Winstead Farm has Successful First Year Farming
by Gwen Roach, New Farmer
photos provided by Winstead Farm
Editor’s Note: This is our third in a series of blog posts featuring current CFSA members during our Winter Membership Drive.
Food has always been a central and growing passion in our family. In 2008-09, while facing significant health challenges, we began to understand the huge connection between the quality of our food and our health. We read Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food, Adelle Davis’ Let’s Have Healthy Children, and watched the documentary Food, Inc. All of these thoroughly convinced us we needed change.
Gwen, Graham & Ephraim at the Cobblestone Market
We started to change our patterns of food consumption from buying and eating all commercially-produced supermarket food to sourcing larger portions of our diet from local farmers producing whole foods naturally. Gwen started to learn about and experiment with cooking truly wholesome, scratch-made, traditional foods without processed ingredients.
On New Years Day 2010, we looked forward to a new decade and found ourselves dreaming about a different life direction. The dream that was born in us that day was to raise our family close to Graham’s in NC, and to become producers of good, clean, high-quality food. We also wanted to share our passion for healthy living with our community. We spent the year researching small-scale sustainable farming. Reading Joel Salatin’s books, You Can Farm and Pastured Poultry Profits, got our wheels spinning and we were excited to get started. We felt like starting with pastured poultry and a bit of gardening before adding other ventures would be a good way to learn without taking on too much risk.
In early 2011, we purchased our farm and in June we packed up and left good work and friends in Houston, TX to become NC farmers. We spent summer and fall growing chicken and produce for ourselves and gearing up for business. We also shopped regularly at the CFSA’s Cobblestone Farmers Market open on Tuesdays in downtown Winston-Salem. We got to know other farmers and the local food scene that way.
We joined CFSA and attended their 2011 Sustainable Agriculture Conference in Durham. We made significant contacts there and gained a lot of encouragement and excitement about getting our farm business off-the-ground.
We found out at the perfect time that CFSA was helping to establish a Saturday Cobblestone Market at Old Salem for the 2011-12 season. This market would be producers-only, just like the Tuesday market downtown. We applied and were invited to participate as vendors. This was the best thing that happened to us. Being at this market just one day a week during our first season allowed us to build a solid customer base and maintain very good sales. We couldn’t have asked for a better outlet. The managers and other vendors have been marvelous. This new market was hugely supported by shoppers in the city and was amazingly recognized as the #11 Farmers Market in the nation by US News and World Report!
This season we sold pastured-meat chickens, eggs from pastured hens, and fresh-ground whole-grain treats baked at home. In the beginning, we struggled to meet demand for chicken. We were dealing with a learning curve and losing our birds to predators. On several early batches, we processed only 50% of the chickens we bought as chicks. After a good bit of research and some trial and error, we found a better way to secure our mobile coops from predators. With the last few batches of broilers, we were able to process almost the entire batch. We ended the season strongly with a great survival rate, a strong customer base, and excitement for the next year.
Winstead Farm chickens on pasture
This fall, we both attended the Sustainable Agriculture Conference again, and the value of the conference was magnified significantly after having a year of experience under our belt. We knew what questions to ask, and who to hear from and talk with. Graham went on the livestock tour, had significant discussions with experienced livestock farmers, and gained a wealth of great advice from the pastured poultry workshop. We were thankful to receive scholarships through CFSA and the Forsyth County Extension Office to attend.
CFSA has been a key resource in our first year farming by helping us make significant connections, get our product to market, and learn new skills to help us be successful. We’re thankful for those who support CFSA, and in turn, support farmers like us working to produce high-quality food for our local community.
Ephraim and his chicks
Gwen, Graham, Ephraim believe that humanely and naturally raised food is the tastiest and healthiest food. They are also excited to be welcoming a baby girl, due in March. Find out more about their story and farm-fresh products, visit their website: http://winsteadfarm.com/.
Cultivating Connections: How CFSA Membership Can Benefit Your Farm
by Meredith Mizell, Farm Manager, Red Fern Farm
photos provided by Red Fern Farm
Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of posts by current CFSA members during our Winter Membership Drive.
