Sunday, December 19, 2010

a day at the market

The bell rang at ten on the dot, and I was still flustered. I had only left the farm an hour earlier (it is impossible to get anywhere on time when you are constantly monitoring 41 other lives) and had finished just setting up my display three minutes before the official start of the event. As soon as the bell rang money was passed and food was bagged. There was a lot of winter produce (shocking amounts), freshly baked breads, cheese, milk, soaps, meat, candles, and hand-knit goods. If I had the means (or time) I could have bought everything I needed to make pot roast, a green salad, mashed potatoes, and as many veggie sides as I wanted for dinner (not to mention rolls and dessert) from a 100% local selection. It was uplifting to see so many people producing food in the middle of winter. I was also impressed by how good it looked. Every winter squash and carrot was mouth watering. The heated greenhouses of Bennington and Washington Counties are pumping overtime!

So the market was a lot of fun even it wasn't financially successful. I didn't sell a single skein of yarn, but I did sign and sell a few books. And that managed to make enough money to cover my table, gas, and buy 100 pounds of cracked corn and chicken feed on the way home. Not bad for a first time out, certainly not a loss my any measure. Any you know what?I don't think this was the yarn crowd at all. The market seemed to cater to either the highest-end shoppers swinging by on their ski vacations for morning pastries or locals who simply ran out of carrots and wanted to get out of the house. I feel that yarn folks are somewhere in the middle of that spectrum: people looking for a certain product, not browsing. But I was happy to see my skeins were the same price as the other yarn vendor.

Someone asked why I even bother with a farmer's market when I could sell out of yarn online? My answer is simple: I want my neighbors to get to know me. I want local people who are stumbling by to say hello and learn there's a new sheep farm in town. I love and appreciate this online community, but I also want to get to know the people in my area who also share my interests and values and a warm market like this in the heart of winter is a great example to take a field trip from the farm and shake some hands. I spent the entire day talking to people with sheep histories, hearing stories from beautiful faces who grew up on sheep farms before the world changed. One European ex-pat woman named Viola told me (as she shook a skein of my yarn at my nose) to never to get married and to stay smart. Another woman told me about the cabin on her great grandfather's sheep farm with a fireplace just like little house on the prairie. A fellow who grew up with summer chickens talked about his old flock and a man who just got some pet hens bought Chick Days as a gift. And Holly, a woman with a small farm in Bennington whom I bought some birds from last summer was delighted to see the story of getting those birds in her house made page 56. It was a lovely day. I plan on returning with some of your fantastic ideas to help the booth in January. I'll have some hand-knit goods, pattern giveaways, and one of those digital frames of my best photography of the gang here. My goal for the next market: sell three skeins!

So that was why I did the market. Cold Antler Farm isn't just a new business: it's a community and a personal culture just peeping out of of the New York soil. I want it to be part of the local food and craft network and to meet people who had been doing this longer and far better. I could always come home and sell some yarn online later. So no regrets from this farmer.

24 Comments:

OpenID nytesong said...

I think you made a wonderful start. =)

December 19, 2010 at 6:13 PM  
Blogger Aisha said...

that's awesome at least people now know you exist beyond the ones here online. And you never know when you might need your neighbors and can barter if you need to for some of the stuff you need.
Good luck BB

December 19, 2010 at 6:32 PM  
Blogger Lynda Halliger-Otvos said...

You are off and running, Jenna. How cool for you !~!

December 19, 2010 at 6:45 PM  
Blogger Dawn Dutton said...

I think your idea is grand... Keep plugging away... I'm rooting for you here in Wisconsin...

December 19, 2010 at 6:45 PM  
Blogger Tara said...

Outstanding! That's the best reason to go to market - network, network, network. I plan to get a booth at our local market this summer to sell eggs and soap, and I'm very excited - just as much about the people I'll meet as about selling my wares. Glad you had a good time.

December 19, 2010 at 6:57 PM  
Blogger Jenna said...

tara I have some design for you, I did not forget. when do you need them by?

December 19, 2010 at 7:02 PM  
Blogger Mrs. Roy said...

Sounds like you had a great day. I think the digital frame of farm photos is a magnificent idea. In the meantimes, there's always etsy.com.

December 19, 2010 at 7:36 PM  
Blogger Tobi said...

I'm glad to hear that your yarn was priced similarly to the other yarn vendor. So, you've found your price point! Next up - hone in on your market! You're off to a great start, Jenna. I'm happy for you. And I might be interested in some more of your yarn if you still have some left. :)

December 19, 2010 at 7:39 PM  
Blogger daisy said...

I think any of us who have been following you for a while know that you are not about the money...

December 19, 2010 at 7:44 PM  
OpenID chickadeeworkshop said...

Well said, and well done. Boy, does that bread look good! I bet the smell was wonderful.

December 19, 2010 at 7:45 PM  
Blogger Tara said...

Jenna - thanks! No huge rush. I need to have materials ready to go around the first of April, so I'll be spending now through March working on all that. (print materials, web, etc.) Obviously the sooner the better, but I don't need it right this minute or anything. If you want, you can email me directly at tlshank@gmail.com.

December 19, 2010 at 7:53 PM  
Blogger Janet said...

This is about local rural capacity building and the building of a sense of community. It doesn't matter if you more than break even for now - what is happening, as you say, is that people are getting to know you and you are getting to know them. IE: for the last 14 years I have developed an annual quilt show and sale to benefit the tiny rural church in my coimmunity. I am not a member of that church nor have I sold many quilts in those years - not my niche market. But it matters very much that I am helping to provide a way for money to be made for causes in my community and that the vendors make money and then spend it again locally. Also that my community, which relies heavily on tourism has one more event to bring people to us.
You go Jenna!!!

