ATTRAnews - Newsletter of the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service

July 2012
Volume 20, Number 2

Newsletter of ATTRA - National Sustainable Agricultural Information Service: A program of the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT). This issue of ATTRAnews is available online.

Selling on the Internet and Through Wholesale
Produce Distributors

Farmers and ranchers can reduce their risk by diversifying how and where they sell, rather than relying on a single marketing channel. This issue of ATTRAnews looks at the advantages and disadvantages of selling on the Internet and through produce distributors.

Full Belly Farm site

Full Belly Farm's website lets customers know the farm's history and goals. It details farm activities as well as products for sale in the current season, how to purchase and use them, and what will be available next.

Marketing Your Farm Products on the Internet

The Internet is an effective communication and marketing tool that can introduce your farm or ranch to a large number of potential customers. You can advertise your farm with pictures and maps, take orders online, show product availability, keep in touch with your existing customers, and support other ways of selling, such as CSAs or farmers markets. Farmers can create an Internet presence through their own website or by using a website run by a third party.


  • You can let a lot of people know about your farm, its history, product line, location, and events.
  • You save time marketing and selling, since your website or web presence is always available to customers.
  • A basic website can be developed with minimal instruction.
  • Third-party websites can be used to provide web presence with minimal investment of your time or resources.


  • There is less personal connection between customer and producer over the Internet.
  • » An Internet presence requires regular maintenance and current material, such as an
    up-to-date blog.
  • The Internet can be used to take and process orders, but this requires a more sophisticated website than one that simply advertises your farm and products.
  • See below for more tips about selling on the Internet.

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Key Questions to Ask Yourself

  • What is my experience and comfort level with computers? If it is limited, who can help me with my computer and Internet work on a regular (weekly) or as-needed basis?
  • How will I keep my site or web presence up to date in order to keep attracting customers to it?
  • How much time will it take to maintain an electronic list of customers for e-newsletters and updates?
  • » How might Internet marketing fit and perhaps support other marketing channels, such as CSA, agritourism and institutional markets?

Tips for Selling on the Internet

  • » Outline your goals for your farm's Internet presence. This process will allow you to determine what resources (labor, expertise, software, hardware) you need.
  • » Guide people to your site.
    • Create and trade links to related websites.
    • List your website in Buy Fresh Buy Local, other farm guides.
    • Use an e-newsletter that links to your website.
    • Put your website and email address on all your farm's printed material.
    • Sign up with websites that point to local produce such as
  • Make your website easy to use and easy to find. Ask for feedback from friends and customers.
  • Select a website address ("domain name") that is short, meaningful, easy to spell, and easy to remember.
  • » Diversify your marketing strategies. Don't rely on your website as your only marketing channel for
    your business.
  • Consider using Facebook and Twitter to connect with a large number of potential customers.
  • Keep a blog and use other social media to keep customers interested in what is happening on your farm.

Resources for Selling on the Internet

  • Buy Fresh Buy Local chapters promote locally produced food. See a nearby chapter to find potential customers for your farm products and to learn more about local and Internet marketing.
  • Foodzie helps small food producers and farmers across the U.S. reach new customers and connect directly to customers searching for food and gifts. The cost of using this service is tied to product sales.
  • Local Harvest is a nationwide directory of small farms, farmers markets, and other local food sources. The site helps consumers buy what they want directly from the farmers and ranchers who produce it.
  • CSAware is a customizable, user-friendly Community Supported Agriculture software program. It allows your CSA members to sign up for your program online, let you know when they'll be out of town, and order any special items you offer. You can see and manage all that information, set what goes into the boxes each week, and manage your drop-off site information.
  • Small Farm Central was started by an ex-farmer who ran a CSA. The company provides, for a price, support to farmers to develop their own website as part of their marketing strategy.
  • How to Direct Market Farm Products on the Internet is an excellent guide to developing internet marketing goals, finding Internet consumers, and setting up and marketing a website. The publication uses the experience of a variety of farmers who use the internet to support their sales. Good resources section with links to relevant software, articles and publications. Download the 50-page PDF at
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Selling to Produce Distributors

Earl's Organic

Produce distributors buy product from a variety of sources and then resell it. Shown here is Earl's Organic Produce in San Francisco. Photo: Rex Dufour, NCAT

Produce distributors are businesses that aggregate product­ and resell it in small or large quantities to their customers. A distributor may be an individual with a van or a company with a fleet of eighteen-wheelers. Distributors can purchase from individual farmers, brokers, wholesale buyers, or packing houses.

Distributors sell to a range of customers, including individual restaurants, grocery stores, and institutions such as hospitals and schools. Since local food has come into higher demand, some distributors have made the effort to focus their business on providing local produce to their customers.


