Marketing Animal Products at Farmer’s Markets in Michigan

March 8, 2023

More Info

This session was held as part of the animal agriculture track during the 2023 MI Ag Ideas to Grow With virtual conference. This virtual conference held February 27-March 10, 2023, is a two-week program encompassing many aspects of the agricultural industry and offering a full array of educational sessions for farmers and homeowners interested in food production and other agricultural endeavors. Sessions were recorded and can be found online at

Video Transcript

- Thank you for the introduction, Victor. As Victor said, my name is Mike Metzger. I'm the Small Room Educator here from Michigan State University Extension. I also have a commercial dairy with non-farm cheese plant at home and we market our products almost exclusively through farmer's markets. So this is something I was asked to share tonight. So things we're gonna talk about tonight, we're gonna talk about market considerations. Then I am gonna mention a little bit about fruits and vegetables, cider, honey, maple syrup, meats, eggs, dairy products. And then spend a little bit of time on how to be successful, or at least some things I think you should do to be successful. So some of the considerations that we need to think about are state regulations. Those are the MDARD regulations that if an inspector shows up at the market, these are the things that he or she is gonna be looking for. Some markets have rules that are stricter than what MDARD rules are or regulations are, so that will be up to the market manager to enforce those. We're gonna talk about product availability and production methods. Excuse me. So again, I wanna stress that, that individual markets may have rules that are stricter than the MDARD rules. And during this presentation, I will mainly be talking about the MDARD regulations. Every once in a while I'll mention something that some farmers markets do. Let's talk about first and vegetables first. If you're taking fruits and vegetables to a farmer's market and their whole cut fresh, then you don't need any license at all. But the minute you cut those or process them in any way, shape or form, they're considered a processed food and that has to be done in a licensed kitchen. These fruits and vegetables do need to be handled safely. That means they need to be protected from spoilage and/or contamination. And it is recommended by MDARD that you have a sign reminding people to wash their produce before they eat it. Cider, honey, maple syrup, we can sell unpastured cider at farmer's markets if that cider is produced by the person that's selling it, meaning if you grow the apples and you squeeze the cider, you can sell it as unpasteurized cider. It must be labeled as unpasteurized. But if you grow the apples and you take them somewhere else to be squeezed and made into cider, then it has to be pasteurized and it cannot be unpasteurized cider. Honey, maple syrup processors are exempt if sales are under $15,000 annually. So what that means is you have to still have to meet labeling requirements and you must meet the Michigan food law requirements, but you won't be inspected. And that's if your sales are under $15,000 annually. And that would be for honey or for maple syrup. So you could have up to 30 between the two of them. Getting into the animal products. Meat, all meat, beef, lamb, goat, pork must be processed at a USDA inspected facility and all of the packages must have that seal on the packaging. You can see in the picture here, and I'll show a different picture of it in a minute, but all of the packages must have that seal on it. Poultry can be processed at a either an MDARD or a USDA inspected facility. But if you're taking it to, let's say Munsell's, which is an MDARD inspected facility, I think, I shouldn't have said that, but if you're taking it to an MDARD inspected facility, then you need to have a copy of that facility's plant license on hand at the market. Meat can be sold frozen or refrigerated, but if it's refrigerated it needs to be below 41 degrees Fahrenheit. And if an inspector shows up, they will have a thermometer, usually a touchless thermometer, a laser thermometer, and they will open your coolers and wanna make sure that the surface temperature is less than 41 degrees. Handling of exposed or unpackaged meat is not permitted at markets. It must be packaged. If you're gonna cook samples, say you're selling brats, homemade brats or brats that are made from your meat, if you wanna sample those brats, you'll probably most, I believe most markets will require you to have a food license if you're going to cook that meat or do any type of cooking at all. And I'll add, make sure you know your cuts. If you're trying to sell lamb chops or lamb or goat, I'll use goat in this 'cause we sell some goat meat and sometimes my chops will be labeled loin chops or rib chops. People are gonna wanna know where that cut came from or in the form of beef, not all processors cut the same. If someone comes to you and says they want a tomahawk steak, you better be able to tell them what you have that's comparable to that type of cut. I said I'd talk about this picture, you can see the circle here, that is the USDA inspected circle. It has the establishment number on it and so you would need to have that on the label of the meat. You can see this is our farm, a steak that the processor we use will put our farm name on it where we're at, puts the weight on there and safe handling instructions. But that USDA inspection stamp is very important and must be on there. When we talk about meats, there's lots of different production types or words that people use to describe that, antibiotic or hormone free, and/or hormone free. That means that they are raised without the use of antibiotics in the feed. I'm not sure anybody's doing that anymore, but that's something that the public is in tuned to. And if it's hormone free, that means that you're not using growth promoting hormones. No meat is hormone free. Meat has lots of hormones in it. So the term hormone free is really misleading. But