The Price is Wrong

July 14, 2017 in Home, Uncategorized

Screen Shot 2017-07-14 at 6.33.06 AMIt’s veggie season again and that means those of us who sell produce at market have to step away from the fields and weeds for a few minutes every week to research prices. Consumers look for the best deals and selling any commodity requires competitive pricing on the part of the seller. There’s a fine line, however, between asking too much and not enough, and that line changes from week to week as things come in and out of season.

For those of us who sell at farmers markets pricing is always a struggle. We want to offer consumers a fair deal and encourage them to buy from us instead of the big chain stores. But we also need to make a living, to pay for seeds, market fees, fuel, and all the other costs that come with growing and selling. It’s all too easy to undervalue a product just to sell, and that seems innocent enough on the surface. After all, customers love a great deal! In the grand scheme of things, however, under-pricing creates a vicious cycle that undermines everyone, especially when multiple vendors have the same product.

If vendors don’t charge enough for their items:

  • The market becomes unprofitable for the vendors and they don’t return. The market fails.
  • Consumers develop an expectation that the product has less value, and therefore become unwilling to pay a realistic price. Farms fail.
  • Consumers end up with less choice when it comes to buying local. The local food system fails.

Determining a realistic and fair price for an item doesn’t have to be an an onerous task. There are multiple ways to choose fair pricing:

  •  averages regional prices for a multitude of produce types. It’s a quick and easy-to-use resource for up-to-date data on market, wholesale, and bulk pricing.
  • Looking around at supermarkets and other farmers markets can provide a guideline for the average price of items. Of course it’s important to compare organic to organic, weight to weight…  lettuce shipped from Mexico cannot be considered the same as no-spray lettuce picked from a farmer’s field an hour before market.
  • Talk to other vendors and agree on a fair price.
  • Consider the value that product has to you, the vendor! There comes a price point where I’d rather take an item home and feed it to the pigs than sell for less. After all, pig food costs money too. Don’t have pigs? If your tomatoes went ballistic and you have way too many, instead of selling them for nothing why not donate them to a food bank or soup kitchen?

Dumping of product at unrealistic prices isn’t good for the vendorship, it isn’t good for the market, and in the long run it isn’t good for the consumer, either. Farmers markets aren’t flea markets… they are venues for local producers to sell quality product at fair prices, and make a living in the process. We need to cooperate to ensure that we CAN make a living. We also need to engage consumers and make sure they understand how and why prices are determined, and why sometimes our products are worth a little more than the chain store “equivalents”. If we undersell ourselves we’re underselling a whole local economy, it’s that simple. Make sure the price is right!


Coming Clean on Responsible Ingredients

January 17, 2017 in Home

rosehipOver the 6 years that I’ve been making Tipsy Toad goat milk soap and body products the things that I make have evolved, and my ingredients have changed with that evolution. Selling at Farmers Markets I have the pleasure of one-on-one interaction with my customers. I get to hear first hand what they really love about the things I make, and I’m also forced to field the negative feedback in real time. One concern that comes up over and over is about ingredients, and believe me, I get it. People want to use something that’s not going to be damaging to their body, but they are also becoming increasingly concerned about the ethical and sustainable nature of the ingredients their products contain. Recently a customer expressed grave concern because I use canola oil in my soaps, and canola is a GMO. This discussion led me to think that it’s high time I disclose how I choose the ingredients I use.

First off, I think it’s important to out myself. In an ideal world, I would only consume things that are spray-free (note I didn’t say Organic), Fair Trade, Ethically Produced, local and environmentally sustainable. I grow produce using spray-free methods. I raise my meat and eggs on pasture. I grow a good portion of the hay that my animals eat. I read labels carefully in the supermarket to determine where things come from and what they contain. That said, like most people, I have a budget, and sometimes that budget makes the 99 cent can of beans pretty attractive, even if it isn’t organic. My budget also tells me that if I’m like other people, $6 is not unreasonable for a bar of natural, handmade soap, but $12 is completely out of line.

$12 for a bar of soap. That’s about what I’d have to charge if every ingredient I used met all the criteria I listed above. I would be out of business because if that’s what a bar of natural soap cost, most people would say “to heck with it”, and go right back to the drugstore soap.

So I weigh the pros and cons of different ingredients, trying to balance cost with a sense of wanting to do the right thing. In the end, some of my ingredients are local (in my mind buying local is one of the most important decisions in sourcing ingredients), some are organic, some are non-GMO, some are Fair-Trade, and some are none of the above. Different things seem to be important to different people. Nobody who’s questioned my use of GMOs has ever questioned my use of palm oil (a far more contentious product, in my mind). I do source my palm from companies who are members of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), but it’s still not environmentally ideal. If the best alternates for palm weren’t animal fats like lard, I would consider substituting. I have no issue personally with using lard in soap, but I have many customers who are vegetarians and I don’t think that would fly with them. In the case where Organic products are economically feasible I choose those over the cheaper alternatives. Most of the essential oils I use are organic. My coconut oil is not organic because organic coconut oil is almost triple the price of non-organic. I use hand-harvested clay in my products. I use my own goat milk, so I know how the goats providing it are fed and treated.

As for GMOs, they are my last concern. Why? Because there isn’t scientific evidence that GMOs are the monster they’re made out to be. There are many problems with GMOs. I disagree with altering seed stock so that it’s no longer capable of open pollination. I disagree with changing organisms so that they can’t survive grown in a natural environment or without synthetic fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides. But do I think GMOs across the board are bad for us? Maybe some of them are, but it’s absurd to just say “all GMOs are bad”. I suspect the canola oil I use is a GMO. It’s also Canadian. I suspect that the feed my goats eat also contains GMOs. And try finding hay that isn’t GMO. I don’t know what was originally planted in my hay fields, but I suspect the farmer who was here before us didn’t care too much about where his hay seed came from. I have a much larger axe to grind with industrial monoculture growing than I do with Genetically Modified Organisms, and so yes, there are some in my soaps.

We can only do the best we can do. Is it better to offer a product that’s partly sustainable and responsible in the hopes that more people will choose it, or to go all out and make the fully responsible product that only a very small fraction of the population can afford to use? That’s a choice I have to make every time I buy ingredients. In the end I feel pretty good about the choices I make and I can only hope that my customers recognize this and feel pretty good about supporting me.