  • Distributors can handle large volumes of product.
  • Distributors can contract for a particular product for the whole season.
  • Farm product identity could be retained in this wholesale market if the distributor focuses on local products.


  • While you can sell a larger quantity, you should expect a lower price per unit.
  • Some distributors may not pay for 30 to 60 days. Make sure to keep organized records of money owed to you, and be clear about when you want to be paid.
  • Distributors have USDA standard pack and grade requirements that you will need to follow, including clean, new boxes.
  • Selling to distributors requires a well organized invoicing and recordkeeping system.

Key Questions to Ask Yourself

  • How do these buyers want my produce packed and delivered? What quantities do they want? How often?
  • Do I have liability insurance or a GAPs plan (Good Agricultural Practices)? Do these buyers require either of these items, and how much coverage do I need?

Tips for Selling to Produce Distributors

  • » Contact the distributor to see what products they are looking for as well as volume, price, pack and grade preferences, delivery or pickup schedule, and liability insurance and GAPs (Good Agricultural Practices) requirements.
  • Insure quality by pre-cooling and careful post-harvest handling.
  • Consider specialty products that may bring a higher price, such as green garlic, squash blossoms or pea tendrils that are variations on conventional items.

Resources for Selling to Produce Distributors

  • The Packer is a weekly newspaper that covers fruit and vegetable news, produce shipping, distribution, packing, marketing, and trends in fresh produce. An annual guide lists buyers by commodity and location.
  • Wholesale Success: A Farmers Guide to Selling, Post Harvest Handling, and Packing Produce is a 255-page manual for the produce wholesale industry. It covers food safety, post-harvest handling, packing and grading, fulfilling orders, record keeping, and billing. With harvesting, cooling, storing, packing information for 103 different fruits and vegetables. Phone 708-763-9920.
  • AMS Fresh Fruit, Vegetable, Nut and Specialty Crop Grade Standards lists the U.S. Agricultural Marketing Service grade (quality) standards for each fruit, vegetable and nut sold as commodities.
  • Food Safety and Liability Insurance for Small-Scale and Limited Resource Farmers gives a brief overview of food safety and liability insurance. This is published by the Community Food Security Coalition.
  • Como Proteger Su Negocio Agrícola y Producir Alimentos Seguros en Su Granja is a Spanish audio version of the above brochure. You can request a CD of this recording by contacting, (503) 954-2970. Or go to and listen to the mp3 recording on your computer.
  • USDA Terminal Market Report lists current wholesale prices online at
  • Rodale Institute Organic Price Report can show organic prices only or compare organic and conventional wholesale prices at the current market rates. Prices of fruit, vegetables and grains are listed for six wholesale terminals across the U.S.
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ATTRA Publications about Marketing

The following ATTRA publications include useful information for marketing farm products. The publications can be downloaded from ATTRA's website, Or call 800-346-9140 for a printed copy. Publication prices vary. Many are free to view online or download.


Direct Marketing to Consumers
  • Farmers Markets
  • Roadside Stands
  • CSA — Community Supported Agriculture
  • The Internet
  • Agritourism and "Pick Your Own"
Marketing to Local Channels
  • Grocery Stores
  • Restaurants
  • Institutional Markets
Selling to Wholesale Markets
  • Wholesale Buyers at Terminal Markets
  • Produce Packing Houses
  • Produce Distributors
  • Aggregators/Grower Marketing Co-ops
tips image

ATTRA's New Series of Marketing Tip Sheets

The articles in this issue are adapted from ATTRA's new series of Marketing Tip Sheets (available in both English and Spanish) for selling through the channels listed to the right.

The series will include tips for marketing various livestock products and for selling at livestock auctions. All the tip sheets will also be published
in Spanish.
See for a complete list of titles.

The marketing tip sheets were developed with funding from the USDA Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers (OASDFR) program.

New Publications from ATTRA

ATTRA publications Icon

Updated Publications from ATTRA

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ATTRAnews is the bi-monthly newsletter of ATTRA - National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service. The newsletter is distributed free throughout the United States to farmers, ranchers, Cooperative Extension agents, educators, and others interested in sustainable agriculture. ATTRA is funded through the USDA Rural Business-Cooperative Service and is a project of the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT), a private, non-profit organization that since 1976 has helped people by championing small-scale, local and sustainable solutions to reduce poverty, promote healthy communities, and protect natural resources.

Carl Little, Project Manager
Karen Van Epen, Editor
Katie Mattson, e-newsletter production

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Comments? Questions? E-mail the ATTRAnews editor Karen Van Epen at

ATTRA - National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service
PO Box 3838
Butte, MT 59701
1-800-411-3222 (Spanish)

National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) logo and link to home page© Copyright 2012 NCAT

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