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Ready to Add Food Service to Your Farm?

Picture it: Tables and chairs filled with people enjoying a homemade dinner and a view of your farm or ranch as the sun sets. Or you could start a cozy café where neighbors and tourists stop in for coffee and muffins. Or maybe you open a farm store where customers come to stock up on the freshest local products. If you’re considering expanding your farm to offer retail food service or wondering how to start a farm store, here are seven things to know.

1. You’ll Need to Reach Potential Customers

People may be willing to make the trip to get fresh food direct from your farm, but they need to know how to find you. Some street signage may be all you need if your farm is on a busy road. If not, you might consider launching a website and advertising online, handing out flyers or promoting your business at farmers’ markets.

2. You’ll Need to Allocate Space

If you want to offer farm dinners, you’ll need parking and seating for all of your guests. Is there enough room for cars to safely enter and exit? If you’re eating outside, do you have tents or shelter in case the weather turns cold or wet? Even if you’re thinking more along the lines of a small store or stand, you’ll need enough parking to accommodate everyone during your busiest time.

3. You’ll Need to Consider Different Farm Shop Ideas

Depending on your area, your customers may be looking for a good value on bulk produce, or they may be willing to spend more for heirloom fruits and vegetables along with the opportunity to meet you and your family. Research what other farms and stores in your area are offering so you can find your niche in the market.

4. You’ll Need to Find Suppliers

Of course, part of the appeal of starting a food business is selling the products from your farm or ranch. You’ll probably need to line up suppliers for the other items you plan to offer. You may want to partner with other local farmers, bakers or chefs or connect with a wholesale food distributor.

5. You’ll Need to Factor In Time

Even the smallest farm store or stand will take time. You might not need to staff it — with a lockbox and possibly a camera, the honor system can work. At the very least, though, you will need to set your goods out on your shelves before you open, replenish as needed and close up at the end of the day. A farm dinner business is even more time-intensive, and you may need to hire staff to help. Whatever your business, you’ll need to set aside time to track income, expenses and profit.

6. You’ll Need to Learn the Regulations

Every municipality has its own requirements to sell food. Your food processing areas may need to be inspected, you may need permits to run a commercial food business, you may have to meet zoning regulations and you might even need to provide restrooms. Start by researching the rules online then contact the agencies you need to work with.

7. You’ll Need to Anticipate the Seasons

Of course, seasons are always top of mind when you’re running a farm. But your area may have additional ebbs and flows to consider. For example, a tourist region might be busiest in the summer. A college town will have rush periods when school starts and ends and during parents’ weekend. Local fairs, festivals or concerts could affect traffic and sales.

Get Advice

When you’re thinking about how to start a food business, you’ll need to consider how it fits into the overall financial picture for your farm and your family. Talk to a Farm Bureau agent near you to help plan for your farm’s future.