Farming is a great life: you can be your own boss, build community, connect with nature daily, and know that your work is meaningful and important. But small, sustainable farming also presents challenges for both new and experienced growers. When you’re growing and guiding your own farm, sometimes you need additional training in aspects of production or marketing. Sometimes you need help finding new markets. Sometimes that big blue sky and those long rows stretching out in front of you get a little lonely and isolated. And sometimes you just need a little reassurance that yes, all that hard work really does mean something!
That’s where an organization like the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association (CFSA) can make a substantial difference in the life of a farmer.
As the manager of a small family farm– Red Fern Farm in Gray Court, SC — I am constantly amazed and encouraged by CFSA’s work. My first experience with CFSA was at the 2008 Sustainable Agriculture Conference in Anderson, SC. I was 11 when my family moved to 100 acres south of Greenville in 1996, and throughout my teenage years I was just counting the days until I could leave for college. I graduated with a BFA in graphic design in late 2006, but by 2008 had decided a long-term career in graphic design just wasn’t for me. Working in a cubicle farm was hell. But maybe a real farm would be just the thing…
I attended the entire 3-day conference that year armed with pen and paper, determined to absorb as much information as possible. It was a memorable weekend; I enjoyed seeing Joel Salatin deliver the keynote, and I’ll never forget going to Tradd Cotter’s standing-room-only mushroom workshop on Sunday morning. There was so much to see and do, and so many like-minded people surrounding me. The possibilities were endless! What I learned at my first SAC helped form the foundation of my farming knowledge, and has definitely informed my journey.
Since 2008, I’ve been involved in a variety of CFSA events as a member–often as an attendee, and occasionally as a host or presenter. One of the most visible ways our farm has been a part of CFSA events is by participating in the Upstate Farm Tour for the past three years. It’s a lot of work (I admit that I’m something of a perfectionist leading up to a big event like that) but it’s a tremendous opportunity. We average about 300 visitors each year, most of whom are not regular customers. Through their efforts to organize and promote the tour, CFSA puts us in touch with a group that we might not otherwise reach. We get a nice revenue boost during that weekend from on-farm sales, and some of those visitors have become regulars. It’s a win for both us, the farmers, and for the consumers as they have a chance to connect one-on-one with local producers. It’s especially gratifying seeing parents with their children coming out on the tour, because that’s our future!
Speaking of organizing and promoting, I’ve discovered that CFSA is staffed by a cadre of extremely enthusiastic and very hard-working folks. Diana Vossbrinck, our regional coordinator, is a tireless champion of local farms; I love working with her because it’s obvious she cares very much about the people behind the movement. Her many connections–with farmers, chefs, retailers, the media, and consumers–are more than just names and phone numbers, they’re real relationships that benefit everyone involved. That kind of authenticity is a rare commodity, and I’m glad that people like her are a part of CFSA.
My CFSA membership not only connects me to educational opportunities, to potential customers, and to supportive staff members, but also to other member farms. The Sustainable Agriculture Conference is an excellent opportunity to meet other Carolina farmers and to exchange ideas and experiences, but even something as simple as the quarterly CFSA newsletter keeps me feeling like part of the community with farm profiles, an “ask the experts” column, interviews, and sustainable agriculture news. The member listserv also plays a vital role in keeping me up-to-date on training and grant opportunities, regional and national news, special events, and more.
These are all concrete benefits of my CFSA membership. But the value I get from my membership is more than the sum of its parts. Being a part of CFSA reminds me that we’re all in this together and we’re all working towards a better future–for farmers and consumers. Like anyone, I have moments of doubt and worry and insecurity. I get discouraged and wonder if pursuing the life of a farmer and herbalist will pan out for me. But then I remember that I’m not alone in this endeavor. While I cultivate the soil, CFSA is out there working to cultivate a more favorable economic and philosophical environment for small, sustainable farms. Knowing that there is an organization that is advocating on the behalf of farmers, working to help educate consumers, and believing strongly in this movement is reassuring to me.
I’m planning on being a member of CFSA for many years to come, and I’m looking forward to seeing what great things will continue to happen as a result of sustainable agriculture in the Carolinas. I hope you’ll consider becoming a member yourself or, if you’re already a member, telling your friends, family, and customers about CFSA!
Meredith Mizell is a graphic design artist turned full-time farm manager. While she loves growing and cooking our own produce, her real passion is herbs and she is currently studying to become an herbalist. Find out more about Meredith & Red Fern Farm: www.redfernfarms.com.
