How to Start a Fruit & Vegetable Business

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Selling farm fresh fruits and vegetables can be a seasonal business or a full-time operation if you live in a milder region that produces produce year-round. Not only do you make money from selling what you grow or acquire from local farmers, but you also provide customers with the fruits and veggies they need to put healthy meals on their tables.

Licenses and Permits

If you plan to sell 2,000 or more pounds of fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables, you must obtain a Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act license, commonly known as a PACA, from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. You're exempt from needing the license if you only sell what you grow.

If you plan to sell produce from your own stand, inquire about any permits required by your state, county or local government. For instance, the King County, Washington Health Department does not require a permit for selling minimally processed produce. However, you do need a permit from the Washington State Department of Agriculture if you sell produce from a location other than where it's grown.

Obtaining Produce

A couple of options exist for getting the fruit and veggies you need. You can grow it yourself on land or in a greenhouse. Another option requires contracting with local farmers, gardeners, orchards and co-ops to buy their produce at wholesale prices and resell at retail prices.

What You Need

Selling fruits and vegetables requires investing in the necessary tools to transport and maintain the produce. A vehicle, such as a van or truck, and a hand truck for moving produce and making deliveries are necessities. Containers for keeping the produce from being damaged during harvesting, in storage and in transit also are required. Tables, an umbrella or some form of shade are required if you sell at outdoor markets.

If you plan set up a shop to sell your produce, look for adequate space with plentiful parking. Shelving for display and refrigeration units to keep produce cold keep food fresh and make them appealing to the customers. You also need scales, bagging products and a payment processing system with a cash till.

Where to Sell

Set up a table at farmer's markets, fairs and at flea markets if you have enough produce to sell at a market that last a few hours, suggests Farm Fresh Rhode Island. Convince consumers to sign up for a subscription service to receive a box of fresh produce every week or bi-weekly based on what's in season. If you have a large farm, consider a U-pick operation, ideal for harvesting large quantities of produce, such as that used for canning and preserving, says the Penn State University College of Agricultural Sciences.

Another market consists of restaurants, bakeries, caterers, schools and nursing homes that need to prepare fresh food for their clients. You also can sell to produce stands and grocery stores.

Study the Market

Figuring out what types of fruits and veggies to offer requires analyzing the market. Start by figuring out who will buy in the geographical area in which you plan to sell, says Penn State University. Then find out what unfulfilled markets exist before you figure out what to grow or buy from local sources.

Promote

If you choose a direct selling approach, such as a fruit stand or farmer's market booth, use signs to attract and convince people to try your fresh produce. Ask customers to sign up to receive emails about where and what seasonal produce you'll be selling next, helping you to build a following. Educate customers by using labels and small cards to add descriptions of each fruit and vegetable you sell. Add information about where each item comes from and give an idea or two for how it can be used.

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