that term means that there are no growth promoting hormones used. Grass fed, again, there's a couple different things that that can mean. Grass fed of the diet consists mainly of grass or hay. You may or may not use grain to finish it. If it's grass finished, then that means that no grain was used in finishing. But if it just says grass fed, then grain may have been used in finishing that animal. And conventionally raised, fed or raised conventionally that oftentimes is in a feed lot. Doesn't necessarily have to be in a feed lot, but may just be pasture with lots of grain added. And we'll talk more about some of these things in a minute. Eggs, lots of questions about eggs out there. If you have your own chickens and you wanna take eggs to the farmer's market, there are really no requirements if you're selling directly to the consumer. Washing, MDARD recommends that you wash the eggs but that's not required. Some markets, individual markets may require egg washing and then a label. The Meridian Market where I attend says that the eggs need to be washed and then I have to have a label on it that says these eggs are washed in a facility that is not inspected by MDARD. One thing you cannot do is purchase eggs, unwashed eggs from another farm and take them to the market and sell them. You can do that if they come from a farm or they go through a licensed facility. (Faintly speaking) are usually in the conventional chicken cage that has a certain number of birds and a square foot to prevent the birds from picking on each other. Cage free, these birds are confined but not in these small conventional cages. At our farm we have cage free eggs. Because my chickens have an indoor/outdoor pen, I cannot allow my chickens to be free range, which means those are birds that are free to range and forge for food wherever they want to. On my farm we have cage free because we have foxes on the farm and if the chickens run loose, the foxes eat them. So, and we'll talk more about what these things mean in a minute, again. Organic, the organic term, whether it's in meat, eggs, fruits and vegetables, whatever can only be used if you are certified organic. Many, well, especially if there are organic producers at the market, if you start saying you're organic and you're not certified, then there will be big problems. Organic, that means that they must be cage free. It doesn't necessarily mean they're free range, but they have to be cage free because part of the organic standard is those birds have to have access to sunshine. They must be fed an organic feed and again they must be certified to be called organic. Dairy products, there are not many of us out there that are doing this. In fact, at all of the markets that we attend, there are four markets throughout the year we attend, we are the only vendor that is licensed through, we're not even licensed through the same department, we're licensed through dairy division. Most of the other forms of licensing is done through the food division. So all milk that is produced or that is used, excuse me, must be produced at a licensed dairy farm. Means the farm has to be inspected by MDARD and be licensed. A bottled milk must be bottled at a licensed plant, which is different than a licensed manufacturing plant, which is where cheese must be produced. We have a licensed manufacturing plant so we can use our own milk from our licensed dairy to make cheese in our licensed plant. We have five licenses with MDARD to do what we do because we have the farm, we have our antibiotic lab because even though we produce the milk, the milk has to be tested for antibiotics before we can use it to make cheese. We have the milk hauling vehicle to haul the milk from the barn to the plant because the plant can't be attached to the barn. And we have to be a licensed hauler to do that, to use that truck or tank. And then the cheese plant itself is licensed. So there's a lot that goes into dairy production or to dairy products at a farmer's market. There are other cheeses available at the farmer's market, but those vendors typically, unless they're producing the cheese on their farm or buying it from a licensed plant and just wholesaling it. Now a couple other things about dairy products, raw milk, milk from shares, a share agreement cannot be delivered at farmer's markets. And raw cheeses may be sold at farmer's markets as long as they meet MDARD standards guidelines. There are some cheeses like the Chevre goat cheese, which is a fresh cheese and cannot be sold raw at all. But some of your hard cheeses or aged cheeses, as long as they are aged at least 61 days, those products can be sold raw at a farmer's market. So let's talk a little bit about being successful. And these are points that I think you need to follow or need to consider if you wanna be successful in taking your product to the farmer's market. You need to have a unique product. If you wanna just take, I don't know, steak to the farmer's market, beef to the farmer's market, what sets you apart from someone else? You need to be able to believe in that product. Your product's the best and you need to be able to tell your story about why that product's the best. Tell the story about your farm. It's a fifth generation family farm. Every animal that you bring to market was born and raised on your farm. It was raised to meet animal welfare standards. You gave it the best life possible that you could give it before you took it to the market. Make your product unique. Truly believe yourself that you have the best product out there. You need to be able to tell your story, like I said. You need to be truthful about your product. I mean, I have people all the time that ask me if my feed that I feed my chickens is GMO free. Well I'm not feeding an organic feed so I have to assume that the feed is made with GMO corn or beans and I may lose a sale here or there, but somebody else will come along and buy those. So it's not that big a deal to me. But I feel it's very important to be truthful. I tell people that we milk 80 goats and four cows. We're the only dairy in the state of