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A Small Business Dream Built on a Farmers Market

Posted by Peter Wood, Public Affairs Specialist, AMS Public Affairs in Food and Nutrition Farming
Jul 29, 2021

My mom raised five kids, taught high school chemistry for 15 years and then retired back to the family farm in 1986. Her new life on the farm depended on the Salisbury, MD farmers market where she sold daylilies.  The farmers market, just one of 8,000 or more markets listed in USDA’s National Farmers Market Directory, gave her the opportunity she needed to start her own business.

Each Saturday she loaded up her station wagon with plants and drove into town, displaying the lilies by color.  When she wanted to expand her plant offerings, my brother built her a small greenhouse.  She became known as the farmers market’s Flower Lady.

A few years later, my brother started his own greenhouse business at the farm after the nursery company where he was a grower could no longer provide health insurance. Based on the economic success our mom experienced at the farmers market, he bought a used van and added herbs and perennials to his market offerings. Today my brother operates five greenhouses, selling wholesale and retail with a large delivery truck. He still retails his plants five days a week at area farmers markets in three different towns.

Pauline and Paul Wood, mother and son, built their family farm business on selling at farmers markets.
Pauline and Paul Wood, mother and son, built their family farm business on selling at farmers markets.

We often hear that the cornerstone of the American economy is small businesses.  And, for agriculture-based operations like his, farmers markets are the bedrock that small businesses depend on to be economically viable.  In fact, 93 percent of small, family owned farms rely on direct-to-consumer marketing as part of their income.  Without that first stepping stone, my brother wouldn’t have been able to connect with customers immediately, build his business and make a living doing what he loves.

Many of many of my brother’s customers still ask about my mom—even though she stopped selling at the market decades ago so she could focus on helping him behind the scenes in the greenhouses. For my family, farmers markets provided a retirement life for my mom, a viable business for my brother and a connection from the community to our family farm.

My mother, Pauline Wood, started selling plants at the farmers market from the back of her station wagon in 1986.
My mother, Pauline Wood, started selling plants at the farmers market from the back of her station wagon in 1986.
Category/Topic: Food and Nutrition Farming

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Comments

Sue Bernstein
Aug 07, 2013

Great story! Thanks for sharing.

Lindo Sithole in South Africa
Aug 08, 2013

What an encouraging story. It will have great impact to many even beyond farming community. Thanks

conirlbeck
Aug 10, 2013

Thanks for sharing with families, farmers, young, little ones, and semi retired your awesome and inspiring story to see Pauline and her sons not give up on their vision.They work with a passion for a business which helps bridge the gap between the rural and city workers!I know she has made many sacrifices to do all she has done and is still doing!. Her persistence, consistency,family support,faith and determination is what helped her. These principles were applied growing up in our family's small independent business to where they could eventually reach their goal to own their cows.
We need more independent small family businesses!!Congrats on a job well done to Pauline and family!

Ernesto Villarini
Aug 13, 2013

Great story. I think it is important for various reasons. Small business. Agriculture. Healthy lifestyle. Active old age. Rural economy. Encouraging local production. We need stories like this in Puerto Rico, where I´m from, and many other parts.

Pamela Brown
Nov 07, 2014

What a Inspiring Story! Does the USDA help with loan/grant for Greenhouses?

Tina MacIntyre
Aug 06, 2016

Mr. Wood's reflection on the huge effect Farmer's Markets had on his family is very impressive. As a state nursery inspector, I witness growers selling at farmer's markets as their sole source of income regularly. I am always impressed at their drive and ingenuity. They are proof that Farmer's Markets are still a major contribution to many families.

Mac Lee
Oct 22, 2016

Great story. Paul & I were great friends & neighbors in high school. Glad to see he continues to follow his passion and can tie it back to the family farm. Would love to re-connect and catch up.
Mac

Lisa Whirley Hubbard
Oct 26, 2020

How do I get in touch with Paul wood would love to see his green house operation and which farmers markets he sells at

Ben Weaver
Oct 26, 2020

@Lisa Whirley Hubbard - thank you for your comment. The Woods have retired from farmers markets. Please see the farmers market directory for active farmers markets in your area.

vivian thomas
Dec 19, 2020

What a wonderful story.