Markets & OutletsVillage Development

Start Growing! Part 5: The Best Employee For Your Farm or Food Hub

Imagine that your small farm or food hub just hired a new employee. Her name is Susan. But she’s not just any employee, she’s an electronic one.

Susan’s the best you’ve ever hired. She does exactly as instructed. She works 24×7, 365 days a year. She’s never grumpy, never calls in sick and never gets tired. She never takes shortcuts and her wage is only pennies per hour.

You’re so happy because while you’re out there doing “real work”, Sue is happily telling your customers about how great your farm is and she’s busily taking orders with about as much enthusiasm as you do. Your customers love her too because she does house calls and they can order your fresh food from the comfort of their own living room.

You wish all employees were like her.

Sue is your personal secretary too. She takes messages, sorts and files documents, and gives you reminders. She’s got a photographic memory too. Ask her about your business and you’ll get the full report. Sue even does the dishes. Oh wait, that’s her cousin Dave the Dishwasher, silly me.

What about farmers’ markets?

Compare that to farmers’ markets where you have to guess how much you might sell. You pack the truck the night before and wake up at the crack of dawn using a quarter tank of gas to drive an hour into town with an employee. Your best customers also have to get up early to make sure they get the best stuff and an hour after the market bell you’ve sold 70% of what you’re going to sell for the day.

Then you sell a few apples to a nice gal walking her little chihuahua, and half a watermelon to a young couple with ice cream in one hand and a baby carriage in the other. Four hours later you pack the gear and unsold food back into the truck and drive home exhausted. You and your family eat as much unsold produce as you can, but it soon goes to the chickens.

You pulled in $750 which feels nice, but then there’s the $50 market fee, the $100 you paid your employee and filling up the truck wasn’t cheap either. You know you should take at least a couple of hundred for your own time, but after paying the farm’s bills, their ain’t much left over.

Instead, wouldn’t it be nice if you always know exactly how much to harvest because your customers pre-order and you head out with a full load to hit a bunch of delivery sites in a few hours?

This is an excerpt from Day 2 of the 7-day free online course called The Smart Farmer’s Guide to Selling Online.

This totally free course takes the mystery out of “e-commerce” and teaches local farmers and food hubs what they need to know to setup an online shop — without any technical mumbo jumbo, and regardless of which software they use.


  1. Farmers’ markets often get criticized by people who have had bad experiences with them. We attend a market that is very successful for us. We also sell online through a locally based Facebook site. The market is by far the lowest cost and easiest way to shift the bulk of our product. Sales to regular customers take care of the next largest portion and the Internet sales deal with what is left. Direct sales can be achieves with a mix of strategies and that mix wil change with different circumstances of the grower. Don’t believe the criticism of any type of direct marketing without investigating your local options. You may find, like us, that Farmers Markets are an excellent solution.

    1. Agreed. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

      I’ve done heaps of farmer’s markets myself. Some work. Some don’t. If you’ve found a mix that works for you in your area, great, especially if your farm is close by.

      Others are finding that deliveries of pre-ordered food to office buildings and buying clubs prove to be very efficient and cost effective.

      But as you said, it depends. :) Thanks again for sharing!

      1. It is a pity that a “news” site has advertorials with links to a site where the author is selling a product. The advertorial above denigrates systems of selling that are in competition with the product being sold. The product may be a good one, but promotion of it should not be disguised as news and should not criticize other forms of marketing in such a biased fashion. In our local area a Facebook buy and sell page achieves all of the online selling functions we find necessary and has 6000 exclusively local members from a local population of 11,000. And it is free to sellers and buyers alike. Beware of advice on marketing from people with a product to sell. Often there are free alternatives and the techniques they dismiss are extremely effective. Why is editorial content on this site not screened for advertising links?

        1. Should Geoff Lawton stop producing wonderful free educational videos and turn off this valuable site because he makes a living teaching permaculture?

          Here’s a thought provoking and well written article about Facebook sharecropping and why a business might want to think twice about using it, and why there’s no such thing as a free lunch (btw, Day 3 of the free online course is called ‘The Myth of “Free” Software’).

          How does Mark Zuckerberg (net worth $33 Billion) of Facebook make money with “free software”? By tracking one’s every move, every like, every friend and location to sell advertising on “free” pages.

          If you sign up for the course, you’ll see that the very next line after the above excerpt is: “I’m not saying don’t do markets. They play an important role in local food and they’re great for exposure. I’m just saying there are a lot of inefficiencies built in.”

        2. Jamie – to get from where we are today, to where we need to go, we need to build a new economy, one that prioritises the things that matter. And the starting point we’re working from is the current ‘market economy’. The only way we’re going to get out of this mess is to start building local industries that matter – holistically managed primary production in many areas. When I see an effort to help well-intentioned people on the ground build their healthy, localised dream, I am here to support it.

          Most of the world’s finances and resources are tied up in big corporations, who only work for the narrow goal of shareholder profits. It’s not easy to pull all that power and resources away to divert it towards the things that really matter. I’d encourage you not to pour cold water on the little guy who is grappling with these realities in a practical way and trying to do something meaningful in a way where they can still survive in the real world we still have to endure for now.

          1. Jamie – the course is free. You only need to provide an email address to receive it.

            But your point in general is a good one, and I agree with you. That’s why its focus is not on what to do, but understanding why and providing examples and exercises in layman's terms that help participants choose what's best for their own business.

