Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association

Dynamic Farmers’ Marketing
Test Your Soil With Plants!
The Orchard, A Memoir
The Organic Pages

Dynamic Farmers’ Marketing
By Jeff Ishee
130 pages, paper; $14.95 plus $2.50 shipping & handling (Virginia residents add $ .67 sales tax) from Bittersweet Farmstead, PO Box 52, Middlebrook, VA 24459

Dynamic Farmers’ Marketing is an essential book for anyone who wants to or is selling at a farmers’ market or is thinking of organizing a farmers’ market. I know of no other publication that, in one place, tells producers, vendors, market managers and new market organizers how to have a successful and dynamic farmers’ market.

Ishee writes from first-hand experience, and he writes in a warm and easily read manner. He took notes and kept journals as he worked at farmers’ markets. He recorded customers’ buying habits, the most profitable and consistent items that farmers were selling, and how vendors effectively displayed their products. He reports on his own experiences and on those of farmers’ markets across the country, which he researched.

Ishee learned that during the two years from 1994 to 1996, a 40% increase in the number of public farmers’ markets occurred in the United States, so that by ’96 there were 2,200 markets with an average of about 30 vendors each. He visited many of these and spent countless hours on the phone learning about others. “As far as I know,” he says, “this is the only book currently available that is dedicated to the sole topic of selling farm products via the local farmers’ market. Others may have a chapter or two about the subject, but I have dedicated the entire book to both the vendor’s success and the efficient organization of a public farmers’ market. Also included is an appendix of actual testimonials from the ‘front lines’ of the marketplace, an appendix of sample market rules, and yet another appendix of assorted stories and sample news releases concerning our own market here in the Shenandoah Valley.” Those stories and news releases are very well written and should give market participants ideas about publicizing their local markets without (or in addition to) paying for advertising. I rarely see feature articles about farmers’ market vendors in local papers, yet markets are teeming with great stories, as Ishee illustrates.

Regarding sales techniques at the market, you might think everything possible had been written about this subject in Extension publications and other books. Yet I found many new ideas in Ishee’s book. For example: “If you have fresh baked goods from your farm, and a crop of leaf lettuce on hand, you are in business. Place your early tomatoes between a loaf of sourdough bread and a basket of lettuce. Then place a small hand-written sign next to the display that reads, ‘Tomato sandwich for lunch?’ Stand back and prepare to man the cash box! It will be self-evident that the power of suggestion is in fact truly powerful.“

In a section about the value of selling fresh eggs at markets, Ishee says, “If the average consumer had any idea of how commercial laying flocks are managed, believe me, you’d have more business at the farmers’ market than you could handle.” He describes the horrendous conditions under which laying hens are kept in factory farms, which you would see “if you were allowed to tour a commercial laying house…” He advises, “Make sure you take only fresh, clean eggs to the market, and be passionate about how your eggs are superior to typical supermarket eggs. Take pictures of your hens in the nest box and display the framed photographs at your market stall. Help the customer connect!” On one whole page of Dynamic Farmers’ Marketing, Ishee has reproduced a handout that he gives to his customers at the market. Entitled, “Why These Farm-Fresh Eggs are Superior,” it tells what his hens do not receive (medicated feed, crowded conditions, etc.) and how they are raised. This would be a good model for others to copy. Ishee has also grabbed shoppers’ attention by placing a handwritten sign next to his eggs. The 4" x 6" beige card with red lettering says: 'EGGS LAID BY HENS THAT LEAD A NICE QUIET LIFE.’ “It never failed to cause a smile on potential customers’ faces when they saw that little sign,” he says.

He suggests a similar approach for selling sweet potatoes. ‘SWEET POTATOES PROMOTE GOOD HEALTH,’ your sign could say. “How do sweet potatoes promote good health?” your customers will ask. You’ll cite research by the Center for Science in the Public Interest showing that the sweet potato is the most nutritious vegetable, getting a score more than twice the next highest vegetable. After citing the concentrations of vitamins A and C and beta-carotene, you can hand them a card with your favorite recipe on it, tell them that “it's low fat, delicious, takes only 10 minutes of preparation time, and calls for 4 pounds of sweet potatoes. You know, your friends that are health-conscious like you might enjoy this recipe also… Here – let me get a bag for you. Do you think 4 pounds will be enough to last until next week's market?”