Michigan that's licensed to do both. And we make all of our own cheeses with our milk, with our products. We also have a goat milk available. We don't have a bottling plant, but we contract with a lady to bottle our milk. So it's telling this story, it's trying to promote my product, being professional about it and being truthful about it. One of the last things I wanna talk a little bit about is liability insurance. MDARD does not require you vendors to have liability insurance, but some individuals markets do require individual or do require vendors to have that liability insurance. And I think it's important. Well, they'll also require that they be listed on the proof of insurance. So it will say Hickory Knoll Farms Creamery and East Lansing Farmer's Market. It's important to have that liability insurance just to cover yourself if you're gonna do that. I think that was my contact information. I wanted to thank the Meridian Township Farmer's Market. I went on to their Facebook page and stole a lot of pictures with their permission. So most of those pictures were taken by, or at least at the Meridian Township Farmer's Market. So with that we can answer any questions you might have. - Thank you Mike for the excellent presentation. So I have one question here and I don't know if I missed this part, but does eggs need to be refrigerated to be sold on the farmer's market? - Yeah, I believe the temperature's 45 degrees, they need to be kept below 45 degrees. If an inspector shows up, they're gonna use that laser thermometer and make sure they're at that temperature. Oftentimes at a farmer's market I'll put a dozen eggs out on so people can see that I have eggs but if they haven't sold within half an hour, whatever I rotate them around. Usually they sell fast enough that we just keep putting new eggs out. But yes, they do have to be in a cooler at least and kept below 45 degrees. - Thank you. So I have another question here. Do the coolers maintainer required holding temperature for the cheese and how do you cool the coolers to get it down to the temperature? - Coolers do a pretty good job of keeping the cheese cold. In the summertime we will put ice packs in our coolers. Cheese is one of those things that doesn't necessarily need to be cold. We're one of the few countries that refrigerate our cheese. Cheese is in Europe is served at room temperature. It has more flavor if it's at room temperature. With the Chevre, which is a fresh cheese, I keep that in the freezer all the time and I take it to the market froze. That way it stays cold if people are gonna put it in a bag and carry it around the farmer's market for another 1/2 hour, 45 minutes, however long they're at the market, hopefully it's still cold by the time it gets home because that is one of the cheeses that at least I feel is better if it's kept cold and never is allowed to get warm. - Thank you. I have another question. Any suggestions for what you use economically to keep eggs at temperature during the market? - We have a large commercial cold room at home that is kept at about 40 degrees and if we just put them in a cooler and I've honestly never had an inspector check the temperature of my eggs at a market. I have my cheeses, the Chevre, they've stuck a thermometer in there, my meats, they've stuck a thermometer in there. You're supposed to have a thermometer in your coolers so that you know what the temperature is. Some of our coolers do, some of our coolers don't. To be honest with you, in 10 years of doing farmer's markets, I think I've had an inspector show up once. - Thank you. Why would be a suggestion for the person, a farmer that's thinking about selling the farmer's market about profitability, what they need to expect or evaluate before doing it? - So if you're looking at taking a product to a farmer's market, check out the farmer's markets. There's a lot of these small towns that have farmer's markets. I get calls all the time, will you bring your cheese to our farmer's market? Well if you only have five vendors and I'm gonna make $50 selling cheese, it's probably not worth my time. You look for a bigger market that's well established. The Meridian Market is probably one of the largest volume markets in the state. Fulton Street in Grand Rapids is another very large market. But the other thing to be concerned about there is it can be overwhelming. The amount of product that you can go through can be absolutely overwhelming. If you're gonna sell beef at a farmer's market and you raise two steers a year, don't shoot for a big market. And we sell beef because I'm going there with the cheese, I have some beef, but we only raise two or three steers a year. When the steaks are gone, the steaks are gone and I'll have more when I process the next animal. So you need to think about, you wanna start big enough to make some profit, but on the same token, don't get into a great big huge market that's gonna overwhelm you because it'll happen really fast. - Thank you. Mike, I got disconnected during the session. Do you have any other questions showing for you? I answered these two here. - I don't. The only one that's open says, "Do eggs need to be refrigerated?" That's the only and then we answered that already. - Yep. - So I do not have any other questions here, oh. Do you have to carry a special license to sell beef at a market? So to sell beef at a market, I guess I should have mentioned this, you will have to have a wholesale license, which is really easy to get, basically it means you have a freezer that is labeled not for home consumption and it keeps the meat frozen and it's basically a wholesale license is all you need to have to sell meats at the farmer's markets. - I probably missed this part. Can you sell unpasteurized milk? - Can I sell unpasteurized milk? - Yep. - Yeah, the answer is no. You may not sell unpasteurized milk at a farmer's market. So you can't deliver goat or cow share milk, goat share milk, whatever at a farmer's market. - We have another one here. How do you start the process getting licensed? - So it depends on what you wanna get licensed for. If