Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Marketing at Thiessen farms

We aren't used to receiving money this time of year.
Our regular income stopped 4 months ago when the farmers' markets shut down, and won't resume until the markets start up again in late May & early June.

Of course the bills keep coming all winter, but never cheques - until now.
Many days there is a cheque in the mail, along with an application for our CSA (community supported agriculture) program.
We really like this!

CSA in a nutshell means that customers or shareholders, pay us now for fruit & vegetables that they will receive throughout the coming summer. (For all the details see our CSA page on this blog). The big benefits to the grower are a guaranteed market for our produce & money upfront when we need it. Benefits for the customer include a box of fresh produce each week during harvest, knowing where their food comes from, supporting local farmers, and all at a reasonable cost.
Last year was our first experience with running a CSA. It went well! We had 24 shareholders - mostly friends & people we knew. It was a success and so this season we are continuing & expanding. We are planning to grow more kinds of vegetables and are offering a choice of 2 pick up days. So far 39 shareholders have signed up and another dozen or so have asked for applications and are considering joining.
Thus the cheques in our mailbox.

Marketing our produce here at Thiessen Farms has changed considerably through the years.

When I was small, most of our fruit went to the canning factories here in the Niagara Peninsula. I remember riding with my father to factories like Arkells, Cudneys, Culverhouse, Canadian Canners and Brights in such far off places like Winona, Stoney Creek, Vineland Station, St.Catharines and Niagara Falls. My memories include watching the pavement throught the gaping holes in the floor of our rusted out stake truck, sticking my head out the window as we drove around the QEW traffic circle at Stoney Creek and yelling at my Dad when there was a break in the traffic, fighting my sister for the window seat (she always won), and my favourite - being bored while waiting at the canners and pressing my thumb to the truck`s cigarette lighter to see if it was hot (it was!).
My father would tell me that by the time I was old enough to drive, we would not be delivering fruit to the factories anymore.
He was right!

When I was a teenager, most of our fruit went to the Vineland Growers Co-op, a local shipper just 5 minutes from the farm. They shipped it off to grocery stores throughout eastern Canada. Once my cousin called from Nova Scotia to tell us that she bought a basket of our peaches at her grocery store there. We also had a few truckers who came to the farm and bought our fruit for their fruitstands, markets & stores. Marketing was quick, easy and running smoothly. We expanded the farm and grew more peaches. Things continued for years...

Farmers`markets always appealed to us but we had never attempted them. It was about 1990 when we saw an ad looking for vendors for a market at City Hall in downtown Toronto. We tried it out, quickly got hooked and that was the start. From there we added other markets mostly in the Toronto area until we were selling at various farmers`markets 5 days a week. By then we had stopped selling through the shipper and some of our truckers had quit. Margins at the shipper were small and the little guys like us were having a hard time. They also wanted the fruit quite firm (if your peaches don`t bounce when you drop them, they`re too soft, is what we were told), whereas the truckers demanded softer, tree ripened fruit. It was difficult to please everyone. Farmers`markets seemed a better fit for our farm and our personality. Good tasting, high quality fruit was appreciated, we enjoyed the interaction with the customers, and the money was way better.

Now more than 20 years on, we continue to sell at farmers`markets. This year we will be selling at 3 each week (East York, North York & Georgetwon). It was a hard decision but we are giving up our Thursday afternoon market in Grimsby, in order to concentrate more on our CSA. We still sell to 1 trucker - the same guy for more than 30 years. And the restaurant at Vineland Estates Winery purchases fruit & vegetables from us. It is really interesting, even fun to watch how a restaurant works and to deal with the chefs! Their high standards for taste, appearance and quality have taught us a lot & encouraged us to improve our game.

So that`s our marketing plan for this season.
Gotta go get the mail - maybe there`s another cheque!

1 comment:

  1. coincidentally i am eating a jar of thiessen farms pears as i comment! so good!