How to Sell Heirloom Tomatoes

Overview

Heirloom tomato varieties predate the switch to hybrids that gained steam from the 1940s to the 1960s. They returned from obscurity as part of the sustainable agriculture movement of the 1990s. Retail vendors report that demand for heirloom tomatoes far exceeds supply, note extension specialists at North Carolina State University and the University of Kentucky. Marketing and selling heirlooms requires attention to their flavor and eating quality, as well as their fragility, which makes them unsuitable for long-distance shipping.

Step 1

Sell your heirloom tomatoes at local farmers markets from first harvest, in July in temperate areas of the country, until first frost. Label your heirlooms, offer samples to taste and provide tasting samples, recommends the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension. Create artful displays highlighting their visual appeal grouped by color, including striped and blushed cultivars, as well as shape and size.

Step 2

Choose a gardening site visible from the road and create a demonstration garden open to visitors. Combine this with a roadside stand selling heirloom tomatoes and regular hybrid varieties.

Step 3

Sell the fruits through community-supported agriculture or CSA shares. Drop off deliveries to workplaces with a solid concentration of subscribers who have paid for a season's worth of produce.

Step 4

Sell wholesale to upscale restaurants, food coops and health food stores, the University of Kentucky recommends. Ship in specialized packaging over short distances to wholesale customers. Use shallow, single-layer cushioned crates or boxes to transport fruit to market.

Step 5

Save heirloom tomato seeds from some of the most vigorous plants at the end of the season for sale over the next winter and spring. Sell through garden clubs, agricultural expositions and online.

Step 6

Raise young plants beginning eight weeks before the last frost date in your area. Sell the plants online for local pickup.

Step 7

Sponsor a blind taste test involving local chefs, restaurant reviewers and consumers. If heirlooms do well, as would be expected according to trials run by North Carolina State University, publicize the results in local media and on your website.

Things You'll Need

  • Labels
  • Roadside stand
  • Specialized packaging

References

  • University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service: Heirloom Vegetables
  • Hobby Farms: Growing and Selling Heirloom Tomatoes
  • National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service: Selling to Restaurants
  • Extension: Organic Certification of Vegetable Operations
  • North Carolina State University: Heirloom and Specialty Vegetable Production for Local Sales

Who Can Help

  • University of Minnesota Extension: How to Sell Your Crops: Marketing
  • National Association of Agricultural Educators: Heirloom Tomato Plants Niche Marketing Project
Keywords: selling heirloom tomatoes, heirlooms farmers markets, heirlooms farm stands, community-supported agriculture, selling heirloom seeds

About this Author

Rogue Parrish has written two travel books and edited at the "The Baltimore Sun," "The Washington Post" and the Alaska Newspapers company. She began writing professionally in 1975. Parrish holds a summa cum laude Bachelor of Science degree in journalism from the University of Maryland.