Editor’s note: This is the sixth in a series of monthly articles following a farm family through the course of a year. This year, Rural Life Today is following the Sandy and Guy Ashmore family in Clinton County.
CLARKSVILLE — At the Deerfield Farmers Market, just north of Cincinnati, two certified organic vegetable farmers sell their freshly grown produce. Sandy and Guy Ashmore of That Guy’s Family Farm sell at the farmers market every Saturday, alongside various vendors selling meats, mustard greens and baked goods.
Their vegetables vary depending on the season and month. In September, they had tomatoes, peppers, kale, lettuce, beets, swiss chard, cabbage, garlic and onions.
This is the Ashmores’ 17th year selling at the Deerfield Farmers Market, and their 23rd year overall selling at farmers markets. During those years, they’ve developed techniques and the experience to be successful. The farmers market is about 20 percent of the Ashmores’ overall farming business.
The Ashmores advise those thinking about selling at a farmers market to first be a customer.
“First you should go to some markets and be a customer at a market,” said Guy. “It’s amazing how many people start at a farmers market and have never been to one.” He added to see how other people set up their displays and to see the dynamics of markets.
“Farmers markets are a great way for a small producer to get their feet wet,” said Guy.
Sandy added that commitment is key. “Don’t just come three times and say ‘this is no good,’” said Sandy. They both advised to commit for a whole season at a farmers market and begin to develop a customer base.
Sandy and Guy have loyal customers that come to their booth often, but also have seasonal customers. “Through a casual meeting every Saturday you get to know people,” said Guy. “It’s amazing, over food.”
The Ashmores used to go to about four farmers markets per week, but now they sell only on Saturdays. They made this decision when they started selling more wholesale.
“The market has really grown. When we first started, there were maybe about five markets in Cincinnati, and not there’s probably like 35,” said Guy.
The Deerfield Farmers Market is located at Kingswood Park in Mason, 4188 Irwin Simpson Road 45040. The market is open every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. through the end of October. The winter market will begin in November and last through April, every 3rd Saturday of each month, 10 to 11 a.m. at the same location.
Deerfield is a growers-only farmers market, which means that vendors cannot sell anything they bought from someone or somewhere else, but can only sell what they grow.
June, July and August are the busiest farmers market months, when 700 or 800 customers might visit the market per Saturday, according to Guy. In the other months, the Deerfield farmers market might average 300 customers per Saturday.
“It’s a diverse community,” said Guy, adding that there are diverse vendors at Deerfield Farmers Market, including vegetables, meat, baked goods, microgreens, horticulture, biodynamics and flowers vendors.
That Girl’s Flowers sets up at the market beside That Guy’s Family Farm’s booth. Nellie Ashmore, Guy and Sandy’s daughter, is a full-time flower farmer and owner of That Girl’s Flowers. She produces more than 50 different varieties of flowers on about two acres at her family’s farm.
Chelsea Gorman works for Nellie part-time and works the booth at the Deerfield Farmers Market when Nellie can’t. Gorman said that she loves working for Nellie. She’s also going back to school to get her Masters of Divinity degree at Methodist Theological School in Ohio, located in Delaware.
Nellie sells wholesale to grocery stores, offers packages through her Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program and sells flowers out of That Farm and Flower Store at the front of That Guy’s Family Farm.
For more information about the Deerfield farmers market visit: www.deerfieldfarmersmarket.com
During the past 23 years as participants at farmers markets, the Ashmores said that display is what’s most appealing and will draw people in.
They always make sure to have the price displayed because people hate to ask for the price, they both said. Sandy and Guy have found that the stair step method for a display works best for them.
“This way you can get more eye appeal, versus laying down flat,” said Guy. They also use a tablecloth and make sure to always restock and reorganize their products.
“We always consolidate our stand, so as we sell products we’ll condense it and make it look full,” said Guy. He said that if they had two tables and start to run out of products on the tables, they will take one table down and put everything on one table.
“Four or five cucumbers spread out don’t look as nice as if you have five cucumbers in a pile,” said Guy. Make it look full and organized.
Guy said that Sandy being an art major helps with creative displays and ideas. Every year she make a Christmas card inspired by their farm. She said that she already has an idea for this year.
“We always try to make the stand look full and organized throughout the whole market,” said Guy.
Beginners and camaraderie
“For new people it’s kind of intimidating when you first come to a market,” said Guy. “I remember the first time we went, with the kids, I think we sold like $32 worth and was just thrilled to death that people actually bought our product.”
He advised farmers market beginners to never feel like someone else is competition. “We’re all here to build the market, and that’s how we’ve always approached it,” said Guy. “There might be eight of us that has tomatoes, but you’re going to develop your own customer base.” He added to not undercut anyone on prices and to be fair.
“More farmers, more customers,” said Guy. Everyone will bring something different to the farmers market, creating a more diverse market for customers. Guy suggested talk to other vendors.
“If you’re new it doesn’t hurt to introduce yourself to other farmers at the market,” said Guy.
“We’re kind of a farmer-ran market, but we do have a market manager that’s also a farmer here,” said Guy. Andy Gorman is the market manager at Deerfield Farmers Market and has an urban farm in Sharonsville.
He sets up a community tent where he brings in different vendors and music. On Sept. 22, a local potter was selling in the community tent. This is Andy’s third year as market manager and his second year as a farmer. Andy said that he learned a lot from Guy and Sandy about growing vegetables and farming.
“I didn’t know I wanted to be a farmer five years ago,” said Andy. Before he was market manager and a farmer, he attended several different farmers markets. He agreed with the Ashmores that display is the biggest aspect to draw in customers and be successful at the farmers market.
Andy sells microgreens at the market. He added that he has a sales and educational pitch ready for customers who are not familiar with microgreens. He also jars and sells his own jellies.
Generally farmers markets have a yearly fee and require insurance, which Guy said is not overwhelming.
Back on the farm
“We got fall crops planted for overwintering. And we’ve started harvesting our winter squash and sweet potatoes,” said Guy. They still have some other crops to plant, such as arugula, lettuce and spinach. They will have their garlic crop in by the end of October, as well as cover crops.
On Sept. 21, the Ashmores welcomed about 15 people from the International Organic Inspectors Association who were training to be organic inspectors on biodiversity. The event was scheduled through The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association. The future inspectors visited three other farms during the two-day course. They were from California, Canada, Massachusetts and lots of places in between. A representative from the Wild Farm Alliance was also with them.
Next month: Winter CSA and chickens.
For more information about That Guy’s Family Farm visit: www.thatguysfamilyfarm.com