Crop Planning for Organic Vegetable Growers with Dan Brisebois – Part 3 of 5

In the previous post, we examined the first of Dan Brisebois’s 11 steps for crop planning: setting goals. Today we’ll look at the second: developing a marketing plan.

Crop Planning Step 2: Develop a Marketing Plan

Your marketing plan will be based on your salary, budget, projected expenses, and financial goals. Since you’ll be aiming to meet your financial goals, it only makes sense to plan how much of your product you’ll need to sell. 

Distribution Methods. You’ll need to decide which mode of selling will work best for you and your farm—be it through farmers’ markets, CSAs, wholesalers, etc. 

CSAs. CSAs are ideal for crop planning because you have a good idea of how much veg you need to grow. And although getting paid for all of your expenses once at the start of the season sounds ideal, it comes with the pressure to deliver. 

When coming up with a CSA plan, determine how many weeks you plan on delivering as well as your climate. 

One thing Dan notes about their farm’s CSA is that they have smaller CSA baskets because these are easier and more satisfying to fill. Their customers never have to worry about having too much and needing to throw away vegetables because they couldn’t finish them before the next CSA box arrived. 

Here’s a sample CSA plan: 

Number of Weeks16–20 
Weekly Value $15–45
New CSA Farmers5–20 shares/person
Experienced CSA Farmers30–75 shares/person

Farmers’ markets. Think about farmers’ markets backwards: know how much you want to make per season, how many weeks your season will be, and what you want to harvest each week. Although unpredictability comes with joining a new farmers’ market, the longer you stay, the more you’ll see trends and the general preferences of the customers. 

Wholesale and restaurants. You’re leveraging quantity when you sell to wholesalers and restaurants; although they pay less, you definitely sell a lot more. You can try plotting the time and effort it takes to make the same amount selling to wholesalers and restaurants versus selling at a farmers’ market. You might be surprised by the numbers. 

Other distribution methods. If you’re in an area with a lot of small farms, chances are that everyone’s targeting the same demographic. This will inevitably saturate the market. Because of that, finding new ways to sell your products will go a long way. Dan’s farm diversified by selling seeds. Another idea would be selling value-added products like jams, sauces, etc. You can also try and broaden your reach by creating an online store. 

It’s important to note that each of these methods of distribution has a different set of needs. For CSAs, you’ll need to grow at least 20 different staple crops in the entire season. For farmers’ markets, you’ll need to decide if you want a diverse set of crops or if you can establish yourself as a crop-specialized vendor. For restaurants and wholesalers, you’ll need to specialize what you grow and be able to maintain consistent quality. 

The thought of having multiple modes of distribution might be exciting, but as a general rule, it’s best to estimate where you’ll get the best results and figure out your main outlet before trying to branch out. If you have a CSA, word of mouth gets you more clients. CSAs also have high recruitment and retention rates, which are good if you want to rapidly scale up your business.

Your clients are the foundation of your business. This means you need to take good care of them. Take the time to meet them and listen to their feedback and build upon it. 

A couple other things to note: CSAs can sometimes differ from farm to farm. Don’t get hung up with what a CSA “should” be; as long as you’re transparent about what it is for you, you and your clients can set up reasonable expectations. 

And if you’re doing something different, market it! It might be a gamble, but it can also be good leverage for more sales. 

Depending on your products, play around with what packaging may work best. Will you be selling in quarts? Boxes? Bunches? Imagine: it’ll be easier to sell peppers in neat little bundles than to sell them individually. 

Pricing. “Beautiful, delicious, fresh, local, organic produce that stores well sells itself,” Dan says. High-quality products guarantee your success. 

When thinking about pricing, you don’t want to charge more than what you’re ethically comfortable with. But at the same time, look at pricing as a way to generate more revenue, especially if there are people comfortable paying twice the grocery store price. 

It’s also worth noting that the most expensive vendors at farmers’ markets have the longest lines, so going cheap doesn’t guarantee sales. There’s always the assumption that more expensive is better. 

Weekly harvest projections. Figure out all the different crops you want to grow, determine how much you plan on bringing to market each week, and do a projection of your sales. This is especially worthwhile for farmers’ markets; doing it on paper will show you what your target finances will look like. 

In the next post, we’ll look at the next four steps of crop planning—from coming up with a planting schedule to ordering seeds.

Watch Dan’s presentation on Crop Planning for Organic Production.

You can learn more by checking out our podcast with grower Dan Brisebois. 

And you can find all our market gardening podcasts at Farm Small, Farm Smart—the longest-running podcast on market gardening in the world.

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