Aquaponic Gardening

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Part of being a community connected small farm is having a thriving Farmers Market presence.  After a lot of trial and error and also getting some great tips from Ann Forsthoefel's presentation at this year's Aquaponics Association Conference, we are now having an incredible response at our local market.  Ideally what we have been striving for is repeat clientele and we now see the same faces week after week and wonderful farmer/client relationships are building.  Our customers know they can rely on us to be there every weekend and can also rely on our product.  Here's some of things we have learned that have contributed to our success at the market.

  • Signage, signage, signage!  -  This is important in not only identifying your stand, but also can help tell your story.  Be sure your name is prominently displayed as well as clear signs indicating your products and prices.  
  • Talk your story!  -  This what people crave at a farmers market, the personal connection.  Its all about Knowing Your Farmer, Know Your Food!  This is where the trust is developed and the bond that will keep them coming back.  Talk about how your product is chem free, naturally grown and why they should eat it.  Don't be afraid to throw statistics at them like there is 67 different chemicals in conventionally grown Celery and then ask them if they know what chemicals is in our Celery.  That's right, NONE!  It works every time.  :)
  • Have plenty of products - As much as we would like to sell only what we grow, we found that we couldn't offer enough different products to have a well rounded selection so we supplement with certified Organic produce we purchase from an Organic distributor.  Patrons want to do their grocery shopping at the farmers market and although we have at times several different aquaponically grown items, customers wanted more and they especially wanted items that we cannot grow in our system such as mushrooms, apples, oranges, pears, potatoes, etc.  Just be sure to identify your aquaponically grown items and offer the items you purchase and resell at a competitive price compared to the grocery store.  This may be contingent upon your area and the availability of organic produce, but here where the local grocery store only has a dozen organic items to choose from and charge $3.99 for one zucchini, reselling at the market is a great option.  
  • Make your booth inviting! - This was something we learned by just trying different set ups.  A set up where the customer actually has to come into the tent as opposed to tables set up at the perimeter of the tent made a huge difference.  Not only did we now invite customers into our "space" but when there are 10 or so people clustered in your tent, others have to come see what all the fuss is about.  
  • Have appealing produce displays - We built produce displays that sit at an angle and are lined with indoor/outdoor carpet(the fake grass kind) and these sit on folding tables.  Each can hold up to four different items.  This made an enormous difference as opposed to having the produce in baskets on tables.  Now everything is visible and the produce is neatly lined in their displays just like at the grocery store.  Make it pretty!  
  • Bring it live if you can! - We will almost always sell out of lettuce when we are able to bring a live product.  We often have lines waiting as we pull heads out of large totes and clip the roots and pots free and send folks home with lettuce as fresh as if they just got it out of their own garden.  Some want to keep the roots and the pot and that is simply an extra $.20 charge.  The only drawback is that this doesn't work in the summer months as it is too warm and the lettuce wilts too quickly.  
  • Have fun! - There is nothing better than being slammed at the market and often we have rushes that will last up to a half hour or more.  We laugh and joke with our customers and compare recipes and offer samples.  Always thank your customers and tell them see ya next week!  Odds are you will.

Hope this helps any others looking to go to market and please share your tips and tricks here too!

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Replies to This Discussion

This is a really good post Gina, this type of activity is easily the most important part of running a successful commercial operation I think.  In the spirit of the article though I wanted to share a very small something I had read from somewhere else (sorry but I really can't remember where I first read this).  

One aquaponics grower was told by the customer that they weren't sure about his produce because they were worried it would taste "fishy".  So he asked them if they already ate organic food, to which the customer replied yes... and so he asked them if that generally tasted of "horse-shit or cow-shit"?.... a nice comeback I thought!

A silly story, but whilst we prepare and hope for all positive experiences, it doesn't hurt to have some answers lined up to anyone who might have some objections or concerns.  Good "objection handling" can in fact produce the most loyal customers if you win them over.

Thanks Aragon!  I love your story.  Amazingly, with all the people we have talked to between tours, presentations and at markets, we have never had that question.  But if I do, I will now be well armed with an answer!  :)

;-)

Japan Aquaponics - アクアポニックス 日本 said:

This is a really good post Gina, this type of activity is easily the most important part of running a successful commercial operation I think.  In the spirit of the article though I wanted to share a very small something I had read from somewhere else (sorry but I really can't remember where I first read this).  

One aquaponics grower was told by the customer that they weren't sure about his produce because they were worried it would taste "fishy".  So he asked them if they already ate organic food, to which the customer replied yes... and so he asked them if that generally tasted of "horse-shit or cow-shit"?.... a nice comeback I thought!

A silly story, but whilst we prepare and hope for all positive experiences, it doesn't hurt to have some answers lined up to anyone who might have some objections or concerns.  Good "objection handling" can in fact produce the most loyal customers if you win them over.

Wow, what a generous and informative article! It's funny, but I haven't really thought about all of these details and how important they are. Thank you for taking the time to help us future farmers figure out what works best before we show up. You girls from Green acres ROCK!

Oh yes, good article.

I've now taken towers to market a couple weekends and people definitely get drawn in and love the green growing things.  And I can let them have a taste if they wonder about fishy herbs and lettuce.

Signs are definitely important!!!!!  I'm still working on getting them made.

I like the tip about getting people into the booth rather than around the outside.

Gina, what do you think about dunking your lettuce in cold water, say inside an Igloo ice-chest to prevent it from wilting. Another option might be a custom made tray that recirculates cool water to the roots.

Also, do you take orders to custom grow? I do a CSA so have no piratical experience with retail.

Thanks guys!  This came about after Rob Nash had asked for some advice regarding selling at a market as he was making his first trip.  I figured I might as well make this info available for everybody!  

Carey, the problem is that we can't keep the product from wilting while its sitting out on display.  No one wants to buy sad, wilted looking lettuce!  We could ice bath it but we found its not the same.  Ideally early morning harvesting is the way to go when it is hot.  Cool water circulating to the roots would be an option, but I don't know if that will get it in the middle of July and August.  You haven't been to Florida then, have ya?  ;-)  Worth a try though!  

We do custom grow for chefs, but to date basically they will take everything  we grow.  We still can not grow enough. We have a Buying Club as well, but structured it a bit differently then a CSA and most other Buying Clubs in that the weekly purchase is optional.  We are just now getting ready to shift it to an online market where members will select what they want, now that we have the great option of moving the remaining produce at the Farmers Market.  The two go incredibly well together.  

Even our winter weather here can get warm for lettuce on display.  In summer the lettuce tends to wilt even when it's still living in the system.

I know about wilting. When I do Expos and shows, I had a real problem keeping plants perky under all dem lights but a chunk o ice in the trough usually did the trick. May I suggest displaying one head at a time and rotate it out with stock from the ice-chest. As far as I understand #1 is to supply the roots with pure cool water and if that is not enough then refrigeration of one type or the other maybe needed. 

We did a market or few and festivals. Gina you have come to the same conclusions as us. The only reason that we are not selling at a market is that our immediate neighborhood is consuming all of our produce. Granted our farm is small at just  1000 sqft of grow space. If we had more space we would need the local farmers market.

When we did the market we went with a mobile AQ system and live plants for display. We had prepped produce in coolers for customers to purchase. We would end up selling the display too. I think it would be best to have a vehicle specifically set up for markets and educational events


You rock TCLynx...Nice :-)

God bless

TCLynx said:

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