SAC Bloggers Wanted!
Are you planning to join us at the Sustainable Agriculture Conference in Greenville, SC October 26-28? Want to see your blog posts featured right here on The Sweet Potato?
CFSA is looking for bloggers who are interested in contributing engaging and exciting social media coverage of our biggest annual event.
Highlights of SAC 2012 include:
· More than 50 cutting-edge, skill-building workshops on growing organically, pastured livestock, soils, permaculture, food, policy and more! Plus, full tracks devoted to beginning farmers, helping your farm business thrive, and a very cool ‘You Make It -Outdoors and Hands-on’ track!
· Outstanding pre-conference intensives from the experts in organic certification, organic production, orchard health, foodsafety, mushrooms, bees, permaculture and more!
· Not-to-be-missed pre-conference bus tours to some of the most beautiful and successful sustainable farms and gardens in the Upstate!
· The legendary Local Foods Feast on Friday, Oct. 26 at 6:30 PM! Be inspired by keynote, Debra Eschmeyer, co-founder of Food Corps. This magical meal is made with only the best in-season, sustainably grown ingredients supplied by local farms.
Bloggers must register for the conference, but we do have a limited number of work exchange discounts valued at $70 to help you attend. If you are interested in receiving a work exchange discount in exchange for blogging at SAC, please email Anna expressing your interest and ideas of what you might like to cover. Please include either a writing sample or a link to current blog posts.
We hope to see you in Greenville!
Cooking local and farmstead cheesemaking classes give even more reasons to attend the Sustainable Agriculture Conference
*Don’t forget to register for the 26th Annual Sustainable Agriculture Conference! Late registration ends Nov 5th. Visit http://carolinafarmstewards.org/sac11.shtml to register and learn more.
In conjunction with their upcoming Sustainable Agriculture Conference, CFSA is offering two great classes that any local food lover would enjoy! Both the farmstead cheesemaking class and the cooking local class promise to be fun, informative, and above all, tasty!
The cheesemaking class will be taught by Fleming Pfann of Celebrity Dairy. Fleming has been making farmstead cheeses for over 25 years and is one of the foremost experts on cheesemaking in the Triangle. The class will cover both soft-curd (think fresh chevre) and heated-curd (think cheddar) cheeses, as well as the basics of starting a farmstead cheesemaking operation. Class size is limited to 24 participants so sign up soon! The cost is $35.
The cooking class is a great opportunity for home chefs and kitchen novices alike to learn more about cooking and eating sustainably. You’ll learn about sourcing ingredients locally, how to know what’s in season, preparation & cooking techniques, and recipes. Participation is limited to 20 people, and the cost is $45.
Both classes will be offered on Friday, November 11th from 2:30 – 5:30 in the afternoon at Central Carolina Community College in Pittsboro. CFSA has partnered with CCCC’s Natural Chefs program to bring you these two great opportunities, and you’ll have a chance to check out the Natural Chefs state-of-the-art kitchen and facilities while you learn.
For more information or to sign up for either the Farmstead Cheesemaking class or the Cooking Naturally, Locally, & Seasonally class, visit www.carolinafarmstewards.org or call 9129-542-2402.
(Note: both classes have been designed to be finished in time for participants to travel back to Durham for the opening dinner of the Sustainable Agriculture Conference)
SAC Guest Blogger: Sarah Sinning
If “no man can be a patriot on an empty stomach,” as William Cowper would have us believe, then the same logic must be true for local food advocates, right? This idea certainly seems to have been behind Kris Reid’s delicious offerings at this year’s SAC, for the variety of dishes at every meal was simply staggering. For those of you who couldn’t make it this year, here’s a little sampling of the goods:
Sweet potato bisque, collard wraps with winter vegetables and honey pecan dressing, shrimp and grits, autumn vegetable strudel, braised greens with apples and caramelized turnips, spiced pumpkin with Sea Island Peas and goat cheese salad, whole pork braised in rootbeer, carrot cake with goat cheese frosting…and trust me, the list goes on! Are you hungry yet???
