Co-op Farmstands for Backyard Gardeners

Yard to Market Co-op has created an adaptable model for even the smallest-scale growers to sell extra produce.

| Summer 2018

In 2013, a few folks who knew each other from the gardening community in Austin, Texas, came together with a dilemma — how to sell their extra produce at farmers markets. As individuals who didn’t want to deliver on a market-farm scale, the barriers to entry seemed too great. They had the idea to create a shared farmstand or a CSA program.

The group, including co-founders Annelies Lottmann and Lesley Williamson, spent most of 2013 meeting and figuring out which structure would work best. Finally, they decided to organize as a co-op because of their interest in group ownership. In early 2014, members began selling produce at the HOPE Farmers Market, which already allowed gardeners to drop off and sell small amounts of produce. Later that year, they had enough members to form a farmstand at HOPE. In 2015, then-named Yard to Market Co-op received a Value-Added Producer Grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which allowed them to open a second farmstand, at the Sunset Valley Farmers Market in South Austin, and to pay their farmstand workers. The group has doubled its revenue every year since 2014, has about 50 members across the region, and sells 90 percent of the fruits, vegetables, nuts, and eggs that come in.

At two weekend markets, members can drop off any items they want to sell — even just a bunch of herbs or a half-dozen eggs. To join, they fill out a membership application and agree to certain commitments, including not using synthetic inputs. Members pay $49 to join and then contribute a $65 capital investment, which helps put everyone on equal footing; if that member leaves the co-op, they receive their $65 investment back. Before market, members weigh and bundle their produce according to the group’s guidelines, and on market mornings, they fill out a form that documents what they’re selling. After markets, Lesley, the finance director, compares these forms to the sales records, tracks what’s been sold, and pays each member quarterly.

Whatever doesn’t sell at the markets is brought to Austin-area grocery stores Wheatsville Co-op and in.gredients, as well as the restaurant Black Star Co-op. Produce is also advertised on neighborhood Listservs, where individual buyers can claim products — eggs and specialty fruit are especially sought after. The five-person board that represents all 50 members meets monthly and sends out newsletters to inform everyone of schedule changes or seasonal news, and all members come together to vote on group matters at an annual meeting. Yard to Market has become an entry into the local food market for everyone from windowsill gardeners to small farmers.

A Little Profit, A Lot of Community

The model works well for Nitya Uthenpong, who in 2002 began transforming her yard with native plants and heirlooms. At one time, she nurtured 17 raised beds, and over the years, she realized she could share her extra produce if she had an outlet. She’d thought about taking produce to market — but not every market. She didn’t want to give up every Saturday. So when she found out about Yard to Market Co-op through her daughter’s school, she joined.

“Now I know someone will be at the market, and I can just drop my extra produce off,” she says. At a recent market, she brought items she had picked that morning — some edible flowers and a few bunches of herbs, which she bundles for Thai cooking.

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