Stand and Deliver
Market your fresh farm produce at a roadside stand.
By Karen Keb Will | Illustrations by Ray E. Watkins, Jr.
If you farm for the love of feeding people, and your products and personality can literally stop traffic, a roadside stand is a good entry into direct-marketing your crops. In addition to earning extra income without a middleman taking a cut, it’s a good way to promote your farm, and test what sells with consumers in your area.
Besides the bricks and mortar (or more likely wood and nails) of your stand, consider the “intangibles” necessary to pull off a successful farm stand that will keep customers coming back week after week. Smiles and a pleasant personality go a long way, but “your people are your most important asset,” says Kent Halla, owner of Sierra Vista Growers (and a fleet of Massey Ferguson tractors) in La Union, N.M.
Halla has depended on these intangibles for some 20 years. His thriving nursery and organic food business started as a small operation that sold vegetables from his adjacent farm. “When you are knowledgeable, interested, engaged and you like what you do, that energy radiates to the customer,” he says.
With that in mind, here, then, are a few tangible tips to help get your roadside stand up and running.
At the state and local levels, you’ll need to inquire about licenses, health permits, sales taxes, weight and measure requirements, and zoning and right-of-way regulations. Accident and product liability insurance is also advised, and possibly required. If you haven’t come up with a name for your farm, now is the time. Choose a name to appear on signage, as well as your business license.
The best location for a roadside stand is on or near your farm (to establish that farm atmosphere), and, if possible, 15 minutes or less outside a populated area. Ideally, it will be situated on a straight thoroughfare (so the stand is visible from a distance) and/or where traffic is relatively slow moving (47 mph or less, say the experts). If you don’t have access to such a location, consider approaching someone who does and striking a deal.
Observe codes with respect to setback requirements, and make sure your stand is in a location with safe, easy access from the road and enough parking space for six to eight vehicles on grass or gravel.
Outfitting and Operating
The stand itself can be a simple post-and-beam structure, a pole shed, a tent, a trailer, or a canopy covering a truck or hay rack; it just needs to protect you, the customers and the produce from weather. Face the stand north or south to avoid the withering effects of the morning and afternoon sun that will be low enough to shine under your canopy.
You’ll also need a moneybox or cash register, a scale, hand-held shopping baskets or bags, and some sort of display system for your produce—bins, boxes, baskets or tables. Clearly post prices, which can be set according to weight (peaches, apples), count (corn, melons) or volume (small fruits like strawberries or cherry tomatoes). Use competitor prices as guidelines.
Hours of operation should be determined by traffic flow—where drivers are going, rush hour, etc.—and what you have available to sell. Some stands open every day, all day; others open only on weekends, from June through October. Typically, the highest customer traffic will be on the weekends.
Signs should be simple and easy to read, with bright colors and just a few words. All that’s needed on a road sign is the farm name, distance to the stand, and perhaps a drawing of produce. For highest readability, letters on signs should be 1/5 as wide as they are high. Place road signs at least ¼ mile from the stand in both directions.
The traditional advertising route is signs, flyers and newspaper ads. Free and effective forms of advertising include Internet forums and social media sites. Post a notice on Craigslist, under the “for sale: farm + garden” category or “community: activities.” Open a Twitter or Facebook account and keep followers up to date on where you are, what’s available, what time you’ll be open, and what specials you’re offering. Make sure to solicit followers to these sites in ads and on signs and flyers.
When marketing your stand, think about what sets your farm and products apart from the rest. Do you specialize in heirloom varieties or one particular crop for which your region or farm is known? Were your berries picked this morning? Place recipes and information on canning, freezing, cooking and storage next to your produce to spark interest in the merchandise. If local laws allow, offer samples.
The best form of advertising, bar none, is word of mouth from satisfied customers. This will come in time as a result of your high-quality products, pleasant atmosphere, and that energy and enthusiasm you offer your customers.