Selling Fruit and Produce Online

Selling what you sow: farmers and market gardeners on the Internet.

| February/March 1999

With consumers purchasing everything from books to bonsai electronically, lots off armers, too, are excited about the potential of selling their products online. While few farmers have gotten rich quick through "cybersales," many have found a host of reasons to make the Internet one of their essential marketing tools. Boggy Creek Farm is a five-acre interest in the middle of Austin, Texas, just 50 feet from a city bus stop. The owners, Larry Butler and Carol Ann Sayle, raise certified organic vegetables, flowers, and fruits, which they sell through their stand at the farm, a local Whole Foods Market, and several local restaurants and farmers' markets. "The 160-year-old farmhouse and the chance to stroll around an urban farm, plus the opportunity to buy fresh, organic produce, bring out a lot of visitors," Butler notes.

Web surfers who come across the farm's home page at will find information about the farm's horticultural practices, what's grown and where to buy it, farm pictures, and the latest edition of "Friends of the Farm" newsletter (visitors can sign up for a free email subscription).

"This is a high-tech city and everyone has e-mail," Butler explains.

"Lots of people want to know what's going on at an urban farm." The weekly newsletter is sent to more than 500 people all over the country. "The newsletter relates what's gone on at the farm during the past week, and what produce is in season," Butler says. "We might have a hardship story like, 'We Had 12 Inches of Rain; or it may tell a story of the pioneer family who began farming here in 1839. A lot of folks e-mail us back with their reactions to the stories, and then come to the farm on market day."

Another intriguing page on the farm's Web site gives visitors an opportunity to send friends a "Boggy Creek Farm Postcard," with a selection of farm or produce pictures. E-mail addresses are collected for the time when Butler and Sayle will add an on-line catalog of jams, smoke-dried tomatoes, a book about the farm, farm T-shirts, and tote bags to their Web site.

Canyon Park Orchards, a five-acre farm in Bothell, Washington, is one of the few farms left in the area where Microsoft buildings surround the orchard trees. Owner Tom Berry grows 40 varieties of specialty apples, which are sold at an on-site farm stand for two months during the harvest season. For most of the year, Berry spends about 20 to 30 hours a week in the orchard and the rest of the week as a computer consultant, database developer, and Web page designer.Since a big part of the farm's business is preseason orders, Berry uses the Internet to send e-mail to notify customers when picking has started. Preseason orders are picked, packed, and held in cold storage.

"We have some rare varieties that are quickly sold out, and customers will miss them without their preseason orders," Berry explains. He estimates about 10°/a to 15% of his customers respond by e-mail. "A few years ago, hardly anyone was on e-mail. Now it's becoming more and more popular, especially as people discover how fast and inexpensive it is compared to [postal] snail mail."

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