A steep learning curve has taken Bridget Borlase from her plan to sell one beef animal a month to one and a half a week in a very short space of time.

At Sacombe Hill Farm, Watton-at-Stone in Herts, Bridget and her parents Paull and Judy run a mixed unit with arable, pedigree Simmental cattle and Belted Galloways.

Simmental heifers not suitable for pedigree breeding sales are finished and sold from the farm following the conversion of existing building to an approved cutting room.

Bridget began selling beef at farmers’ markets in October this year and now does five markets a month, paying between 12 and 18 for a stall.

The regulations governing the sale of beef are more demanding than for pork and lamb and her local EHO has been very helpful.

“We consulted her and worked through the whole retailing plan before doing anything,” says Bridget, who has also recently become a licensed game dealer as she found good demand for game at farmers’ markets.

Rabbits, pheasant and partridge all come off the farm while venison is bought in.

“As we’ve gone on we’ve really looked at packaging – a lot of labels look very boring.

We’ve improved ours, it can make such a difference.

All our produce is vacuum packed, it’s easier for us, and customers often want to pick up the produce and check it.

We also have photos on the stand showing the cattle grazing, which helps to connect the buyer to the farm.”

In the few weeks since she began selling at farmers’ markets, Bridget has picked up lots of helpful advice for others:

  • It can be tricky to get a stand at busy markets – you may have to wait for someone else to give up
  • Be prepared – some markets are extremely well organised, others less so
  • Relatively short (two hour) markets are good because they tend to be busy, and a shorter time means you can be more confident about keeping meat at the right temperature
  • Always check when booking what facilities are provided – some markets expect you to bring your own table
  • Take sanitised hand wipes and more bags than you’ll need
  • Handling cash can be a problem
  • Manning a stand alone can be tricky if it’s very busy – you won’t have much time to chat to customers and you need to keep an eye on everything as well as selling and dealing with change – have a helper if possible
  • Consider accepting credit or debit cards – people tend to spend more on cards and although relatively few farmers’ market stalls accept them, fewer and fewer customers have cash on them
  • Plan your display carefully – it has to have something to attract attention and make customers stop
  • Consider a second set of scales – they must be checked at least once a year, which means sending them to the manufacturer to be calibrated. This can take a week or more, which causes complications
  • Check with trading standards/environmental health about labelling, batching, best before dates, traceability – you need a good record keeping system
  • As you get busier, managing stock gets more complicated.