Ishee even talks about wearing the right kind of clothing to markets: clean jeans, a cotton shirt and a baseball cap, or overalls, which “have the image of ‘farmer’ written all over them.” He advises against certain footwear: “Wear your old boots or garden shoes, and not brand new, slick, white basketball high tops. Somehow, Reebok and Nike do not symbolize fresh and local farm products. Old leather boots do.”

This book is full of gems, so you must get it and read it yourself and share it with other vendors in your market. I will close with one of my favorite quotes from Ishee’s book, which he found on the Internet, which was citing Bernard Rudofsky’s Streets for People: A Primer for Americans (Doubleday, N.Y., 1969): “A good start for making a town’s acquaintance is to visit its morning markets, and I do not mean market halls but the temporary kind that consists of collapsible stalls put up for a few hours in a street or a square. Disagreeable as shopping in inclement weather may be to people addicted to the indoors, open-air markets are more than a match for hermetic stores. There is nothing like fresh air and daylight; the knowledgeable shopper prefers the least tidy street market to the air-conditioned morgue of a supermarket.”

Dynamic Farmers’ Marketing is in the MOFGA library.

– Jean English


Test Your Soil With Plants!
By John Beeby
April 1997; 91 pp.
$12.50 from Ecology Action, 5798 Ridgewood Rd., Willits CA 95490

This is a book to order now and study over the winter, for although it’s only 91 pages long, it’s dense with information that should be quite helpful in understanding your soil, its limitations, its possibilities, and how to achieve those possibilities.

Divided into three parts, the first discusses how wild plants can be used to determine the characteristics of a soil. Beeby has organized a “Wild Plant Indicator Chart” that takes up 16 pages and is amazingly detailed. From it you can find out what rough pigweed (Amaranthus retroflexus) means regarding the structure of a soil and its possible utilization; what common burdock (Arctium minus) means relative to soil pH, calcium, phosphorus and aluminum concentrations; what common horsetail (Equisetum arvense) tells about a soil’s history, moisture, drainage and texture.

Combine this information with that in Part II about cultivated plants, and you are on your way to Part III – Improvement of Soil Conditions. If wild and cultivated plants suggest that you need to add potassium but not nitrogen and phosphorus, you can use Beeby’s charts to find out how to amend the soil organically – how much of which materials to add each year, when to add them, and more.

In the Foreword to the book, John Jeavons writes, “John Beeby has condensed the wisdom, skill and science from a five-foot pile of hard-to-find publications into Test Your Soil With Plants. Now we can begin to rediscover this very practical art without the use of expensive soil tests.” This is not a simple art, and this book is an excellent way to begin to learn it. One limitation of the book is the lack of visual aids, which are essential in being able to spot nutrient deficiencies or excesses. Now that color copiers and scanners for computers are so readily available, perhaps a photographic insert of common nutrient problems could be included in future editions.

A copy of Test Your Soil With Plants! is available in the MOFGA library.

– Jean English


The Orchard, A Memoir
By Adele Crockett Robertson
Bantam Books, 1997
Paper, 234 pages, $10.95

In The Orchard, A Memoir, by Adele Crockett Robertson, a quiet voice from the Depression tells a bittersweet tale of one woman’s passion for her family farm and of her determination to hold onto it in the face of astounding odds. It is a story of true heroism told by an unsual and courageous woman.

Adele “Kitty” Crockett was the daughter of Dr. Eugene Crockett, an idealistic Boston doctor who died suddenly in the midst of the Depression, leaving his family in financial crisis. His generous spirit had kept him from charging his unemployed patients and, to make ends meet, he had simply put more mortgage on the family farm.

When her family gathered after her father’s death to face the stack of unpaid bills, “I stood alone for keeping the farm,” she writes. “I could not imagine life without it: no center for the existence of the family, no link with the past.”

