The Deliberate Agrarian (my husband) has asked me to write about my farm-market bread business. Here goes....
I started out doing the farm market on a whim-- a new one had started in our small town six miles from our home. As Herrick mentioned I thought it would be good for our oldest to do the market with me and earn a little cash while getting “real life” learning. I have always loved making and selling things and this has served as a wonderful creative and social outlet for both me and the boys.
I started just using the bread recipes that I was used to-- my grandmother’s oatmeal bread and Herrick’s mom’s whole wheat. (Both recipes are of very sentimental value to me and right now I’m not ready to share them. ) I grind my own whole wheat flour and I also use only unbleached white flour, honey and olive oil for the sweetening and fat. My customers who truly care about the quality of their food really appreciate that. There’s something about homemade bread that people just go crazy over it. The low-carb craze has had no effect on my business.
From the oatmeal recipe I make plain oatmeal, oatmeal raisin,cinnamon swirl and nutty grain. The nutty grain was something I came up with one day when I wanted to be creative and do something different. It is now my signature bread--my best seller. It is the oatmeal base bread with raw cashews, sunflower seed, sesame and ground flax. People absolutely love it. It was fun to create and we had fun coming up with a name for it.
From the whole wheat bread, I have expanded to a whole wheat and toasted walnut bread, and also a cracked wheat and oat bread. Those two recipes you can find at www.breadworld.com. I have added a cup of oat bran to the cracked wheat bread and increased the water a bit because I have quite a few customers who want lots of fiber in the bread.
I do one small batch of white bread because I have customers asking for it (All I can think of is the whiter the bread, the quicker you’re dead). Unfortunately, the boys love it too. For some reason, I have trouble with white bread. The loaves blow out the sides or one end will puff up higher than the other. The boys call these “brain tumors.”
I make the medium bread pan size (approx. 8 x 4) and then I make mini loaves (5x3). The minis have proved to be an excellent idea. There a lot of older people who are now single, or people who love bread but just don’t want to have a lot on hand, who love these mini loaves. Also newbies to the market who are timid about buying a big loaf can try out my bread to see if it’s good. ( and they usually come back the next week to buy a big loaf.)
Another thing I do that is a nice touch is that I brush most of the loaves with an egg and water mixture and put a topping down the center top. This gives the loaves a nice country look and also helps my boys identify which bread they are bagging and labeling. For example, the oatmeal has oats on top, the nutty grain has a scattering of flax seeds and the wheat and walnut has finely chopped walnuts.
At the market I always try to have my tables looking very clean and pleasant with nice tableclothes--sometimes a vase of fresh cut wild flowers. I display quick breads and cookies in wicker baskets or pretty platters. I also try to have things priced clearly--there’s nothing worse than going to a vendor’s table where nothing is marked and you have to ask.
I started out small, kneading by hand and with one oven. Now I have a mixer that can handle a 7 loaf batch, and I have two ovens. I started in a small town and did fairly well but it was very inconsistent at times. The Lord opened up several doors for me to move to a bigger market where I can get a price worthy of the quality of my bread and where people really appreciate it. I get $3.75 for large loaf and $2 for the minis.
I did have to get our water tested and the kitchen inspected by Ag and Markets but it proved to be very easy. The only drawback in this bigger market was that I had to get a vendor’s liability policy and also increase the insurance on our vehicle that would be at the market. I guess if someone trips on my tent pole and gets hurt I’m covered and the market is covered. I fretted over these extra expenses but my sweet husband told me not to worry about it.
I am making up to sixty loaves (20 on Wed. a.m. and 40 on Thurs. a.m.) while supervising the boys at baking cookies and quick breads. I also have a friend who’s helping to make pies. It is to the point now that anything I make and put on the table sells because I have built the appreciation and trust of a great customer base. My only limitations now are the smallness of my home kitchen(I am praying and researching whether to invest in a biggerb mixer) and my own stamina (sigh) It has been an extremely hot and humid summer here in central NY and it is extremely exhausting to do this many loaves with basic equipment and no “girl” help The boys do very well with most things but are still in training. They aren’t naturally intuitive about what needs to be done unless they are instructed, and though they enjoy eaning money, this isn’t something they are passionate about. They don’t “just love to bake.”
This is now my fifth year and though I’m not making a large profit the foundation has been laid for us to expand in several different directions if we so desire. I have been asked to come to sell at several other markets but I don’t want to be that busy yet. Herrick and I are working together thinking this through.
It is a nice little business that anyone could try with little starting capital--it just takes some time to build up. Children can learn a lot of business skills-- figuring change without a calculator or cash register is a lost art. They also learn “people skills”. The boys have made a lot of nice impressions on people and I enjoy sharing that they are homeschooled. I strongly believe that people can see the difference in their behavior-- that they are well adjusted normal kids and that the “need for socialization” argument can be tossed out the window. The market is also just fun to be at. We come home with lots of stories about the various interesting people we meet and different little incidents that happen. #3 son took pictures last week and we had a slide show that evening.
That’s pretty much it--I’ve rambled on for quite a bit here. I pray it is beneficial information. If anyone has any more questions, feel free to write. It just takes me a while to respond. Below is the “ molasses cookie” recipe that mistakeningly came out like fabulous pancakes. It really does make a delicious cookie.
Cream together in large bowl: 1 cup sugar, 3/4 C butter, 1/4 C molasses, 1 egg. In another bowl mix: 2 1/ 4 flour, 2 t. baking soda (scant) 1/4 t. salt, and 1 t. each cinnamon, cloves, and ginger. Blend the two bowls together and roll into balls then flatten slightly or alot. Bake 325 for 10-15 minutes.
Note: I use 1/2 c butter (never margarine--just my convictions) and 1/4 oil. Adjust the flour if they are coming out too flat and adjust cooking time if you want them chewy or crisp. They
also come out good with whole wheat flour in place of half the white.
God bless you all--I enjoy reading about everyone and am thankful that the Lord has blessed Herrick and I with like minded people to share our thoughts with.
UPDATE: September 2008
Some things have changed in the three years since this blog essay was first written. For one thing, Marlene has taken this year off from selling her baked goods at the farm market. But she still has a customer base and occasionally makes bread for several people. Due to the rising cost of olive oil, she now uses canola oil in her recipes. Also, the price for a loaf of her homemade bread is now $5. She was concerned no one would buy her bread for that price but it has been no problem.
Also, after this blog was written, she experimented with selling plates of cinnamon rolls. The price is $5 and they sell very well. They are also easier, faster, and less money to make than the bread. She gets twelve plates of rolls out of a mixer batch of dough. Each plate has seven rolls. It costs her about $10 for ingredients. The "secret" to her delicious cinnamon rolls is in the white frosting she drizzzles on the top. She uses real vanilla instead of the imitation and it really makes a difference.
Another home-baking idea Marlene has been pursuing is granola. She has been selling 12oz bags of granola for $4. They sell well if she offers samples. She says she should probably be charging $5 a bag considering the cost of nuts and dried cranberries.
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