The Washington, D.C., farmers markets where Julie Stinar sells herbal lemonade for $3 a cup and eggs for $6 a dozen are over an hour’s drive from her 132-acre Evensong Farm in Sharpsburg, Maryland. But Julie has found it’s worth the trip several times a week to sell to customers willing to pay higher prices than they would at the grocery store for sustainably-produced local food.
It took several years for Julie to carve out a niche selling herbs, beef, pork, and eggs at the farmers markets. She started with a vegetable garden, but without investing in a lot of mechanical equipment for cultivation, she found growing, harvesting and selling the vegetables to be costly in terms of labor as well as unprofitable. One “crazy-hot” day, Julie started selling herbal lemonade -- an instant hit with farmers market customers – and she quickly started outselling her vegetables.
A farmer for the past 16 years, Julie now sits on the board of Fresh Farm Markets, a network of producer-only farmers markets that provide local products to customers who want to know where their food comes from and to support open space. “One of their priorities is knowing what goes into their family’s food,” says Julie. “I get very interesting questions on how I raise my animals and I will respond to every one of them.”
Eventually, she stopped growing vegetables and trademarked her lemonade as urban+ade, purchased by some in a refillable, glass, urban+ade bottle and also by the glass. Added to the base lemon juice and sugar mixture are herbs grown on the farm or juice from wild berries or fruit juices obtained from other farm market vendors.
Julie is now constructing a building at the farm that will house a commercial kitchen where they’ll bottle the lemonade. The 20’ x 24’ building is being financed with a grant from MARBIDCO and a line of credit through Farm Credit, which also financed the initial farm purchase.
Although Julie learned a lot about agriculture as a vegetable gardener, she says selling meat, eggs, herbs, and lemonade direct-to-market is not only more profitable than selling vegetables, but it’s also more enjoyable.
“I picked items that are my favorite to farm.. Most herbs are perennial, so they don’t need as much labor (as vegetables),” she says. “I love the animals. We just have to make sure we give them what they need and they do all the labor. And it’s fun…that’s part of running a business, too—figure out what your strengths are and play to them.”