Farms find holiday sales important revenue source

POMFRET, Vt. — This time of year, the owners of On The Edge Farm hope to draw in holiday shoppers to buy gifts from the farm rather than the mall. A roadside sign even offers suggestions: "A cooler full of meat and a partridge in a pear tree."

The festive farm store is filled with jars of homemade pickles and jams, gift baskets, pies and frozen meats and sausages from the farm. Christmas trees and wreaths line the porch, and they've stocked cheeses and maple syrup from other Vermont producers.

Around the country, the holiday shopping season is providing an important winter revenue stream for a number of small farms as they try to diversify. Farms are finding local foods like maple syrup and jam are popular gifts, and some are bringing in money with sales of pies, hams and other dishes for holiday tables.

"That keeps us going, hopefully it keeps us going, until May when we open again seven days a week. So it really is important," said co-owner Dana Pape, whose farm stand, now open from Thursday-Monday, will cut back to just weekends on the first of the year. The Papes will continue to go to farmers' markets.

Around the state, the number of holiday farmers' markets is growing, as people become more interested in buying locally and farm fresh food.


"And certainly with the holiday season being a great time of eating, a lot of people are excited about making holiday meals from local foods," said Jean Hamilton, direct marketing coordinator for NOFA Vermont.

On Wednesday, tour director Linda Edelman stocked up on maple syrup, jams and maple popcorn at Morse Farm Maple Sugarworks in East Montpelier to give to clients as gifts. She wants them to remember Vermont while she supports local farmers.

"I just really like supporting the local people," said Edelman of Montpelier.

Clements Ridge Produce in Clements, Calif., in San Joaquin County, is still selling oranges, mandarins and avocados, but the big sellers this time of year are its 18 varieties of pies and gift boxes with nuts and jellies and jams made from berries raised on the farm.

"Ninety percent of our December business is gifty items," said owner Mick McQueen, a wine grape grower who also raises strawberries, raspberries, cherries and boysenberries. "Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, we do a huge pie business. And probably pies are about 30 or 40 percent or maybe more of our business for the year."

Cherry season went by six months ago in Michigan, but the fruit is still popular this time of year.

Cherry Republic, a gourmet food company that sells cherry products made from fruit grown at area orchards, does nearly half of its sales for the year during the holidays, said Nancy Henry, director of Cherry Republic's retail operations in Glen Arbor, Mich.

"We have a very, very large mail order business and we're in the midst of it right now," she said.


The company was started in part to provide a market for area cherry growers year-round.

For Shoreline Fruit, which sells dried cherries to consumers and companies like Cherry Republic that package and resell them, about 30 percent of sales happen in November and December.

Fruit can be a welcome diversion from the sweets during the holidays.

Peter Wolfe Ranch, a small family farm in Brentwood, Calif., is now selling mandarins, a winter crop that ripens during the holidays.

"People might share them with their neighbors or their family, and do that at the holidays to kind of to get away from having quite so many sweets," said Jane Wolfe, who farms with her husband and daughter.

At On the Edge Farm, where Pape and her husband raise ornamental plants, pigs, cows and chickens for eggs, customers might buy a case of jam so they have ready gifts for their child's teacher or a neighbor. Others have taken Pape's suggestion, picking up lamb or pork sausage or beef.

"We will have people come and buy a quarter side of beef as a Christmas present or an eighth, on a regular basis," she said.

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