Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Kiwi Experiment

This winter I found a sales outlet for my kiwis. For years we had eaten them, given them away, fed them to the chickens, fed them to the guests. Never had I thought to actually sell them for money until a really cool website came on the scene in our area allowing farmers to post their produce and buyers to shop with a credit card, all from the same site. It's the Internet meets the CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), and, it's about time.

From our one ancient kiwi vine/tree/plant we can put up anywhere from two to five 5 gallon buckets of fruit, depending on the chipmunk population during blossom set. These are the fuzzy brown skinned kiwis with the green flesh. We have the requisite female (hearty) and male (spindly - I baby him) plant growing up between our house and our workshop. By summer, when the leaves have grown thick, the vine provides absolute shade. In the winter when we prune it all back, there is welcomed light.

We harvest in fall before the first frost and then wait through the winter for the fruits to ripen. Each year I am challenged to protect my kiwis from rodents, and each year I change the location of my storage. Last year I crated the fruits and put them in the workshop; the year before in the storage room. This year, I decided to bring the kiwis into the house and stack them in our coldest room along with the onions and the garlic.

I counted them, setting aside any kiwis not presentable to the public. I had 360! I checked at the store. Kiwis were selling for $.79 at the top end and 2 for $1.00 at the low end. I did the math. Possibly $180 if there were buyers. I could cover the speeding ticket I got while driving to the co-op to check some of those prices, and still have a little left over. What was T.T. whatever his name, the motorcycle cop, doing hiding behind those bushes anyway. Couldn't he tell I was a hillbilly country girl without a care in the world and certainly not paying attention to the reduced speed sign?! Boy, did that guy ruin my day.

I decided on my price. I would sell a pound of kiwis for $1.50 because I thought they lacked in flavor. There were about 5-6 kiwis in a pound. I figured out how to list them online and waited to hear from the administrator of the site what to do next. The next morning I got a call. Was I planning on dropping off the 5 pounds of kiwis ordered in the last hours before the site had closed for the week? Ummm, what orders? Oops,there had been a mistake in notifications. Could I fill the orders or were my very first clients just going to be disappointed? I sent my daughter the 25 miles into town with the kiwis and did the math. $7.50 in sales. Expenses: one hour drive time (to town and back) at $10/hour; gas (25 miles @$.50/mile). It seemed I had just lost approximately $15. Things were not looking good.

I listed my kiwis for the next week and sold 8 pounds. This time I planned the drop with an already arranged trip to town for other reasons so no real cost here. Problem was, no sooner had I found a way to sell my kiwis than the mice decided to have a field(mice)day. When I went down to the room to package my orders, I discovered they had eaten at least a third of my dreams.

You know, if it isn't one thing, it's another. I gave the damaged fruit to the chickens and set mouse traps. The next week, I had lost another third of my remaining fruit. I put what was untouched into the fridge because there was little enough left that I actually had room.

One more week of sales and I was out of product. In all, I think I netted somewhere in the range of $40. Not a great example of marketing acumen but a good lesson in rodent destruction. No, no rodents died in my traps. They had a nimble way of springing them. One trap even mysteriously disappeared.

Will I try this again next year? Maybe, but with lessons learned:
-Store the fruit in the fridge (somehow)
-Charge $3.00/lb whatever the flavor
-Don't wait until the kiwis are all the way ripe (some loss was due to over-ripeness)
-If the time and effort aren't adding up, start feeding the kiwis to: family, friends, guests, and chickens (in that order). They were probably wondering what had happened to the kiwis anyway!

Photos: (top) 360 kiwis set up in their trays with Cisco looking on, (next) kiwis on the vine, (next) tray of kiwis, (bottom) close-up of our offering.

All Rights Reserved. Copyright 2010 Scottie Jones

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