Make Your Own Market | Civil Eats

Make Your Own Market


The tilling and planting work is done for now. The irrigation system, a vast network of drip lines and timers and snakes of multicolored hoses, is up and running. Trees are pruned, weeds are pulled, deer fencing is enforced, and the huge job of removing crowded tan oaks is done for the time being, unbelievably. We await the massive, juicy results that will soon burst from the vines, stalks, branches, and stems. We planted everything we could think of, and everything we had saved in our seed box, some in their third generation. Where dirt reigned on the ground there is now something edible growing; the places I always thought would just be overgrown tangles of poison oak and dry twigs have transformed into beds of tomatoes, radish, lettuce, tomatillo, peppers, carrots, cucumbers, squash, onion, and too many herbs to list. Ongoing maintenance of the orchard, planted by Margaret, the homesteading single woman who lived here before us, will hopefully keep presenting an abundance of figs, apples, plums, grapefruit, Meyer lemons, hazelnuts, chestnuts, and pears. The only thing to ponder now is why did we plant all of this, and who is all this food for?

A good question indeed. Unless I quit all my jobs and stay at home full time, canning, pickling, and preserving like mad, we will soon be drowning in food, barely able to keep up with the harvest. Our ideal plan, perhaps not fully developed or implemented at this point, is to sell our produce to make this land financially viable, and to chunk down the mortgage payment while eating our own goods. And of course it goes without saying that we believe in growing your own food, in self-sustainability, in promoting healthy local food systems and seed saving, in the DIY movement and preserving traditions. We wouldn’t be doing all this work if we weren’t committed to that deep within our entire beings; plus there may be just a touch of obsessive experimentation and passion for what random variety of interesting edible thing can we actually grow next? The problem lies in our size. Our one-acre plus is not big enough or productive enough to realistically supply various markets, grocers, and restaurants with consistent product. But it is now too big to just feed the two of us, and we would love to make a little bit of income on all of this wonderful food.

Not all of us small-time farmers are lucky enough to be boutique plots who sell directly to a single source. Some of our similarly sized neighbors have made it big, getting the golden ticket by way of a fanciful chef who happened to pay special attention. Down the road, Love Apple Farm is the personal biodynamic playground for Manresa chef David Kinch. And up a hill from there is Lindencroft Farm which sells almost all of their beautifully terraced produce to our local Gabriella Café. Don’t get me wrong, we would jump at the chance to be in a partnership with a kitchen that was as proud and in love with the bounty as we are; but it isn’t a realistic goal, especially when I honestly don’t have much time for some of the marketing and legwork involved.

Another idea would be to start a CSA, definitely something that other farms in our position have found as a wonderful solution. Again, it is a great idea and I fully support the theory of it, but the time involved in organizing, marketing, delivering, and coordinating is prohibitive at this time in our lives while we have to work away from our home to make a living. And so, for anyone out there who is reading this and understanding the quandary in a personal way, here is my solution: Start your own farmstand!

First of all, zoning laws and governmental food safety issues put a big black X on any public sale of non-certified edibles. Legally, you can’t just set up a table on some random corner and sell your stuff. That’s right — those little kids with their lemonade for twenty-five cents are criminals. It is sad that we have come so far from the friendly farm stands of yore. In an effort to protect the public from E.coli and other food born illnesses, the laws have become restrictive. However, our research here in Santa Cruz County at least, indicates you can sell if you remain on your own property. That means that with a little bit of neighborhood networking, you can still potentially make some money within your own community. This can also bring you together and act as a social bonding time while spreading consciousness about healthy eating practices. Of course, discretion is advised regardless of location because every city, county, and state has its own business tax regulations and rules. If you wanted to go completely legit, multilayers of certifications, fees, inspections, and ordinances would be the long road ahead of you. To have your own farm means you must face the chasm between legitimacy and being underground. It’s your choice, just be sure to know the risks. That being said, I’ve created some simple steps to set up the Bonanza Springs Farmstand 2009:

• Choose a day of the week when I will have the most time, energy, and visibility to make this farmstand worth my while.

• Create and distribute a simple announcement flyer and put it in my neighbor’s mailboxes. It will cover the basics of day, time, and what will be on offer.

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• Organize my décor: a folding table, one of my grandmother’s vintage tablecloths, baskets and wooden crates, a mason jar for flower displays, recycled cardstock for product labels, some extra bags, a calculator, and a box for all the money I will make!

• Explore ideas for community collaboration: offer neighbors a way to contribute their own goods to sell with a percentage kickback to me for hosting it or a trade for goods and services I might want.

A fun project that I hope will yield some bounty for our bounty!

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Amber Turpin is a freelance food and travel writer living in the Santa Cruz Mountains. A long time Good Food advocate, she has owned, operated and helped launch several food businesses. She is a regular contributor to Civil Eats, various Edible magazines, and the San Jose Mercury News. Read more >

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  1. Dear Amber,

    I would love to happen upon a neighborhood farm stand. I remember the delight I had when walking through the island of Coronado, outside of San Diego, and stopping at one of those lemonade stands.

    Canning does take time, but it's easy to put up the abundance of the harvest collectively! Organize a community canning day or party. With everyone chopping and packing together, you could quickly process pounds of cucumbers for crispy pickles, tomatoes, or fruit for luscious jams. Happy Girl conducts hands on, 5 hour workshops in Oakland and Aromas and what we've found is that the most enjoyable aspect of the day is the socialization. Food used to be a collective activity. Let's make it so again!
  2. Amber Turpin
    Hi Todd,
    I totally agree with you about the collective joys of preserving food together, and some of my greatest memories come from conversations over a table heaped with fruit, paring knives in hand.
    The way that food cultivates community is why I think so many of us do what we do. Thanks for reading!

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