Dateline: 10 September 2006
Updated: 10 April 2013
Updated: 10 April 2013
Yesterday I broke out of my comfort zone and did something I’ve never done before. I set up a booth at the Ithaca, New York farmer’s market and sold my homemade stiffneck garlic powder.
I’ve been making and selling Herrick’s Homegrown garlic powder by word-of-mouth to family, friends, friends of friends, and my Whizbang Books customers for the past five years. I have not sold at farmer’s markets or garlic festivals because I’m a shy garlic “farmer” and, besides that, with a full-time non-agrarian job, I’ve been loath to spend hours sitting behind a booth when I have so many other projects at home.
Selling the powder I make has never been a problem. I make around 1,000 ounces a year (this year I’ll have a bit less than that) and I have a core of satisfied customers who purchase from me every year. In addition, there are the curious who purchase once. Many of the curious end up making their own garlic powder and that’s just fine with me. In fact, I wrote this book, to tell others how they can make their own wholesome, delectable garlic powder. And for those looking for a nice little home business, I have put together a Garlic Powder Profits Report.
One year I grew far more garlic than I could properly take care of on a part-time basis (4,500 bulbs) and I made so much powder that I had several pounds still in stock the following spring (I typically sell out before that). So I sent an e-mail to my customer list letting them know that I was selling 16 ounces of powder for a special price of $40. My excess was all sold shortly thereafter. I would typically have sold the 16 ounces in a bag for around $50.
The point is, I think making and selling homemade garlic powder is a neat little business and well worth the effort I put into it. But I’ve often wondered how the powder might sell at a farmer’s market.
So when our friend, Rose Ryan, who grows and sells a lot of garlic under the name, Harvest Home Organics, asked me if I would be willing to sell my garlic powder books and my powder at the Ithaca Farmer’s Market last weekend, I figured I better take advantage of it. I was a guest of the market, which means I didn’t have to pay for a booth. And the market theme for the weekend was garlic. The market runs Saturday from 9:00 to 3:00 and then again on Sunday. We go to church on Sunday so I said I’d only be there on Saturday.
I decided that if I was going to sell my powder at the market, I would put some effort into making a booth display that was attractive and informative. Here’s a picture of the booth after my son, James, and I set it up.
The Herrick’s Homegrown sign above the booth is one I painted on 1/4” lauan plywood. The sub lettering says, Stiffneck-Good Garlic Powder. One of the little signs hanging down off the right side of the sign says:
Here’s One Way To Enjoy Great Garlic Powder
1. Make toast.
(homemade bread is best)
2. Butter the toast.
(real butter please)
3. Shake on garlic powder.
(Herrick’s Homegrown, of course)
4. Allow butter to soak into garlic bits.
(something wonderful happens when butter and garlic combine)
5. Eat slowly. Savor the experience.
6. Make more toast and repeat.
This next picture of 11-year-old James, who was my able assistant for the day, shows an informational display I made.
At the top of the display are the words, What’s The Difference?. Underneath is a jar of “Typical Storebought Garlic Powder” on the left side (it happens to be McCormick’s brand garlic powder), and a jar of “Herrick’s Homegrown Stiffneck Garlic Powder” on the right side. Then, under each jar are a list of differences:
McCormick’s: “Made from softneck varieties of garlic. The softnecks are better suited to large, commercial farming operations, but their flavor pales in comparison to the stiffneck varieties of garlic.”
Herrick’s Homegrown: “Made from stiffneck garlic bulbs. Sometimes called gourmet garlic, the stiffnecks are renowned for their rich, robust flavor.
McCormick’s: “Diluted and adulterated with an anticaking agent.” Herrick’s Homegrown: “No additives. Nothin’ but 100% garlic.”
McCormick’s: “Grown using synthetic chemical inputs. Herbicides, fungicides, and petrochemical fertilizers are commonly used by large-scale commercial garlic growers.”
Herrick’s Homegrown: “No herbicides. No pesticides. No fungicides. No petrochemical inputs. Fertilized with homemade two-year-old compost. Weeded with a hoe and human hands.”
McCormick’s: “Ground and sifted to a perfectly uniform, dust-like consistency.”
Herrick’s Homegrown: “Ground and sifted to contain a mixture of powder and fine granules. This is garlic powder that, in a small way, you can sink your teeth into.”
McCormick’s: “Made from garlic that might have been grown somewhere in the western U.S., but was more than likely grown in a foreign country.”
Herrick’s Homegrown: “Made from garlic grown in the Finger Lakes region of New York State.”
McCormick’s: “Grown and processed by an industrialized system of nameless, faceless, people from who-knows-where?”
Herrick’s Homegrown: “Every bulb used to make this garlic powder was planted, cared for, harvested, processed, and packaged by Herrick Kimball of Moravia, New York.”
I also put together an informational display board about my garlic powder book. The person in charge of the farm market said I could display but not sell my non-garlic books, so I had display boards and sample copies of my books, Writings of a Deliberate Agrarian and Anyone Can Build A Tub-Style Mechanical Chicken Plucker.
Selling at the farm market was in interesting experience. A lot of people walked by and didn’t even give the booth a look. I think they were there for the food, the atmosphere and the social qualities of the place, which is one good reason to go there. The Ithaca Farmer’s Market has a lot of unique, ethnic food vendors and the atmosphere is truly rarified.
There is a bumper sticker that says, Ithaca, New York: Four Square Miles Surrounded by Reality. That really sums it up. For those who don’t know, Cornell University is on the hill in Ithaca. You can see the school’s bell tower from the market which is along the shore of Cayuga Lake. Marlene and I make it a point to go to the Ithaca market (1/2 hour form our home) at least once a summer specifically for the food and the experience. So I can understand why a lot of people just didn’t care to see what I had.