But while this autumnal feast was certainly impressive given the fact that Reid had to source enough food to feed over 600 attendees more than 5 different meals over the course of a weekend, one of the biggest challenges was simply in finding it all! For those of you who are not familiar with how the food service industry typically operates, here’s a quick crash course. For most major hotels and restaurants, the most difficult part of ordering food for an event is generally in crunching the numbers. Once you have a menu drafted with the amount of prospective guests, placing your order can be as simple as filling out an online form with your distributor and hitting “send.” While a lot of establishments actually use a variety of distributors to assure the best quality and price, the key word here is DISTRIBUTOR. When Reid was asked to source the food as locally as possible, the luxury of using a pre-established distributor network pretty much went out the window! The problem is simple: although there has been a dramatic increase in the demand for local food across the state, we still lack an adequate infrastructure to make it truly accessible across all avenues. When CFSA introduced Eastern Carolina Organics a few years back, this was a huge stride in the right direction, for it finally gave time and cash-strapped restaurants and retailers access to the local food producers they desired. While it has certainly been no secret to professional and home cooks alike that local, seasonal ingredients taste better, most restaurants simply couldn’t afford the time and extra cost associated with not only tracking down the products, but also coordinating their delivery on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. But today the tides are changing, and as ECO and businesses like it continue to grow and more and more farmers are contributing to the overall supply, the infrastructure is slowly but surely filling in the gaps. This doesn’t unfortunately mean that Reid had the luxury of simply filling out an online order form and hitting “send,” but it’s because of the tireless efforts of chefs like her that the rest of us will one day be so lucky.
SAC 2010 Guest Blogger, Victoria Bouloubasis
Author Deborah Krasner spoke to a small crowd of farmers and cooking aficionados on Sunday with cheery enthusiasm and expertise on sustainable gourmet. The James Beard Award winner discussed her latest book, Good Meat: The Complete Guide to Sourcing and Cooking Sustainable Meat, the first published guide and cookbook to take an unadulterated look into how we raise, source and (better) cook grass-fed and pasture-raised meat.
Attendees were just as excited as Krasner about Good Meat. “A lot of the other books out there [on organic meat] are dreadful,” said one farmer.
“I wrote Good Meat for a number of reasons,” Krasner told the room. “One of which, I really understood that cooking pastured and grass-fed meat is very different than conventional.”
She also recalled an article she read in the New York Times in which the writer didn’t know what to do with lamb shoulder. “Wow, we have really dumbed down cooking if nobody knows how to cook anything except for a steak or a chop,” she said.
She was also a bit irked that sustainable meat was difficult to find in most U.S. cities. “I was angry that good meat went from being a birthright to everyone, to good meat being something that we have to search out.”
Her book, however, is anything but angry. After one brief peek into the pages of gorgeous photographs, beautifully executed recipes (lamb with ginger, cinnamon and apricot, anyone?) and recommended, affordable kitchen equipment, it’s no wonder this book is being touted as a complete how-to guide for sustainable meat. For three years, Krasner cooked meat from various farms out of her Vermont home to compile a tested recipe collection of beef, pork, lamb, rabbit, poultry (ducks, chickens, turkey, pheasant). Aside from retail cuts like flank and chuck, her book also features the bits and pieces many of us are hesitant to try cooking: lamb’s tongue, pig’s ears and tails, chicken feet, hearts, gizzards, sweetbreads and more.
“You’re obliged to honor the animal’s sacrifice by cooking the whole animal,” said Krasner. “That means cooking every part that is edible, not just cherry-picking the choicest cuts.”
On Sunday, Krasner unlocked a treasure trove of cooking secrets when dealing with meat. Among them: cook low and slow (with a tight fitting lid) or fast and hot; don’t cook anything past medium rare; distilling a half cup of red wine, apple cider, vermouth or beer into a hot pan of caramelized leftover meat bits makes for a “baseline fabulous” reduction; a $10 Chinese sand pot from an Asian grocery is just as good as a fancy Le Creuset.
The retail price for Good Meat is $40, though Krasner is offering wholesale prices for farmers. E-mail her at email@example.com for more information. For an online excerpt, click here.
“In the end, what matters to me is that we make a sustainable meat movement in this country and we help everybody get healthy. It’s good for the health of yourself, your family, and guests at your table. It increases the health of small farmers and diversified farms, preserves your land from development. It saves the planet; its carbon footprint is correct. Land that cannot be used for farming can be used for grazing animals. I don’t care if you eat a lot of meat or a little bit of meat, whenever you choose to eat it, eat good meat.”
