Direct Sales Opportunities

vendor at farmers market

Selling local foods is some producers' job and other producers' hobby, but when it comes to selling local foods there are several things to keep in mind. Before starting to sell your food you must make certain you can handle the work load and the needed time. There are also farmers' market rules, local, state and federal regulations and labeling, sampling and food handlers permits to understand. Find out more about the steps it takes to become successful:

How to get started

When you're planning to grow local foods to sell there are several steps you must take before you ever actually plant the seeds.

  • Feasibility: You must look into the feasibility of selling local foods. Do you have the time? Do you have the patience? Do you have the money?
  • Research: Research your idea thoroughly. Make sure you know exactally what it takes to grow and care for the produce. Also look into where you can sell them and what the regulations are. Look into your competitors. Look into the market, is it a good time to enter?
  • Planning: Set up a business plan for your idea. A good marketing plan starts with the customer and then works backward to the production. Lay out everything you need, what it's going to cost and how much time it will take. Contact organizations for help as needed.
  • Analysis: Weigh the cost versus the benefits of your venture. Will the benefits of selling local foods outweigh the costs it takes to grow and package them?
  • Cost: Have you considered all the costs associated? (seeds, water, stall fees, insurance, fuel, packaging, employees/assistants and your own time)
  • Compare: Visit similar businesses or growers to get a better understanding of what it takes to sell local foods.
  • Time: Do you have time to be away from the farm or other responsibilities? Selling of local foods takes time in care, transportation, harvest, packaging and selling.
  • Relationships: Establish a relationship with consumers or retail owners BEFORE growing your product. Make sure you have a place to sell your local foods before you have produce.
  • People Person: Customers of local produce like to know the story behind the foods they buy and they want to hear it from you. Make sure you're willing to share your story and interact with the customers.
  • Future: Where do you wish to be in 5 years? Consider your objectives for the future and what goals need to be reached to get you there.

Resources Good information for if you are thinking of starting to farm or have already started!

Nebraska Food Code, Nebraska Department of Agriculture Bureau of Dairies and Foods

Weights & Measures Guidelines for Sales at Farmers' Markets, Roadside Stands, & Other Commerical Outets, Nebraska NebGuide

Direct Marketing Business Management Series, Appropriate Technology Transfer for Rural Areas

AgMRC: Agricultural Marketing Resource Center list of resources for selling agricultural products

How Can I Be Better?--Basic Business and Enterprise Planning

Buy Fresh Buy Local® Nebraska designed the webinar to assist you in evaluating your specialty crops business and other on-farm and value added businesses ventures you may have.  Assist you in evaluating your year-end business plan and help you decide what changes you may need to make for the coming year.  And assist you in determining what you are producing can be done at a profitable level or do you need to reconsider your product for your future business growth.
Jim Crandall, Jim is the Outreach Program Coordinator for the Nebraska Cooperative Development Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Agricultural Economics Department.sponsor logos USDA, Dept. Ag. NCDC, BFBL
Roger Wilson, Roger is the  Budget Analyst - Farm Management at University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Agricultural Economics Department

Getting Started Examples Videos: Farmstead First, LLC owners Krista Dittman &Charuth Loth

Dicuss the feasibility of starting your own business

Discuss the aspects of starting their own business.

Farm to School and Institutions

This provides farmers, school food managers and school administrators to incorporate local nutritious food into their schools and offers educational opportunities about how the student's food is grown.

Points to Consider:

  • Expand in class education opportunities for students
  • Farm visits by classes
  • Economic potential
  • Link back to farmers' market and direct sales

Online Selling to Consumers

Online selling directly to consumers requires time, patience, technology and an user-friendly outlet. Some producers choose to sell through organizations, giving them the benefits of online selling without the hassle of managing a website. Nebraska Food Cooperative Inc. is a year around marketing and distribution service designed to improve market access for farmer producers and local food access for consumers.

Points to consider:

  • Distribution system were the consumers place orders on-line
  • Membership fee
  • You set your own prices
  • Reduce your time and cost of marketing and distributing your products
  • Retain your farm identity

Direct Marketing of Specialty Food Products Curriculum
If you want to:

  • Learn strategies to direct market food and sell online
  • Evaluate the role of technology in your business in regards to direct online marketing
  • Examine strategies necessary to deal with the technology and weigh some cost/benefit measures
  • Consider the evolution of information technology to meet changing business priorities and market demands
  • Understand how online marketing is part of an over-all business and marketing strategy...

Then the Direct Marketing of Specialty Food Products online curriculum is for you! As it is designed to help you make wise decisions about your online marketing strategy!

Wholesale Selling

Wholesaling through a distributor gives you access to a variety of business customer and saves you time and expense in finding customers.

Points to Consider:

  • They set the price
  • You will have additional cost: product liability insurance, invoicing, additional labor, additional equipment for picking, grading, cleaning, packaging, labeling,
  • Price you receive for your product may fluctuate with the market
  • Good choice if you have limited time for face-to-face meetings
  • May not get paid immediately as in direct marketing
  • Can market large quantities at one time
  • Need to grow large quantities and guarantee the delivery of the contract

Selling Directly to Customers

If you are a new market farmer, direct-to-customer-retail marketing is a great way to get started. You have to be a good planner, have time and enjoy meeting and talking to people.

Farmers' Markets

Direct to the consumer through farmers' markets is the way many farmers begin selling, because of the low startup costs. Farmers' markets can provide a low risk opportunity for new farmers to: try new products, build a customer base, increase marketing methods, refine people skills and promote the business brand.

