Organic meat vendor finds sales harder at Bartlett farmers market

On a typical Saturday morning, Lee Seidl sees about 150 customers at her organic meat stand at the Bartlett Station Farmers Market. BE logo square

But even that may not be enough to keep the stand’s owner, West Wind Farms, from pulling out as one of the market’s vendors.

“This year has gotten off to a slow start,” said Seidl. “This is like a Nirvana for a farmers market. I’m so disappointed in the sales.”

West Wind Farm is the largest certified organic meat distributor in Tennessee and sells organic and specialty meats, poultry, milk and cheese products, vegetables and spices and even organic pet products. It sells at about 20 farmers markets throughout Tennessee, including a few in Shelby County, said Seidl.

Seidl herself works at two other local farmers markets during the week and said Bartlett is her most lucrative of the three. Still, she said, sales are off compared to last year. And that’s something the farm owner, Kim Cole, is looking at.

Seidl said that in 2012, she pulled in about $500 per Saturday at the market and drew customers from throughout Shelby County. She said she believes she would have to make more than that this year to keep Cole from closing her stand.

Although Seidl said she wants to keep her sales figures so far this year confidential, she said the numbers are much lower than that.

“I’ll be here the next two to three weeks without question, but after that, I just don’t know,” she said.

Bartlett Station Farmers Market manager Kim Dyer said she doesn’t want to lose any vendors. But she said if West Wind Farms does pull out, the market will continue to draw in customers with the others who set up at 6 a.m. each Saturday morning at W.J. Freeman Park.

“We have another meat vendor and another egg vendor,” said Dyer. “We’ve drawn in a lot of people who do carry the money for organic foods.”

Dyer also said the market offers a lot more to its customers than just the fresh food. With park benches and picnic tables readily available nearby, shaded vendor stands in parts of the market, free bottled water when the heat index is high and an activity for customers every weekend, the Bartlett Station Farmers Market has more variety than some other farmers markets.

For example, Dyer said, the market will host a Cutest Pet Day and celebrate Flag Day during its market on June 15. She also said she’s working with local businesses to offer more of a range to its customers, including a local clinician who has agreed to offer free blood pressure checks those who have come to shop.

But Seidl said while she praises the Bartlett Station Farmers Market for catering to its customers and vendors, the sales at Cooper Young farmers market are better for the type of products she sells.

“I typically would have doubled (what I sell in Bartlett) at Cooper Young market,” said Seidl. “Cooper Young is more a purist market.

“I started to shop at farmers markets because I wanted to eat healthier,” said Seidl, who said she caters to a lot of people who are sick and are looking for better food to sustain themselves. “I think a lot of people come to the Bartlett market to look around, but I need to get people to buy.”

Seidl, who lives in Olive Branch and raises quarter horses, has been selling for West Wind Farms for the past few years. She said Bartlett Station Farmers Market has a great foundation.

But she also said that Bartlett has competition from grocery stores near the market, while at markets such as Cooper Young, the customers don’t have those options. She said she doesn’t want to take away from those businesses, but hopes people come to the Bartlett Station Farmers Market for fresher, healthier choices.

“It’s kind of like going to your favorite restaurant and having your favorite waitress bring your food,” said Seidl of the comparison of farmers market offerings to that in grocery stores. “But I don’t know how to blend that with the small families in Bartlett and have them come in.”

Dyer said some of the slowness this year has been as a result of an unusually late growing season for the Mid-South. With products about six weeks behind schedule, customers are just about to get some of the produce they’ve been waiting for.

And Seidl said she hopes things turn around for her as well. She said she doesn’t want to leave the market, where she’s come to enjoy the other vendors and the customers.

“At 6 a.m. when the vendors are pulling up in their trailers and starting to set up for the day, you can just feel it,” she said. “It’s awesome.”