Growing crops for an unknown market has been one of the bigger challenges for us this year. When I started back in January my mission was unclear.
We already had a small shop that didn’t do a great deal of business and I knew that we would be opening a larger shop somewhere down the line. Then there was the cafe, another unknown to contend with. Would the cafe use our veg and what kind of things would they be serving up?
Finally, there was the local wholesale market of shops, pubs and cafe’s. I knew the farm had sold veg to all these last year but how much should we grow for them for this year?
Too many variables to predict what quantities we would need to grow..
The next question was what range of stuff should we try and grow? What would be popular, what would work on this sloping hillside that had been under grass for such a long time?
I decided to max out on onions as they are a staple but received cautionary advice that I may be overdoing it.
This is a tough problem because veg growing has a long lead in time and with most crops. You only get one shot per season to get it right. You cannot just switch it on and off.
The big question at the back of all of our minds was (and still is) who is our market, who wants to buy what we grow at Greenslate Farm?
One person advised me that “there is no point in selling stuff more expensively than Aldi as people won’t buy any of it.” If we have to compete with Aldi on price, I think we have a problem.
My own gut feeling is that our customers are the ones who value our ‘story’ and who get what this farm is about. There are so many alternatives to us out there, price isn’t the only deciding factor.
All these questions will be answered in time. What people want, what people like and what people value is a puzzle that taxes cleverer brains than mine.
One thing is a certainty though, people are starting to hear and understand what we are producing and why we are doing it. I definitely need to grow a lot more produce next season. There is a market out there for locally produced fruit and vegetables.
We have recently started supplying local organic wholefood cafe ‘The Allotment Coffee Shop’ in Wigan Lane.
Martin and Bernie who run the cafe approached us because they really wanted to source locally grown produce. They actually grow some of the veg that they use in the cafe on their own allotment so they appreciate the qualities of home grown food and the work involved.
They only opened earlier this year and they have their own ideals about sustainability and their own concerns about the environment. In many ways it is a perfect match for us with mutual respect in both directions.
Roll on next season when we can really pump up production and feed more local people from our shop, our cafe and other local outlets who value what we are trying to do here at Greenslate Farm in Billinge.
How much will we need to grow then?