Points to Consider:

  • Tend to be seasonal
  • Farmers generally receive retail prices or higher for their products
  • Vendor startup costs can be very inexpensive
  • Collaborative selling attracts more customers
  • Have competitive price pressures from fellow vendors
  • Increase time spent away from production

Farm Stands

Customers who stop and shop at roadside stands like to see colorful plantings, neat crop gardens, healthy animals and old farm tool displays. Farm stands tend to be located on the farm, on a well-traveled road with good access/parking.

Points to Consider:

  • Can be in operation seasonally or all year depending on offered products
  • Need quality displays of produce
  • Roadside markets usually charge near retail prices
  • Clean & wash produce before selling and encourage customers to wash
  • Farm stands/markets are structures and may be subject to local building codes and highway setback regulations/signage

U-Pick Farms

Pick-Your-Own farms grow crops specifically to be harvested by customers. This type of direct sales appeals to individuals and families who want to experience "where their food comes from".

Points to Consider:

  • Priced received is often very close to retail
  • Selling your crops through u-pick farms can save you work
  • Potentially hurt your crop if customers do not know how to pick properly
  • Opportunity to educate your customers about your crops & how to handle crops correctly

CSA — Community Supported Agriculture

Community Supported Agriculture or CSA's are about creating a relationship between farmers and consumers where the bounties and risks are shared. CSA customers purchase shares for a season by paying a fee in advance and in return they receive a regular (weekly) selection of food.

Points to Consider:

  • Having cash in advance provides financial security for the producer
  • Shared risk of low production and crop failures eases strain
  • Shared benefit of food strengthens the farmer-consumer bond
  • Opportunity for consumer education about your agricultural practices


Agritourism appeals to customers who want to visit a farm and experience its activities. Options include: on-farm bed and breakfasts, Christmas trees, corn mazes, pumpkin patches, petting zoos, festivals, school tours and catered parties.

Points to consider:

  • Your operation can also be blended with other direct marketing techniques
  • You can charge a fee
  • Can involve other farmers in the area
  • Opportunity to educate visitors about agriculture
  • Economic potential for your rural community


As local restaurants are starting to cultivate relationships with farms for high quality, local food, many producers are starting to market directly to restaurants. Selling directly to restaurants eliminates steps in the market channel, which adds to your product value.

Points to Consider:

  • Eliminate the middlemen but you assume the associated costs
  • May not be able to charge full retail price
  • Restaurants may note your farm and products on their menu
  • Chefs demand the same consistent quality and service of a wholesaler from you
  • Responsible for invoicing, which must meet restaurants requirements

Grocery Stores and Co-op

Many of our local independent grocers, indoor year round farmers' markets, health food stores and co-op stores are purchasing locally grown food.

Points to Consider:

  • Demand the same consistent quality and service of a wholesaler from you
  • Partial cases, clean produce, frequent delivery schedules, convenient ordering and expert advice. (See the restaurant section for further information.)

Home Delivery

With home delivery consumers value the convenience offered and believe the products are superior to other outlets.

  • Requires additional time, transportation costs, strong advertising, catalog and reliable delivery system
  • Consumers enjoy keeping in touch with the farmer they purchase from
  • You can combine with a CSA

Publications & Websites

Farmer's Guide to On-Farm Food Safety Certification: an introduction to food safety, plus tools, resources, and first steps.

Direct Marketing Channels & Strategy for Organic Products UNL Extension, eOrganic author: Garry Stephenson, Oregan State University

AgriMarketing Resources: Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) website and online toolboxFunded by the USDA, the national Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program supports and promotes sustainable farming and ranching. They offer competitive grants and educational opportunities for producers, scientists, educators, institutions, organizations and others exploring sustainable agriculture.

Local Marketing Calculator by UNL Agricultural EconomicsLocalMarketCALC helps producers to estimate all associated costs and allocate them between markets and enterprises.

Getting Started Examples Videos: Farmstead First, LLC owners Krista Dittman &Charuth Loth
Discuss the importance and options for marketing a business

How to Create an Effective Brochure UNL NebGuide that will help you create a professional eye-catching and valuable brochure.

Online Transportation Cost Resource The Land Stewardship Project posted transportation worksheets, online calculators, and other resources on their website, for farmers who are seeking more efficient ways of transporting the food they produce to market.

Direct Marketing Channels &Strategy for Organic Products UNL Extension

Selling to Restaurants

Selling Directly to Restaurants and Retailers by UC-SAREP
Tips for a successful, entrepreneurial relationship with local restaurants, retailers.Wise Oven Bakery

Keys to a Successful Relationship: Tools for Selling to Restaurants, Retailers, and Institutions, Selling directly to restaurants, retailers and institutions can be a great way to expand your business and develop a reliable customer base.

Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA)
Selling directly to restaurants, retailers and institutions can be a great way to expand your business and develop a reliable customer base. These tipsheets are designed to help farmers respond to the unique challenges in reaching out to and maintaining relationships with buyers.

Farmers' Markets

LLCHD Guidelines and Permits for Farmers' Markets.

Farmer's Market Handout 2015: Nebraska Department of Agriculture Weights and Measures

GAP Training Video: An Overview of GAPs for Buy Fresh, Buy Local Nebraska by Sarah Browning

Lincoln Farmers' Market Requirements: There are special rules and fees governing temporary events and establishments. These categories include sidewalk vendors, street fairs, farmers markets, and hot dog stands.

Growing Interest in Farmers Market by Cooking Up a Story Website

Benefits of Selling Local Food

  • Ownership of your own business -pride in growing and selling the produce.
  • Financial return from selling the local food.
  • Opportunities to create connections with other sellers, retail owners, or producers.

A Lifetime Experience of Farmers' Markets 

Produce Measurement Regulations at Farmers' Markets 



Buy Fresh Buy Local Nebraska Contact

Phone: 402-472-5273
Billene Nemec:
Linda Tesch:

facebook twitter pinterest