Monday, May 14, 2018

My TEDx Talk V

Continuing the transcript of my TED talk on "Farmers Market as a Business Incubator".
 Examples from our family farm.

100 Ways to Marketing Basil

My daughter Jenna loves to grow, use and sell herbs and one of her favorites is Basil. Several years ago she was experimenting with growing basil and started about 30 flats of plants (about 1500 plants). She was selling in the traditional 2 inch and 4 inch square pots She thought she'd try out some different marketing approaches.
  1. Basil baskets with a variety of different basils,
  2. Herb baskets combining basil with other complementary herbs.
  3. Six inch pots and one gallon pots.
  4. She tried 2 for $5 (a slightly lower price.)
  5. She grew different varieities – lemon, cinnemon, opal, Holy
  6. She bundled them with tomato plants
  7. She cut the basil fresh while the customer watched
You get the idea

Every week I thought everyone in the whole world had enough basil and she would sell 3-5 more flats. The farmers market allowed her to try different marketing approaches, rapidly, week to week with little addtional expense. Basil is started from seed so the cost to start more plants is low, these were very profitable experiments. This was very educational for her and very helpful for our business. We still use some of the ideas we learned from her experiments that summer. She could make a weekly salary on just the basil alone. She was a sophomore in high school at the time and did this independently with very little input from her parents.

Being Weird - Identifying Market Trends

The Arugula Puzzle

About 10 years ago we were experimenting with Arugula as a healthy and tasty salad green. We had been growing it for several years at the request of several up scale chefs and most people were using it as a fresh cut herb in their cooking. A few different arugula varieties had shown up at the seed suppliers. Sales were modest. In 2008 sales all of a sudden went through the roof and we couldn't grow enough of it. I asked several customers why they were interested in Arugula and turns out it had been featured in the NY Times food section and a number of cooking magazines followed suite. We increase production and soon were selling more Arugula than lettuce. You can now get many varieties of Arugla and we are experimenting with Wild Arugula, Wasabi Arugula and other more standard varieties.

The Kale Conundrum

In 2010, I was looking for a baby version of Kale that could be used early in the season and in our mixed salad greens. Kale seed had been very expensive and was targeted at growing full sized plants. I finally found some bulk seed for a dwarf kale at a reasonable price and proceeded to experiment. Again we had limited sales when all of a sudden sales took off. The food magazines had declared 2012 the year of kale and kale was promoted as the next super food (which it is). We adjusted production to meet demand and sold alot of kale that year.

You would never know this was going on if you were not marketing to consumers week by week at the farmers market. You can put your finger on the pulse of the market at the farmers market. In both cases we had some greens growing and knew the cultural requirements of these vegetables before the demand showed up. But we would not have seen these trends coming if we had not been plugged into the market.

The Zucchini Paradox

I gotta tell you about baby zuchini. About ten years ago we were experimenting with pickling cucumbers. You need to pick them several times a week to get the right size and they are alot of hand labor. I was having a nice meal at the Broadstreet Cafe where the side dish was baby zucchini. I thought, I could grow those and started looking for a baby zucchini variety. Well turns out there isn't a variety like that. Baby zucchini are really full sized zucchini picked very very small. To get a good quantity you have to plant a lot of plants. We plant 5 rows, 300 feet long. Nearly a 1/3 of a mile long row of zuchini to get 60-80 pounds of baby zucchini a week.  We see the value in this crop that others only view from a traditional standpoint.

Perhaps you can take a mature product or a standard approach and bring a fresh perspective to the market. Appy new technologies, value add the product, or approach it in a whole different way. This is true out of the box thinking.

Weirdness Factor

I have a strong affinity for trying new things each year and it is interesting how many times these experimental hunches have been in advance of a major market trend. Sometimes this is encouraged by our customers, including high end chefs. You have to be willing to be weird and try some different things every year. We have tried things like making black garlic, making sustainable charcoal from wood on our farm, making black walnut products, growing red okra, specialty pumpkins, specialty arugula, chipotle poblano and habernaro peppers, heirloom varities, and baby vegetables (lots of baby vegetables).

Fostering Entreprenuership

I define entreprenuership as the willingness to be different and take risks in starting and managing your business. That often means stepping out of the current traditional norms. You have to be different or differntiate your business. When everyone else is getting big, become small, or at least think like a small business. When everyone else is sending their manufacturing to Asia, find ways to keep yours here. When everyone else is cutting quality to cut costs, find ways to increase your quality – maybe it is a different design or materials, that also allow you to have competitive costs. Maybe you can offer something different that can't be offered elsewhere. Like heirloom tomatoes or baby vegetables.

Entreprenuership can be modeled and mentored for future generations. One of the legacies we will leave is adult children that are very entreprenerial because of their experience at the farmers market. Each of our children started their own businesses in high school or college. Andrea started and entreprenuerial business teaching music theory camps during the summers of her college experience. Reed buys, fixes and resells computers, iphones and ipods. He has been doing this since middle school. Jenna has her own photography business and applies great style and creativity to taking portraits.

Become a Giver

Invest in your employees. Some of the biggest leverage we have as small business is to educate our employess in the why of what we are doing. If they know the why, the how will follow. Invest in your customers. From our customer's standpoint, we want to be their source of information for all things vegetables. We started a website where I write articles weekly about what we grow, how we grow it and most importantly, why we do what we do. We include recipes and a weekly “market menu” for what will be at our stand every week. No guessing if we will have tomatoes this week or not.

Evey single family farm would have similar stories to tell about how the farmers maket was a catalyst to help them incubate their business.

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