            1. Yes, the course is free, but you are using it to sell a product for $15 a month (after a free trial). Your examples provided in the article include a caricature of farmers’ markets that prompted my initial comment. You go on to say they have inefficiencies in your reply – no doubt in comparison to your online product – but you haven’t detailed these.
              My reaction to your post is based on your denigration of Farmers’ Markets. Your comments have to be taken in the context that you are in competition to Farmers’ Markets as a produce sales option. I think you should focus on the benefits of your product, and be upfront about the fact you are selling a product, rather than attempt to highlight the deficiencies you see in competing forms of direct marketing, including Facebook. Your product, which I am sure is a good one, needs to stand on its own merits, not on the trashing of the competition.
              As a journalist in my past corporate life I don’t like confusion between news and sales. I was not aware on first reading of your article that you had a financial interest in online food marketing. For me it failed the test of transparency.
              My reaction, however, is still predominantly driven by the characterisation of Farmers’ Markets.
              Thanks Craig for the pep talk, but maybe consider that you are talking to someone on the journey, not someone at the start. I have been building my permaculture property for 17 years, teach permaculture courses locally and have been providing surplus produce and some main commercial crops to the local community for the past 10 years. I’ve basically been doing all the stuff you posted in your reply to my comment. I am the little guy also. Asking questions does not make me part of the other system. I think you need to take on board my comments about editorial links to advertising and endeavor to make sure there is clarity on your site. I only bother to comment because I think the site is high quality and should have ongoing high standards. If I thought the site wasn’t worth it I wouldn’t have bothered.

              So – What about Farmers’ Markets?
              My local Farmers’ Market was set up by growers around 11 years ago as a not for profit association. I wrote the constitution for it and served as the initial public officer. It ran entirely as voluntary group until about five years ago when it employed a market manager. Today there are over 50 regular stallholders in an area with a town population of 4000. The stallholders are all growers or manufacturers of food and come from a maximum 100km radius. The market is a local food business incubator with local producers testing new products and developing new enterprises from the opportunity created by its thriving, vibrant atmosphere. Each market features a breakfast bar run by a local charity or school to raise funds for their cause. Some $50,000 is raised annually for local community charities in this way.
              With local food supply being dominated by large supermarket chains the market provides an alternative outlet and has become an integral part of many local food businesses. Many of the businesses owe their existence to the market and were in fact started because of it.
              Customers can connect directly with the grower in a bustling community atmosphere. The market has become as much a social event as a shopping opportunity.
              We need to have a minimum of two on our stall, not because we need two people to hand over produce for money, but because one of us is always talking to friends, customers and customers who have become friends. Yes, we are exhausted after a market, but we wouldn’t miss one.
              The market started out monthly eleven years ago, but now runs weekly.
              You can’t try a few different markets a couple of times and say it doesn’t work. You have to stick with a market for years to build the momentum through regularity and consistency that results in a tipping point where it develops a life of its own.
              The simple rules are:
              1. absolutely no re-selling of produce, the grower must be on the stall selling only their own produce
              2. no nick nacks or clothing – it has to be a food only market
              3. it needs to be at the same time and place every week rain hail or shine

              In a time of energy descent we will be going back to the future. Farmers’ Markets were the heart of localised community in the past and putting them back at the heart of community now builds resilience for the challenges ahead.

              Obviously my view of markets contrasts with yours Fraser, and I use online marketing also. All of my produce is sold direct to local consumers or to local independent retailers and restaurants. There does not have to be a conflict between direct sales methods, they can be complementary. I would focus on your product as part of a range of equally valid options, not promote it at the expense of other options.

              1. Hi Jamie. This site runs on articles. The idea behind the site is to get people to share their permaculture journey with our readers, so we all benefit and learn. One of the mechanisms I’ve employed to encourage people to share is to, in exchange for also sharing a non-promotional article that ‘gives’ the reader something to take away (knowledge, inspiration, interesting commentary on relevant current events, etc.), allow them to also run adverts, where those adverts are for courses and services that are in line with permaculture ethics. Fraser is a regular contributor to this site, so he also gets to advertise – as is the case with many of our contributors.

                It’s great to hear of your work. I encourage you to also send your own articles to contribute to the site for the benefit of all. I know myself and our readers would love to learn from your experiences and thoughts also.

                I must respectfully say that I pay much more attention to the criticism of readers when those readers are also contributors to this site.

        3. Editorial content on this site not screened for advertising links, because they are in the business of permaculture, not police work and they know the readers are smart just like you.

  2. Hi Guys, it is pretty clear with the usual posts on this site what is a free video and what is a course you pay to go on, or a service available for a fee. Fraser’s article should have made clear his interest up front. It did not inform the reader that Fraser was offering a product for sale in the article that was directly related to the content. I note the prominent Facebook link on this site that sort of makes the criticism of facebook redundant. The local sales facebook buy and sell group we use is fantastic for our business.
    Its about disclosure. If we are going to support the little guy we need to do it from an ethical start point. It is a very old journalistic convention to indicate where an interest is relevant. I think you have an interest here, Fraser, and I think you should be more upfront about it.

  3. Hi Craig. The validity of criticism depends on it’s accuracy, not it’s origin. Reject my criticism if you don’t accept it is valid, but not because I haven’t written an article for you.
    I have no objection to advertising of ethical products, just advertising that presents itself as news or analysis. Particularly where the analysis is biased and/or misleading in favour of the product being sold. You apparently agree Fraser was advertising in his article, but it was presented as analysis, not advertising. This is the point I wish to make.
    Ethical publishing requires clear editorial thinking. Good luck.

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