Chris Lukenbill learned the needs and pains of farming on a local farm called Fresh With Edge.
Like any farmer, Chris had to get strategic to grow his sales and expand his farm. Chris’ greatest advantage as a local farmer was selling produce live (“live sales”) to stand out from the crowd.
Fresh With Edge was an aquaponic and hydroponic ZipGrow farm in Rochester, Minnesota which supplied fresh greens and herbs to the local community. Chris started out with no farming experience and borrowed some greenhouse space as a side job. He built an aquaponic system with 60 ZipGrow Towers.
At first, Chris sold just to farmers markets. As he grew his business and his sales, he expanded both his farm and his markets and dove into direct sales.
Over time he got more introductions to chefs and connections to local groceries. To do all that, he knew he needed to stand out.
Many small farmers find that although they have many advantages over other producers, they need to apply a little strategy to stand out among other food producers. Chris’ solution was the live sales model.
“I had live sales at the farmers market—people harvest their own food. That brought in a lot of new people that were already buying their produce from somebody else.”
Standing out is especially important for new farmers to establish themselves. They don’t have the reputation yet to inspire loyalty purchases. If they produce the same thing as everybody else, their sales will suffer.
“When you start out as a new grower—especially at a farmers market—you’re replacing somebody else’s product. You have to find a way to make a connection with people. And that’s what I used live sales for.”
Live sales created doors into new markets; it allowed Chris to connect with chefs and local food co-ops.
The second year, he expanded into those markets, built his own greenhouse, and hired a few farm hands to help out. At the time he was still working full time for the Mayo Clinic.
The third year, Chris expanded his farm to 300 ZipGrow Towers (he started with 60), started a CSA, and added a few more restaurants.
Ultimately, though, Chris’ ability to identify the value his market wanted in live produce and then deliver that value is what allowed him grow significantly for the first three years of farming.
Do you have any tips on selling produce? Leave them in the comments below!