things and how to justify what we charge. It’s a slippery slope. As farmers who receive NO subsidies from the government, we have to charge our customers the REAL price of growing a particular crop, while buffering that cost with what folks will actually pay. It’s an interesting topic, and one that is pretty difficult to analyze, at least for me. This year, I am keeping more records than ever. I’ve always tracked dates: when to order seed by (so seeds aren’t sold out), when to plant in the greenhouse, when to transplant, when to plant in the field, when to direct seed into the soil, etc. This year, I’m trying to track volume picked, and how much is purchased, donated, and composted. Not an easy task. But, necessary, in order to determine which crops are profitable, which crops are sought after, and which crops need to be eliminated for next year. There’s no need to grow 475 different varieties (LOTS OF WORK) if 325 or even 200 would be just as successful. Do we really need 100 varieties of tomatoes in order for our tomatoes to look wonderful? Actually, less would probably be best- concentrate on the best of each color, cooking, and flavor classification, and ditch the rest. Streamline. But I digress. Let’s get back to the pricing issue.
We charge what we need to stay afloat. We’ve had the oh-so-humorous experience at the farmer’s market where a couple will walk up, see $4/pound on potatoes, and say something like, ‘Geez, I should be a farmer- I’d be rich’. How do we respond to that? Usually we laugh- or try to hide the laugh, and explain that our farm has yet to have a profitable year. Or explain the whole government subsidy dilemma. Or that stores like Wal-Mart often offer produce as a complete loss, because those cheap prices drive the sales on laundry soap, diapers, or vacuum cleaners. Check out the graph below.
(Thx: Fast Food News)
Interesting, isn’t it? Those things we need to eat in order to be healthy, productive members of society aren’t supported. Those things that we should avoid (sugar), get more than 10% of the funds. I would also love to see a graph showing government dollars going towards conventional food vs. organic food, but that’s for another day.
When I ordered seed this winter, prices were up. Seeds that cost $3 last year cost $4 or more. Seeds that cost $28/pound were more like $35/pound or more. Fertilizer has also gone up. Fuel surcharges are now on most everything we need shipped in. But even with that, we are trying to hold prices steady. We charged $4 for kale, chard, and arugula the last 2 years, and $5 a bag for lettuce and spinach. This year, we are trying to do the same. Others have gone up $.75 a bag, because of the increases in expenses.
Strawberry season? I saw them at the grocery store for $1.98 a quart. Conventional and sprayed, but cheap! Ours? $5 a pint, and we sell out. I know, ouch. But, we’ve been hand working those strawberries all winter. We doubled the size of the patch by transplanting the runners. We mulched them with hay to winterize them. We fed them. Three times. I’ve weeded them. Shannen has weeded them. Shannen has weeded them again. I pick daily, so they are picked right, and don’t have to ripen with chemicals applied. We applied peat moss, because they love it. And we hope to keep this patch healthy and productive for the next 30 years. Did you know conventional, thousand acre strawberry farms tear out their strawberry plants every year, pick up and throw away last year’s plastic, put down more plastic, sterilize the soil, and replant with a machine while also spraying with a fungicide and pesticide? And then spray them all season long, whether there are any problems or not? And then sell them to grocery stores, who then turn around and sell them for the same price or less, because they are such a ‘happy fruit’ that when a shopper picks them up, because “they’re so cheap!” -they then purchase even more (but look how much we saved on the strawberries, honey!). Strawberries have a prominent spot on the dirty dozen list- if you eat nothing else organic- eat organic strawberries.
Well, obviously this is a tender subject to me. And we are trying to hold prices down as much as we can. But, by golly, I would love to make minimum wage this year! And THAT is my goal. As always, thanks for listening! And yes! We’re picking strawberries!
Hey Ami, what do you have available this week?
I appreciate your post, we struggle with similar issues as do many of the farmers I meet. Keep up the good work and we will see you on Saturday! Katie