Sue Forrester’s first experience of a farmers’ market in November 2000 was a brief one.
She took 40 blocks of butter and 20 packs of home-made scones to Carlisle Farmers’ Market and sold out within 20 minutes.
Now, farmers’ markets at Orton (Cumbria), Ashton under Lyne (Manchester) and Carlisle are on her regular schedule and life is busier than ever.
Sue had begun making butter from over-quota milk several years earlier and her inventive streak is always finding new opportunities.
Mini scones are “cocktail scones” and slip down faster than a gin sling.
If cakes do not sell whole, they are sliced up and sold for customers to eat as they go round the market – they might come back for a whole cake later.
“You have to know your markets, but always seize any opportunity,” says Sue, who runs her stalls with husband Tom.
She says their outlook on life has changed as the markets have opened up a new routine for them.
Their dairy herd at Howberry Farm, just north of Carlisle, was sold as a whole to a Cumbrian buyer in 2001.
Since then, Sue buys in cream locally in 10gal churns.
Her aim is to have no left overs, just new opportunities.
For example, unsold butter never goes back on the stall as butter, but is frozen and cooked to make rum butter at a later date.
When Sue started making butter, just 10% of it was unsalted.
That proportion has grown to between 55 and 60% as customers repeatedly request unsalted.
Cream, flavoured butters, buttermilk and home baking are her other mainstay products.
“You have to learn what sells where,” says Sue.
For example, some regional recipes sell well only in their local area, others sell anywhere.
Her other tips for newcomers include:
Be flexible – adapt your product, listen to what people are asking for. Think about different markets and what they might want – can your product easily be adapted for vegetarian, low sugar or low fat requirements? Know your area and its traditional products, be able to talk about them with customers. Keep good records – a diary of what you sold on what dates, in what conditions, what weather, busy or quiet market helps predict stock levels for following years. Stand behind your product and be proud of it!