For gourmand folks looking to learn more about cooking sustainable meat, NC Choices Casey McKissick informed the crowd that there will be artisanal cooking classes for home cooks at the Carolina Meat Conference, March 25-27 in Concord, N.C.
SAC 2010, Guest Blogger Lisa Poser
I thought canning was for old ladies. Like sewing and knitting is…. right? Wrong. On both assumptions.
First of all, knitting has actually made its way into the spotlight over the past few years as a hobby for people of all ages. For evidence, see this fun site that has successfully helped to form social knitting clubs all over the world!
Canning is also arguably making its way into the spotlight as the push towards local food and gardening gains momentum. (After all, we need something to do with all that fresh, local, nutritious produce we’re growing!) Evidence? For starters, the Canning 101 workshop at this years Sustainable Agriculture Conference.
Granted I don’t know too many canners other than my Mom who use to make strawberry jam every summer and the lady at the farmers market who I buy pepper jelly from, but Dr. Anne Marie Scott, Kitchen Educator at the Edible Schoolyard Project, is definately one of the most passionate canners I’ve ever met! During this session she gave us a run down of what it takes to start canning. For those of you who are like me and haven’t tried it yourself yet for various reasons (don’t have the time, don’t know how, are scared of a pressure canner) read below and then give it a try. You may be pleasantly surprised!
Dr. Scott’s Main Message about canning was pretty clear and simple. Just do it! And don’t let that pressure canner scare you! If you follow the recipe directions to the T, your end product will be safe to eat.
- There are two approved canning methods. The type of food you want to can decides which method you use. Use Boiling Water Canning for high-acid foods like fruits. Use Pressure Canning for low acid foods like vegetables and meats.
- Start with Boiling Water Canning because it’s less complicated than using a Pressure Canner.
- Bad things like botulism can happen, but rarely do. If you follow the directions exactly, your product will be perfectly safe to eat.
- If you unintentionally make syrup instead of jelly, just smile and enjoy….it will taste equally as yummy!
- A tested preserving recipe
- Canning jars (like Ball Mason jars) with appropriate lids and bands
- Deep saucepot with a lid and a rack (for Boiling Water Canning)
- A ladel
- A jar grabber to remove jars from boiling water
- A magnetic wand to remove lids from boiling water
Where To Buy Canning Tools and Equipment? Online, your local hardware store, or your local grocery store (Weaver Street Market, Food Lion)
Where To Get More Information.
You can find everything you need to know including How-To Guides and Videos, a Problem Solving Guide, Recipes, Tools, etc to start canning at Ball’s website. The Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving and The Big Book of Preserving the Harvest are also invaluable resource books.
SAC 2010 Guest Blogger, Victoria Bouloubasis
CFSA made a good call in including the Labor Issues for Farmers session at SAC 2010. The issue may not be riveting (it wasn’t a packed house like the Why Farms Fail session down the hall), but it’s a very important one, both in complying with state labor laws and treating farmworkers justly, running your small farm fairly and smoothly.
Digesting all the information given to the group by Rick Blaylock of the NC Department of Labor can be a headache, though the department’s Web does a pretty good job in providing resources. We were all given a packet of detailed information (see links below) regarding wage laws, employment laws concerning migrants, youths and volunteers and farm labor contracting (FLC).
FLCs were the first big topic. “If you’re a farmer and you need workers, a lot of times you’ll contact somebody that can supply you with workers. That person is a Farm Labor Contractor,” explained Blaylock. “I really appreciate you all being there today, because I wish I could get this out to every farmer. We investigate farmers independent of FLC leaders. We revisit farmers we found violations with in the past. “
The discussion quickly led to a Q&A session with Mr. Blaylock.
Q: Can farmers pay in cash?
A: Paying in cash is fine, but it’s hard to document. If you have a list, fine. But if the people say, no they weren’t paid, then the records are tough.
Q: I’m hiring some people right now and I’m using a receipt book on a carbon form. I need to get them to sign it?
A: Cash is perfectly legal. My only concern is documentation for yourself if they get amnesia.
Q: Can you pay FLC directly? So long as there’s a paper trail, is that perfectly fine?
A: Make sure there is a good paper trail. You need to show us how many hours these people worked, and how much they got paid.