Two years ago, when we went to the garlic weekend at the market, it was shoulder to shoulder people—a mass of humanity. That was not the case at all yesterday. The stilt-walking garlic fairy (or whatever he is) in this next photo was at the market two years ago and he could barely move. As you can see in this photo, taken by me from my booth, there was a lot of room to walk.
By the way, after I snapped the photo, the fellow walked over, handed me a business card and asked me to e-mail him the picture. So I’ll send him an invite to this blog, with this picture. Welcome to The Deliberate Agrarian Dan Klein of the League of Stiltwalkers in Ithaca.
I was selling jars of Herrick’s Homegrown and 1.5 ounce sample bags. The jars were priced at $10.50 and the sample bags at $5. Here’s a close-up of the jars & bags.
Even though the turnout was relatively low and a lot of people walked by without giving my booth a second look, I felt it was it was a good day. Almost every person who looked at my “What’s The Difference” display and read it, bought a jar or bag of powder. One lady said, “And it’s not irradiated either!” To which I replied, “You’re right! I forgot about that.”
One lady stopped by and said, “So you’re the famous Herrick Kimball?” I was taken aback by the comment because I wasn’t sure what she meant. “I guess so.” I said with a surprised smile and asked, “Why do you say that?” She told me she bought a copy of my garlic powder book at the lumberyard in Moravia last year (they offered to sell it for me and actually sold quite a few copies). She followed the directions in the book, made her own garlic powder, and is now a homemade garlic powder enthusiast. The woman and her husband moved into the Moravia area from New Jersey two years ago. I was thrilled to meet someone who bought my book and put the information to good use!
A guy from a local radio station was at the market doing live interviews throughout the morning. Against my better judgment, I agreed to do an interview. He came right to my booth and we did a short on-air interview with a cell phone. He said a few words about the market, introduced me and James, asked me a question, and stuck the cell phone in my face. I started talking and don’t even remember all what I said. It didn’t last long and the guy was gone.
Then, about 10 minutes later, a middle-aged couple showed up at my booth and told me they were driving down Route 13 in Ithaca, heard my interview and decided to track me down. They were garlic lovers who grew 100 German white stiffnecks last year for the first time. That’s the same garlic I use to make my powder. We had a nice talk and they left with a sample bag and a copy of my book.
Later in the day, close to the end of the market, my oldest son, Chaz showed up with my middle son, Robert. Chaz was working at his lumberyard job in the morning and Robert was at a friend’s house. Chaz said he heard my interview on the radio out in one of the storage buildings in the yard at work. That was kind of neat. He said I did okay, which was good to hear. I told them that if they stopped by I’d buy them lunch. They both had a pizza that was baked a few booths down from me in a portable (on a trailer) wood-fired, masonry oven.
In the end, I sold only 23 bags and 11 jars of powder (and a bunch of books—one lady bought five). My typical customers were middle-aged and older people. No college kids, of which there were many, bought any powder (though a few expressed interest in the chicken plucker book). Each person who purchased powder also got a copy of this year’s prices on a postcard. I suspect that the 44 new customers will translate into additional mail order sales.
Selling my homegrown, homemade stiffneck garlic powder at the market yesterday was an experiment and I determined ahead of time that, no matter how it went, I would have a good time, and I did. I also determined that I would report about it here so that others looking at garlic powder or any other farm market enterprise, might learn from my experiences.
What I learned is that homemade garlic powder is a unique and appealing product to many people. But to sell a lot of it, you need to be somewhere where a lot of the right people are. I suspect a festival focused specifically on garlic would be a much better selling environment than a general farmer’s market.
Beyond that, I’m sure that I would have done better if, in addition to the powder, I also sold garlic bulbs (for seed and eating), garlic braids, and different garlic powder mixes. If I had samples of my garlic powder mixes (which I have yet to develop) for people to taste, that would have been even more of a draw. I also am completely convinced that properly presented information explaining what makes your product unique (i.e., my “What’s The Difference?” display) is a necessity. And I like the idea of teaching others how to make their own powder. I think anyone who makes and sells garlic powder can benefit from either selling my how-to book or, better yet, a small booklet of their own. There is no reason why other people across the country can't position themselves as garlic powder specialists and authorities.
As time passes, Marlene and I are getting a vision for a home-based market stand—a place where we would be open a couple days a week and people would come to us. Marlene’s breads and baked goods would be the foundational drawing product. To that would be added other homegrown products, like poultry, eggs, vegetables, jams, garlic and garlic powder, homemade soaps, crafts, etc. The stand would be in a small building and open year round. We could even help other people in our area market their homegrown and homemade products. I envision an e-mail list of local customers who would get weekly updates and information. A commercial kitchen would be very helpful in the endeavor.
I don’t know how or when this would happen or how we could afford to make it happen. But as we think about the future and, hopefully, purchasing some land, we will do so with this kind of home market in mind. We would need to be in the country (of course) but relatively close to a major population center (less than 1/2 hour away). We’d need road frontage that would accomodate the stand and parking. It’s fun to consider and I hope we can make it happpen. I hope it would be something our sons, at least one of them, if not more, would get the vision for too. Time will tell.
I invite you to read my other garlic-related blog essays:
Making Pickled Garlic Scapes
How I Plant My Garlic
Home-Based Agrarian Enterprises & Garlic Powder Profits
Curing Garlic Bulbs