Thinking about starting a Freight Farms project in your city, town, or community? When people begin researching how to become a freight farmer, we get dozens of questions about running it as a business, where to find customers or how to do market research. Getting started shouldn’t be a daunting task, so we’re hoping to point you in the right direction if you’re wondering: Who do I sell to? When should I start speaking with local businesses about potentially becoming a customer? Which businesses are best to sell to? Which crop is the best to grow? How much does each crop sell for? This is the first of a two-part series that identifies market opportunities for freight farmers.
Here are a three really important things to know right off the bat:
The thing is, the answers to these questions are so market specific that we can’t provide you with the specifics for your particular area. There are far too many variables for Freight Farms to be able to provide you with accurate and realistic numbers for a business plan, other than sharing data from our growers on yield, production, operating & business costs.
We strongly urge you to get out in your community and speak with multiple types of businesses that could be very excited about your project and the increased access to hyper-local, delicious, chemical free, lettuces, greens, and herbs 365 days a year.
The sooner you start speaking with potential customers about your project, the sooner you’ll have a good sense of what crops are in high demand, volume requirements, local produce prices, and more, which will help you build your business plan.
Before you start speaking with local businesses, we’d also like to stress that you read our post on Local, Organic, Hyper-Local, and Naturally Grown produce to understand the quality of the produce that grows inside a Leafy Green Machine (LGM). This might be a wild guess, but most likely your community doesn’t have an LGM already, which means that the people you approach about becoming a customer might not really understand the quality of and how fresh the produce you’d be supplying can be. It's important that you have a good understanding of the value you are bringing so that you're able to speak confidently about it to potential customers.
Ok, now let’s talk about potential businesses and customers in your community. Below are 3 that we strongly recommend you research and speak with about your Freight Farms project! Our second post will identify 4 other markets to potentially sell into.
Are there any farm-to-table restaurants in your region? The local food movement has been embraced by restaurants all over the world, and sourcing local ingredients is often a key part of the brand of top restaurants. Chefs are increasingly tailoring their menus around locally available items and using these ingredients to distinguish their dishes from the competition, and are willing to pay a premium for consistent supply of top quality lettuces, greens, and herbs. Or maybe there’s a fast-casual restaurant/chain your area that promotes their use of locally sourced ingredients. Freight farmer Scott Deluca of Deluca Farms partnered up with fast growing burger chain, b.good, to grow the kale for some of their 27 locations throughout New England.
2. Grocery Stores
Do you know if any of the locally owned/regional grocers are focused on carrying and promoting local produce or products? Several regional chains and small business grocers across North America are focusing more and more on carrying locally sourced items and focusing their brand on local/natural/organic foods. Springdale, Arkansas freight farmers, Jerry Martin and Darryl Hill, partnered with regional grocery chain, Akin's Natural Foods, to supply them with hyper-local lettuce varieties.
3. Specialty Shops/Markets
Are there any specialty food shops/boutique neighborhood markets in your community? Many of these shops have built their brand around imported and local cheeses, meats, and beer & wine, and usually have a small produce section in the store. Their customers would be more focused on eating local and organic produce, and the wide variety of leafy greens, herbs, and lettuces harvested out of a Freight Farm would be a perfect fit.
There are many different businesses and ways to sell your produce, which is why it’s important to research and understand the local food trends going on in your community. It’s also important to understand that the most successful freight farmers didn’t begin their small business growing the types of produce or selling to the businesses they do today, but got there by getting started and being flexible with market demands! A small business farm can be a very fluid operation. You can start out with a lettuce crop and easily begin to specialize in different types of greens and herbs as your brand becomes more established and new business partnerships develop.