Q: Do you pay FLC directly or farmers directly? Is that something you negotiate with them in providing the service?
A: If you’re dealing with a reputable FLC, and everything works out, then you’re good.
Q: What prompts an investigation? Is it a random audit?
A: We are doing large investigations during what we see are the peaks of that industry. In the four years I’ve been here [in North Carolina], I’ve been very fortunate to develop a great list of resources who contact me often to see if it’s a concern. If it’s safety related, we go that day or the next day.
Q: Does the DoL check the immigration/legal status of farmworkers?
A: When we interview migrant workers, we do not ask if they are here legally or not. Regardless of if someone is here legally or illegally, they are required to be paid fairly. People know that when they talk to our agency, they are protected. Many workers are subject to human trafficking. We have a real problem here, and it’s our job to help the people who need our help – whether they are here legally or illegally. I don’t know if they’re illegal. I don’t care that they’re illegal.
For those of you unable to attend, here are links to all the information we received:
The Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act (MSPA) http://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/whdfs49.pdf
MSPA Transportation http://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/whdfs50.pdf
MSPA and Farm Labor Contracting (FLC ) [Go to EDIT in the tool bar and use the FIND Tool to search for FLC certificates] http://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/statutes/FLCList.htm
MSPA Ineligible Farm Labor Contractors http://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/statutes/mspa_debar.htm
Wage and Hour Division http://www.dol.gov/whd/
Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) http://www.dol.gov/whd/flsa/index.htm
MSPA, FLSA and Farmworkers Rights http://www.dol.gov/whd/FLSAEmployeeCard/FarmWorkerEnglish.pdf
General Agriculture Page http://www.dol.gov/whd/ag/index.htm
Compliance Guide/Worker Protections in Agriculture http://www.dol.gov/compliance/guide/mspa.htm
SAC 2010 Guest Blogger, Victoria Bouloubasis
“Just-hatched” young farmers and seasoned producers packed Farm Marketing 101: Starting a CSA and Other Hot Topics on Saturday. Led by Judy Lessler of Harland’s Creek Farm, the slide show presentation quickly led to a dynamic dialogue, Judy lending her expertise to farmers and market managers interested in expanding into a successful CSA.
Ana Parra, Executive Director of Hub City Farmers’ Market in Spartanburg, S.C., attended the session to help her market’s farmers. “We did a pilot CSA, but I felt like there was a lot of room for improvement. I wanted to learn the basics of a successful CSA and take that information to farmers in Spartanburg County to plan for a successful collaborative CSA for 2011.”
Harland’s Creek started a flour CSA ten years ago and a produce CSA just one year later, both highly successful. The trick? Direct marketing strategy, collaboration and communication.
“Your customers have paid. Even if promised crops are not available, be up front about what could happen,” she said, citing examples of a hail storm creating a limited variety, or even better weather causing an extra production of one crop in the mix. “Have you communicated with the customer? If you continually say, ‘I can’t do this, I can’t do that,’ they are gonna leave you.”
· Make sure you have enough products every week – Judy actually grows 50-60% more than she needs for the CSA, just so she has enough to sell at markets and to restaurants.
· Collaborate – you need a variety in your basket. If you only specialize in five items, collaborate with three or four other farms with their five specialized products for market variety to customers.
· Throw in a “piece of gold” – Judy includes value-added products, like recipes and a meal plan to help people figure out how to transform a basket of produce into meals for the whole week.
· Detailed planning required – determine how far you’ll travel to deliver, how often you’ll communicate, how many customers you’ll take each season, the additional costs to special products (meat, dairy, etc.) – and stick to it.
· BIG decision: customer choice or farmer choice? Judy suggests tailoring the box as a farmer and educating your customers on what to eat seasonally
Direct thoughts from Judy Lessler:
On what to grow: “What I would recommend, if you are starting out, is to set the share items yourself. And grow some products that can be stored. I love it when potatoes are harvested. They’ll have that fresh new potato taste for about 4 months. Other things, garlic, sweet onion can store for about a month. Carrots, beets can be stored. A lot of things like that are good to have available.”