you talk to, if you want a wholesale license to sell beef or pork or whatever at the farmer's market, you would contact the MDARD food division I believe and they could set you up with the wholesale license. If you're gonna do dairy, if you wanna have a cheese processing plant and you wanna sell cow cheese, goat cheese, whatever, sheep cheese at the farmer's market, then that's a whole, that's through the dairy division and your milk inspector would be the one that would do that. - Have you experienced the sale of rabbits meats at the farmer market? Do you think the public is ready for the popularization of such meats? I would like to start a rabbit meat farm. - Several years ago we used to take rabbits to the farmer's market and I would sell, I don't know, a dozen rabbits a year at the farmer's markets. There were people that were very interested in it. We are currently taking when you talk about specialized meat, goat meat to farmer's markets. Last year we processed, I think it was a total of 12 animals that were sold mostly through farmer's markets. And think about the fact that when I take a goat to the processing plant and pay for processing, I have over $3 a pound just in processing to get it processed at a USDA inspected facility. So things like ground goat start at about $12, $13 a pound. Several years ago when we were doing rabbits, I think we were selling rabbits for $9 or $10 a pound. It can be done. I think that you would probably want to have something else to go with it or you would have a lot of very long days standing behind a table at a farmer's market trying to sell rabbit. - Thank you. True, and so to verify you cannot legally sell eggs from the farm to a seasonal roadside market without licensing, right? - So correct. A roadside license is basically its own little farmer's market. You can sell your own eggs at that but you can't buy eggs from a neighboring farm or you can't and sell them at your farmer's market or a farm side stand, excuse me, or the farm side stand next door to you cannot legally buy the eggs from you to sell at that stand. - So you can sell yours but you cannot buy from other farms. Just so. - Correct. Just curious, what cheese do you sell? We, like I said, we milk 80 goats except it's more than that 'cause it's kidding season. I think we're up close to 85 now and that was when I left this morning, you know, so it's afternoon and four cows. So we sell everything from the Chevre of goat cheese. We sell a goat milk feta. We have some aged goat cheeses. On the cow side, we do everything from mozzarella and cheese curds through like a Camembert and an extra sharp cheddar that's got about 18 months of age on it. So lots of different cheeses. Our original plan was to sell goat cheese and just Chevre and we soon found out that like selling rabbit meat, if you just wanted to sell Chevre, you spent a lot of long slow days at the farmer's market not selling a lot of cheese. Had a lot of people that would walk up and say, oh, you only have goat cheese. I don't like goat cheese. That's why we started eggs. That's why we started the cow cheese is to get more people to walk up to the table. Who do you contact for liability insurance? Not MDARD. I believe MFMA has like a group policy for liability insurance. We in the past have used different insurance companies. I think Farm Bureau can write it through your farm policy. Right now I think mine is through Auto-Owners with my farm policy. So there's lots of different ways to get that liability insurance. But I believe that MFMA, the Michigan Farm Market Association has a group policy that if you're a member you can tap into that as well. - There's one more question. While are doing farmers market, what are ways you made your stand more attractive to consumers? - I think consumers like to see product out. With some of the products it's hard. The one picture I had was, am I still? No, nobody's sharing. The one picture like the meat farmer, they took pictures of steaks and jerky and meat sticks and hams and they had them laminated on the table and if the picture was out, then that meant they had that cut available. Like I said, I like to put a dozen eggs out, so people, and we sell multi-colored eggs. We have green, white, brown eggs. You wouldn't believe the people that think because they're a different color, they taste different. With the cheese I have a basket that I put ice down, the Chevre especially. Well, I have a basket, I put ice packs down, put a bandana over the top and I set the containers of Chevre out so that they can see the product. Clear, concise signage is important. Some markets will require that you have the price on things. The way you can handle that if it's cheese or whatever you sell by the pound, it's like, okay, ground beef is $6 a pound, but if it's a pound and a half then you have to do the math or whatever. So there are things, look professional, have some decorations. You saw on my table, I had the little milk can that said goat milk on it. That was my way of saying I had goat milk because I really can't set a 1/2 gallon of goat milk out there on the table. It'd get too warm. But when you started farming, what were your financial obstacles you faced? Were you already established or did you jump in using a loan system for your farm? Our farm had a long history. We had goats as a show herd and was tired of my paycheck paying for the goats, so we decided to start a commercial goat dairy. Then we lost our market and ended up shipping with someone else and the price of milk barely covered the cost of production. So we decided to start the creamery. Fortunately, my mother-in-law paid for the pasteurizer. That was our biggest expense for the creamery. That was a $30,000 piece of equipment and we started the creamery to add value to our milk so that we could afford to do what we do. Not many dairies can say they milk four cows and make money, can they Victor? - [Victor] No, definitely not. Thank you Mike for the presentation. It solved a lot of questions and I think now at least I can understand better how to work with farmer's market.