Matt Muller is having success with a roadside honesty box for his produce.
AS mainstream farming becomes larger and more corporate, one Queensland vegetable producer is bucking the trend.
Matt Muller and his wife, Sarah, are enjoying incredible success selling their produce at a roadside stall at the front of their farm, using an honesty box for payments.
The couple, who trade under the brand, Fassifern Valley Produce, sell up to one tonne of tomatoes a week using this method.
Matt says the customers love knowing that they are buying direct from the farmer and that the produce they’re buying is super-fresh. He’s weeks away from introducing heirloom tomatoes to the stand and his potatoes, sold in old-fashioned brown paper sacks tied with string, have been popular with customers.
“The thing that most people tell us is that the tomatoes taste like old-style tomatoes,” says Matt.
“Maybe it’s because we don’t have that whole transport issue, we don’t have to pack them so the customer is getting them so much fresher.
“It’s a bit of a ‘warm fuzzy’ too; people like to see where their food is coming from.”
Matt grew up on a family farm in Biggenden and watched as his parents grew carrots, onions and potatoes and sold them through the central market system. Over the years the returns decreased as the workload increased and Matt knew it wasn’t a future for him.
He left Biggenden and moved to the Scenic Rim, where he worked as a farm labourer before training as a metal fabricator. He ran his own business for 10 years until he found the 40-acre (16-hectare) farm he now operates from and realised it had potential.
In need of some TLC, and on a busy road linking Boonah to the Cunningham Highway, Matt and Sarah decided to give it a go.
They thought they would sell a small portion of their produce on their own stall and trade the rest with vegetable shops and through the markets. Nothing could have prepared them for the success of their roadside stall.
“There’s no market agent saying they aren’t quite round enough, not quite big enough or small enough,” Matt says. “People are grateful for what we put out and we’ve been ramping up supply progressively the whole time. “It’s crazy but the honesty system works. The last time we did a stock take we were actually $30 ahead of what we should have been. I think we can still do more, but I don’t want to conquer the world through this.
“It’s getting to a good size to be self-sustaining and to employ myself, Sarah and one other. We get a premium for our product selling this way because we’re cutting out so many parts of the system.
“There’s at least three types of transport we don’t need, plus the packaging costs, the agent fees and the retailer.
“That allows us to sell a little bit cheaper and end up with a larger margin.”
Matt sells tomatoes for $5 a bag and holds his price steady, even during big market fluctuations like we have had recently.
Potatoes sell from about $6 for a 5kg bag, depending on the variety.
Matt sees big potential in heirloom tomatoes, which he’s trialled over the past two seasons.
“We have done trials and have selected the varieties that are more robust and are going to cope with being grown using commercial growing methods,” he says.
“If they couldn’t cope with that we didn’t want them. People just love them. It’s the presentation and they have very little acid in them, which some people really love.
“Obviously there’s a glass ceiling with this thing; there’s only so much food that can be sold this way but we do get repeat business and all of our trade comes from word of mouth.”
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