An intensive two-day training workshop hosted by a team of leaders in the north eastern New York Ag industry, took place at Templeton Hall, Cooperstown, NY, where producers of all levels were instructed on preparing their products for marketing to wholesale buyers — especially food hubs, groceries, restaurants and cooperatives.
The host team of the event included Cornell Small Farms Program, Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) of Delaware County, CCE Schoharie / Otsego Counties, and the Center for Agricultural Development and Entrepreneurship (CADE) and were represented by ‘Baskets to Pallets’ Project Manager / Cornell Horticulture Support Specialist, Violet Stone; CCE Delaware County, Mariane Kiraly; David Cox, CCE Schoharie / Otsego Counties; and Rebecca Morgan, CADE.
“The Training drew a huge diversity of over 50 farmers from about a 100-mile radius,” said Stone. “Small and mid-size farmers are eager to explore appropriately-scaled wholesale venues but need support and guidance to be successful.”
“Food hubs, grocery stores, restaurants and cooperatives are looking for your products to meet growing consumer demand for local and sustainably-grown food. Yet, doing successful business with wholesale buyers requires planning and preparation.”
Day one of the workshop featured speakers Rich Taber, Grazing, Forestry, Ag Economic Development Specialist, CCE Chenango Co.; Elizabeth Higgins, Ag Business Management, Eastern NY Commercial Horticulture Program, CCE Hudson Valley Research Lab; and Crystal Stewart, Extension Vegetable Specialist, ENY Commercial Horticulture of CCE.
According to the USDA Economic Research Service, ‘Direct-to-Consumer’ sales decreased from 2007-2012, however, there is great potential for wholesale marketing.
Taber spoke to attendees on the protocol for uniformity, consistency and scheduling for both produce and livestock.
“When direct marketing, you are dealing with one interaction between you, the producer, and one client or customer,” explained Taber. “With wholesale marketing, you must have consistent groups of animals or products that will appeal to wholesale buyers — and on their schedules.”
Taber pointed out that considerations and management practices might have to be changed to accommodate protocol and criteria for the new market. Groups of produce, whether carrots or beef; must yield consistent sizes. So, groups of products should be grown during the same time frame to result in uniform size.
“Management protocols will need to be more uniform,” Taber noted.
Taber said working cooperatively with other producers to pool your products, whether animal or vegetable, into “larger, more uniform groups can offer appealing opportunities for wholesale buyers.”
Marketing trends overview educated attendees on the value of understanding and following market trends to be successful.
Statistics discussed included a report that “96 percent of survey respondents defined LOCAL as being grown or produced within 100 miles from point of sale” and “General Trends ‘local food purchases’ were estimated at $12 billion in 2014 — and are expected to grow.”
“The national market for local food continues to expand and is projected to reach over 15 billion this year,” commented Stone. “We want to encourage smaller farmers to take advantage of the restaurants, food hubs, groceries and cooperatives that are seeking their products.”
Stewart led the discussion focusing on keeping production records and showing attendees several examples of documented records.
“What are the most important records that you keep?” Stewart asked.
Priority records include production records — including itemized records of what you produced, where it was produced (field maps were emphasized), when it was produced (planting and seeding schedules, harvest schedules) and how much was produced. Financial records including cost of production and sales reports; food safety records including inputs and origins; and farm health records, crop rotations and soil tests are all head the list.
Many producers forget how valuable their time is.
“Labor costs should be calculated as hours times a standard rate,” Stewart said. Remember to include benefits and taxes to this number.
“How much does it cost you not to know what your numbers look like?” Stewart asked.
A hands-on pallet stacking activity led by Stewart, Stone and Higgins instructed attendees on the proper and safest way to stack pallets preventing damage to produce and allowing airflow between crates and boxes.
Higgins instructed attendees on rules and regulations and protocol of grading, labeling and packaging produce.
“Good graphic design does not equal a good label!” Higgins remarked.
Higgins explained that requirements for NYS food labeling and FDA food labeling are complex. Traceability is a priority. Cornell’s Northeast Center for Food Entrepreneurship has consulting services available for labeling at https://necfe.foodscience.cals.cornell.edu/about.
When packaging your goods, Higgins advised to be diligent about the appearance.
“First impressions are everything!”
Higgins commented on the training workshop.
“I know that my topic areas, grading and labeling are particularly complex — but our goal was to help growers see that although there are a lot of rules that they need to be aware of, there are also resources available to help them understand and navigate the rules.”
In addition to learning how to access resources, what it might take to become involved in wholesale, what buyers are looking for, how to approach buyers, and what buyers are looking for from farmers; making connections with other producers was an added bonus to the workshop.
Resource Educator Mariane Kiraly. “Most got to know others and we had some interactive group activities that enabled sharing. At lunch and breaks, the room was alive with discussion.”
Kiraly credits Violet Stone for her leadership as Project Manager of the training workshop.
Stone reported, “In a pre-training survey, farmers cited a number of barriers to entering wholesale markets, including knowledge, time, money, infrastructure and transportation challenges. After the Training, most farmers reported feeling ready to enter at least one new wholesale market this year.”
This event was funded through Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE).