Last week I told you about all those tomato seedlings I'm getting started, and shared my 7 hands-down favorite heirloom tomato varieties. A few of you wondered, "26 kinds of tomatoes? What the heck do you DO with that many tomatoes?"
For one thing, I can an enormous amount of tomato sauce, ketchup, and barbeque sauce. And also I dehydrate about 20 pints of wonderful dried tomato halves.
But friends, we're talking many, many hundreds of pounds of tomatoes here. So I do what any frugal, hacking-it-to-stay-home mama would do. I set up shop! With two toddlers, the idea of manning a farmer's market booth by myself is a little intimidating. So until my little ones are old enough to man a cash box, I'm going with EASY options.
For me, that means selling them in bulk to people who buy 30-100 pounds at a time. I set the price low enough that they're getting an amazing deal for organically-grown heirloom tomatoes. And I make a very helpful extra stream of income, without ever leaving my home.
I also meet some really delightful people in the process - I find that anyone getting enough tomatoes to make 12 canner-loads of tomato sauce at once, is usually a kindred spirit indeed!
Selling in bulk is what works best for me right now, but it's far from the only way of making a little extra income from a bumper crop of heirloom tomatoes. If you find yourself with a huge tomato harvest every year, why not try one or two of these ideas?
1. Set up a roadside stand. If you live on a road that gets much traffic at all, a roadside stand with an easy-to-read sign could provide all the business you need to sell every extra tomato you have. This post has some helpful tips for setting up a stand and getting started. Need some great plans for an inexpensive market cart to display all those gorgeous tomatoes? This inexpensive little book might have just what you're looking for! Pricing tip: Just below supermarket prices.
2. Selling them at a farmer's market. While selling at a farmer's market doesn't work well for me right now, for many small market growers it can be a perfect opportunity. This free little guide to running a successful farmers' market stand is extra helpful. Pricing tip: about the same as organic supermarket prices.
3. Growing for another farmer to sell. If you're not into the idea of running your own booth at the farmer's market, sometimes farms make arrangements to buy crops at lower prices from smaller growers, to supplement their own offerings at the market. It usually is a win-win relationship, for both growers! Pricing tip: about 30% below final market price, enough to allow profit margin for the seller.
4. Saving and selling pure heirloom seeds. It's easier than you might think to get started growing and seed-saving for a seed company. Dan Brisebois shares his down-to-earth story of getting started raising crops for seed in this helpful post. You might also find that people are eager to buy them directly from you - at your roadside stand, if you have one, or even by mail.
5. Selling to customers in bulk. This is my favorite sales method right now. I set my prices low, to make it worthwhile for folks to come out to my home. I think of it this way - if I didn't have my own garden, what price would make it worth my time to drive to a stranger's house and buy a huge box of tomatoes? For my area, that's $1 per pound. That might not seem like much, but when you remember that I'm selling several hundred pounds, without having to leave my home - I'm happy, and so are my customers! Pricing tip: whatever price gets you a steady stream of customers, when advertised on Facebook and Craigslist
6. Wholesale to grocery stores. You might think you need to be a huge grower to sell to a grocery store, but for many grocery chains, that's not the case. Even if you're only growing enough tomatoes for one or two stores, they may be very happy to work with you. This page has lots of helpful resources for pursuing this option. Pricing tip: significantly lower than the final grocery store price.
7. Selling extra seedlings. You're starting lots of seedlings for your own garden anyway, why not start enough to sell? I love this story about how Pat Kennedy got started selling tomato plants - and she shares some great tips she's learned along the way! Pricing tip: equal to, or a little higher than, big box store pricing in your area.
8. Selling to local chefs. The field-to-table movement has caught on like wildfire, and just continues to grow. Chefs at some of the best restaurants in your area might be absolutely thrilled to get their hands on your colorful, flavorful heirlooms! For some good tips on getting started and maintaining great relationships with restaurants, check out this post. Pricing tip: about 25% above local wholesale prices.
9. Breeding your own new variety. This one's not going to make you any money right away - but if you selectively breed for traits you love, then stabilize your new variety for several generations, it might offer a nice little stream of income several years from now. I'm trying my hand at this myself, and am on the F3 generation of a really fun little tomato. Pricing tip: most backyard breeders I know charge $3 - $5 per packet.
10. Donating in bulk to a local food pantry. I know it doesn't sound like a way to make some income - but when you consider that you can claim the donation of that produce on your tax return, it can really add up to significant money saved! This is the best guide I've seen with advice about produce donation. Don't forget to get a signed acknowledgment from the food pantry or soup kitchen staff - you'll need it for your tax return documentation! Pricing tip: Free, but be prepared with the local market value as you're creating a receipt for the food pantry.
Those are my ten best ideas for making some extra income with all those heirloom tomatoes you might be growing anyway! I'm sure there are plenty more, that I've not yet imagined. How about you? Do you have creative ways you make a little extra cash from your bumper tomato crop? I'd love to hear!
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