The farm, located north of Boston in Ipswich, had been purchased by Eugene Crockett shortly after he began his practice. All three of his children were born there. Over time he had planted the land in apple and peach trees, confident that their future harvests would support him in his retirement. Father and daughter had planted many of the trees together, and the apple harvests, from the farm’s original trees, were the great events of Kitty’s childhood.

In spite of her family’s disapproval and skepticism, Kitty quit her white-collar museum job and, with her Great Dane, Freya, moved to the farm, determined to harvest the apples and save the farm from foreclosure. “I determined not to mourn, but to throw my lot in with the trees, certain that somehow they and we would survive. These fields and this old house in which we all had been born would never be lost.”

Brave words at a time when, between 1930 and 1935, financial ruin would drive more than 750,000 farmers to forfeit their farms in forced sales. Kitty had no farming experience apart from what she had learned as a child tagging along with her father around the farm. But she was intelligent and determined. Step by step, she picked up the season’s work in the orchard, repairing old equipment and negotiating the payment of overdue bills.

Kitty’s voice is a true New England one, her prose spare and clean. There is no need for melodrama here, the story alone provides drama enough. It was indeed a time of great desperation. With the Depression a backdrop to Kitty’s story, we glimpse many others struggling to keep their lives on an even keel: her French helper, Joe LaPlante; the Polish orchard workers, Kasimir and Stanley; the Jewish apple buyer, Mr. Greenberg; the college purchasing agent, Mr. Moss, and many unnamed others. Kitty’s honesty and integrity bind these people to her and she draws strength from them. “In those years I found that the proportion of nice people to stinkers was about ten to one,” she observes.

Ultimately, as her businessman brother predicted, the land proved more valuable as houselots than as an orchard, but at a critical time, it was the fruit of Kitty Crockett’s small orchard that kept the farm from the reaches of the bank.

The unfinished manuscript for The Orchard was found among Kitty’s papers after her death by her only child, Betsy Robertson Cramer. Kitty was never able to complete the book, and Betsy rounds out the story for the reader with a foreword and an epilogue about her mother’s life. It is almost not enough. Kitty’s narrative is strong and breaks off at a point that leaves the reader wanting to know what happens in the next minute, the next day, not just what happens to Kitty’s life in the end.

Organic growers will wince to read of the pesticide spray routines that left Kitty exhausted and burned. “The list of enemies was endless, each in its season. Coddling moths, aphids, red mites, curculio, cedar rust, Baldwin spot and worst of all, apple maggot … At night I used to dream of my enemies. As each one challenged, I had to be ready with the proper spray, and to every mixture there had to be added the wicked burning stuff, the lime-sulphur powder for scab. I put on seven sprays that first year … My hands were so tough that only between the fingers were there raw or scaly spots, but my face and hands were blistered all summer.”

Kitty’s ignorance of the dark effects of her efficient spray schedule can almost be forgiven in light of her sweet appreciation for the land and the trees, and her commitment to something genuinely good. Ultimately this becomes more than a story about one woman’s fight to save something she loves. The Orchard makes us witnesses to a time when people had reason to despair of both man and nature; had cause to be both selfish and cruel; yet found it in themselves to be strong and good. “What I have learned this minute I shall never forget,” writes Kitty in the face of a friend’s generosity. “People are essentially good and kind – I might have spent a lifetime and never found it out.”

–  Lynn Allen, Union


The Organic Pages
1998; $44.95 plus $6.00 shipping and handling from Organic Trade Association, PO Box 1078, Greenfield MA 01302; Tel. 413-774-7511; fax 413-774-6432; e-mail; web
First copy free to OTA members.

The Organic Pages, 1998 North American Resource Directory, provides comprehensive contact information for over 770 OTA members as well as listings for over 420 certified organic farms in North America. It contains over 300 pages of detailed organic industry information, including listings of shippers, retailers, processors, certifiers, farmers’ associations, farm input suppliers, brokers, consultants, importers, exporters, restaurants, distributors, manufacturers, suppliers of ingredients, and others involved in producing or selling organic products. Extensive indexes are arranged by industry sector, products and business activity. Web sites, e-mail addresses and mail order opportunities are listed for consumers.

The Organic Trade Association is the business association representing the organic industry in the United States and Canada.

A copy of The Organic Pages is available in the MOFGA library.