On how to gain customers, and keep them: “Start by advertising at the farmers market. Now CSAs are so popular, people are Googling. I don’t think you’ll have trouble if people know of your farm. Once you have them, you gotta treat ‘em well. It doesn’t mean if there are flea beetles on your arugula, and it’s perfectly fine to eat, you just put them in the box. You have to tell them it happened, that it’s fine. It’s really important not to just slip something in, you have to let them know. Offer farm visits, cooking classes. Lots of people do potlucks and dinner for their CSA customers. And that value-added product; for example, meal preparation booklet 2009:“How to cook a pizza no matter what is in your CSA box.”
SAC 2010 Guest Blogger, Victoria Bouloubasis
SAC 2010 did not skirt around any issue. The soul of the movement is on the line, and on everybody’s mind. And 8:30 a.m. on a Saturday was a perfectly acceptable time to address it, first thing in the morning.
THE PANEL: “Taking Sustainable Agriculture to Scale without Losing our Souls”
THE PURPOSE: Local and organic is a growing movement. But can we grow the supply of sustainable food and fiber in this country without losing our values?
THE MODERATOR: Scott Marlow, RAFI-USA
Rick Larson – Natural Capital Investment Fund
Ruffin Slater – Weaver Street Market
Matt Boulanger – Enterprise Farm (Massachusetts)
Sandi Kronick – Eastern Carolina Organics
Uli Bennewitz – Weeping Radish Brewery
Phil Barker – Operation Spring Plant, Prize in the Harvest Coop
If any of the audience members in the Grand Pavilion that morning felt groggy, they masked it perfectly with wide-awake faces and an eagerness to listen. The farmers, consumers, organizers and activists among the attentive audience and experienced panel discussed the changing, growing market and how the smaller players can win. The bottom line: yes, the game is changing. Buzz words saturate brands and media, and the movement has become a trend. For everyone involved from the beginning, “shouting into the wilderness” as Scott said, it’s their job to protect the values behind it, so as not to “lose our soul”. At the end of the day, everyone in that room, at the conference, is considered “an activist entrepreneur with the power to bring about social change.” Below is a list of highlighted topics and tips from the panelists, in their own words.
Protect our values. Scott Marlow: “Markets do not stay static – ever. As there becomes more and more value in what we do and what we’ve created, and we address certain problems [climate change, peak oil, obesity] there will be more and more people who want to take advantage of that value and cut out the piece themselves. So the big question is: How do we do this and make it real?” [After the panel, he added]: “If we don’t protect our ground, our values get syphered off, our integrity gets eroded, it all goes away.”
Keep it local. Ruffin Slater: “It’s important to look at the supply chain. I think we have amazing success stories at every part of that chain. When these parts of the chain are locally owned, there are no problems with values, with the soul of the movement. It’s a big loss when locally-owned stores are bought out by national chains. If we can learn how to grow grapes and produce wine organically, we can learn how to run an institutional cafeteria.”
Know your neighbors. Phil Barker: “I think that we can’t just move in our pastures anymore. We have to look at what our neighbors do, and how do we work together to make this work? There’s a big difference now in the way we think about how we make profit. The dollars are going to begin to drop down for certain growers. As we move forward, I see ourselves as pulling together and investing our dollars in the community.” [Later he added]: “Our small farms are the backbone of our agricultural system. We have to keep our small farmers on the land as owners.”
Drive the volume. Sandi Kronick:” Greatest innovation is the direct market distribution. There’s obviously a lot of challenges in it, but what’s exciting is there’s nothing linear about it. We’re all kind of bumping into each other in the market, but we’re blessed by having the same values. It’s trust, it’s what happens when you’re working with people. We’re all moving in the same direction. How do we maintain the identity of that farm and the integrity, so the prices are what they need to make and not driving it down? It’s ultimately how quickly it can get to the vendor. The fewer steps, the more money goes to the producer.” [Later she said]: “Network. There’s no reason why the middleman can’t be a food advocate.”
Sell in more than one outlet. Rick Larson: “I think it’s important as growers to have more than one outlet for your product. The market is fluid, it’s always changing. You have to have more than one way to move your product. It helps a lot if you do. If you’re just a CSA farm, and you have a few consumers, that’s it. In coming up with capital, a cost share can be very effective.”
Maintain relationships to maintain integrity (versus the big guys). Uli Bennewitz: “One thing we are completely underestimating is the trust of the public in small farms. That’s the biggest asset we have – integrity and trust. There is no way Smithfield or Tyson can prove where their product came from. “