December 19, 2010 at 8:06 PM  
OpenID littlerockyridgebarn said...

I think it is awesome that you feel that way about farmer's markets. The closest market (not counting Amish set-ups) is about 15 miles away, so we normally shop at the Amish markets. (Which I highly reccommend- they farm as if they did a hundred years ago, and most are generally friendly and helpful, at least they are here) If you ever do sell yarn online, I will definitely try to buy a skein!

-Autumn

December 19, 2010 at 8:12 PM  
Blogger Peter said...

Was it the Bennington farmer's market you were at? And when are you going again? I would love to get there and meet you. Also, do you sell roving (I am not sure of the spelling of it...unspun but carded wool)? I have a friend who is a spinner.
On to another topic, you mentioned that you were thinking of turning the blog into a book. I have been following you for about a year now and always assumed that is what you would do. Who is your editor at Storey? I live in Williamstown and know a number of the editors and would be glad to put in a good word.
As a former librarian I think you have a great potential in "The making of a sheepdog" a book on turning Gibson into a working sheepdog. You have great pictures and might even consider it as a kids book.

December 19, 2010 at 8:22 PM  
Blogger Jenna said...

Peter, yes it was the Bennington Market. I'll be there in January!

December 19, 2010 at 9:22 PM  
Blogger dk said...

Jenna - you are so on track. Developing relationships within your community will give Cold Antler the boost it needs to achieve the goals you are seeking. You are totally awesome!

Thanks for letting us know how it went.

December 19, 2010 at 10:52 PM  
Blogger Louis said...

I thought money was tight for you, and that you were so short of time that you were trying to "slow down." I didn't realize you make so much money from your book sales. So when you subtract all the costs from your revenues, then divide by the time you spent preparing, driving to and from, etc. how much did you make per hour? When you get busy in the spring, will it be worth it?

I'm just trying to keep it real. If you want to go hang out at the farmers market that's cool.

Q: Who is the most famous farmer in the whole local, beyond organic, "know your farmer" scene?
A: Joel Salatin.

Q: Does he sell at farmers markets?
A: No, because the costs of time, transportation, packaging, fees, waste, etc. are too high to justify it.

Q: Does he care only about money?
A: No, but he knows if he doesn't make money, he can't keep farming and doing all the good work that he is achieving.

Just my two cents, I think your efforts will be more productive at the farm or online. You said yourself, the yarn crowd doesn't go the farmers market. The folks here are clamoring for your wool. You have to hold a lottery, and then you take twenty skeins to Bennington!

Why don't you sell a beginner's kit with a spindle and some roving on your blog? I bet you could sell several a week, all from your living room with a healthy profit margin.

Anyway, just some constructive criticism for you. Sorry to sound so negative.

December 20, 2010 at 12:41 AM  
Blogger Chris said...

I totally understand your wanting to go to the farmer's market. It's important for CAF to become a well-known part of your community. Good luck with everything!!

December 20, 2010 at 12:46 AM  
Blogger Nanette said...

I often go to the local markets just to see who's doing what crafts, selling wool, knitted things etc, because I'm new to this area and it's a good way to get to meet people...talk to them about their passions. It feels good to be in town and see a familiar face, have someone smile and say hi.

So I know just where you're coming from when you talk of community building and recognition....no time wasted doing that.

December 20, 2010 at 3:25 AM  
Blogger T.C. said...

Once you get firmly established, farmers' markets may not be a good use of your time. However, at the start up stage, there is no better way to get the word out about your farm and products. There is no telling how many chance conversations may spring up in the future..."I wish I could get local yarn." "Well, there's a lady just outside of town..." You're getting the word-of-mouth advertising started and that's always a good thing!

December 20, 2010 at 6:16 AM  
Blogger Jenna said...

Louis, money is always tight around here. Books sales made $75 at the market. While I am grateful for it, I wouldn't say I'm quitting my day job anytime soon either.

Joel Salatin doesn't do farmer's markets anymore, but the key word is "anymore" he has other outlets like metro buying clubs, on-farm sales, CSAs, and such coming to him. I'm at the office all day so this is one weekend I have to get out there.

So even with 1.12 in the savings account, I will do a market. It is important to me.

December 20, 2010 at 6:44 AM  
Blogger treehuggers kitchen said...

Good for you, Jenna! Without sounding condescending, I'm so proud of you!!

December 20, 2010 at 8:54 AM  
Blogger Jackie said...

I could not agree with you more. I had a blast every day of the 3 years I did farmers markets. One year I sold at 3 markets a week. That was a hoot pile of work, but I kept learning and loving it. You are correct about getting poeple used to seeing you. Farmers market shoppers apparently like consistency and familiar faces before they really start purchasing.

December 20, 2010 at 9:48 AM  
Blogger Kirsten said...

Jenna, good for you. It's all about community, isn't it. What is the date for the January market? We're not too far away over the border in NH, so might be able to stop by. It's true that Joel doesn't do farmer's markets himself anymore, but you can still buy Polyface meat at the Dupont Market in DC (last time I checked, which granted, was a little while ago). Joel also doesn't drive delivery anymore, he has people to do that for him now. As a Polyface customer that aspect made me a bit sad, it was always so good to see him and hear the latest (and then there was that time Joel got off the bus with 3 pullets because someone ordered the wrong thing and as a result my friend had 3 chickens in her living room... it was awesome). As a farm consumer, I find it very important to know the person who grows my food... just sayin'

December 21, 2010 at 12:46 PM  

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