Selling Your Garden Produce to a Co-Op Grocery

If you're harvesting more vegetables than your family can eat, and you belong to a co-op grocery, you might be able to make a little money selling them your surplus garden produce.

| May/June 1979

My first organic garden was started in someone else's field. It was a sprawling, 3/4-acre plot and gave me such a prodigious yield that I ended up with more vegetables than our two-person family could ever eat or preserve.

I didn't want to see such a valuable crop go to waste, and—since I was already a member of a storefront co-op grocery in Newburyport, Massachusetts—I asked the folks at the cooperative if they would like to buy my overflow garden produce.

Most of the store's produce comes from the Chelsea markets and local farmers, but—in the true spirit of a co-op—the people in charge of ordering prefer to purchase homegrown, organic crops from their membership whenever possible. As a result of that preference, my little part time business—started by accident—is now a seasonal source of weekly spending money. Here are some of the things that my first two summers as a food supplier to one of these consumer-oriented stores taught me.

Uniqueness Sells

One of the keys to my success was my ability to market small amounts of unique vegetables which were not readily available from local stores. Also, large produce suppliers only sell by the box or crate, whereas a co-op—rather than waste money on items that might spoil—much prefers to buy small quantities of kohlrabi, scallions, turnips, Romano beans, and other less "universal" vegetables.

In addition, I learned that tomatoes are poor risks; not only are they carried by other suppliers, the fruit has to be perfectly round and unblemished if it's to sell. In a store where the consumer can finger the goods, tomatoes with green tops, black marks, or unpleasing physiques will always be passed over. This "unnatural selection" process ultimately means waste for the co-op and bad public relations for you. It's best, therefore, to eat or preserve the less-than-perfect-looking specimens of any vegetable.

Know Your Market

The amount you'll be paid for your harvest is usually calculated by the pound or by the bunch and is based upon the market price of the produce you're offering or on that of its nearest vegetable equivalent. For instance, if the going rate for squash is 15¢ a pound, the co-op pays me that and then tacks on a few cents as a markup for the customer. Chard, if unlisted, goes for the wholesale price of, say, spinach.

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