p o n s o r B o x
The Food Trust
Mission: The Future of Our Food
and Farm Summit is sponsored by the Food Trust,
a mid-Atlantic based non-profit organization dedicated
to ensuring everyone has access to affordable,
nutritious food. In pursuit of this goal The Food
Trust brings their mission to the classroom, runs
weekly farmers markets, helps local farmers get
their produce into supermarkets and works with
state and local politicians to influence public
Founded: The Food Trust was
founded in 1992, and started out by conducting
nutrition education classes for inner-city children
at Reading Terminal Market, the century old farmers'
market located in the center of Philadelphia.
After the Trust opened its first farmers' market
at Tasker Homes, a public housing development
in southwest Philadelphia, the organization began
working with communities to develop lasting and
stable sources of affordable foods.
For more information:
Visit online at: www.thefoodtrust.org
||"Restaurants are trying to be
different, trying to create something unusual too,"
he observed; "as a farmer you want to help them provide
to be able to think and plan well, you need to rest, to
read, and to relax. That's what sustainable farming is
about, after all--seasons and cycles."
||"You've got to study your particular
situation and say, where's the opening, where's the crack?
Where can I get a toehold here?"
is the most intellectually stimulating profession in the world,"
declared Jack Gurley, owner and manager of Calvert's Gift Farm
in Sparks, Maryland. In early December, at the Future of Our
Food and Farms Summit in Wilmington, Delaware, evidence of that
stimulation was everywhere. Top-notch presenters in half a dozen
sessions showed just how creative and varied direct marketing
can be. "This is graduate-level direct-marketing,"
commented George DeVault, of Pheasant Hill Farm, near Emmaus,
Pennsylvania, when he took his turn at the podium.
Building the new neighborhood grocery
The day began with Mary Seton Carboy of Greensgrow Farm, a 6
year-old urban renewal project planted on a 1-acre reclaimed
brownfield site in central Philadelphia. Just five minutes from
the Liberty Bell, Greensgrow began by raising hydroponic lettuce
for sale to nearby restaurants; they have since added a garden
center, a farmstand, a CSA, a non-profit educational program,
and--perhaps most innovative of all--what Carboy describes as
an "ad-hoc co-op with about 20 area producers."
"There is no central core to our business--we do
a little bit of everything," explained Carboy, adding that
their small size has allowed them to respond rapidly to emerging
market trends. Gross sales for 2003 topped $145,000.
||"There's no reason to give over
the garden center market to Home Depot."
Greensgrow is in a poorer neighborhood, and part of its mission
is to serve that immediate market. Carboy and her colleagues
started the farmstand when they realized that many people in
the area couldn't manage the large up-front payment demanded
by a CSA; and they're open on Saturdays because they know that
many people get paid on Friday and have little cash left by
mid-week. The garden center grew out of their 'bread and roses'
philosophy--a belief that all people have a right not just to
good food but also to purely aesthetic things like flowers and
potted plants. "There's no reason to give over the garden
center market to Home Depot," Carboy pointed out.
By acting as a wholesale buyer and distributor for farmers
in southeastern Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey, moreover,
Greensgrow helps bring high quality, locally-grown food into
the urban center without asking distant farmers to commit
to an inner-city farmers' market. "We pay as we go; we're
not a broker," Carboy emphasized. They drive one collection
route a week, buying eggs, meat, and cheeses, as well as vegetables
and fruits, for resale at the farmstand and to Center City
Maintaining good working relationships with those restaurants
is one key to Greensgrow's success, Carboy said. "Restaurants
are a great venue for getting the word out about local foods,"
she noted, and "communicating with chefs is a great way
to stay on top of market trends." In turn, Greensgrow
passes market information on to the farmers they buy from,
"whether it's the latest fad among the 'white-cloth'
restaurants--or a need of a local immigrant community."
And while Greensgrow is not interested in expanding, they
would love to see similar projects spring up in other cities
or other parts of Philadelphia. "We are the new neighborhood
grocery," Carboy concluded. "Philadelphia has Samoan,
Liberian, Hmong neighborhoods--each of those areas could have
small farms to meet their specific needs."
Doing homework in the kitchen
Jack Gurley told the audience not to let romantic ideas about
farming as a way of life interfere with good business decisions.
When Gurley and his wife Becky started Calvert's Gift ten
years ago, their goal was to create a small farm that would
employ them both full-time and support them financially. Today
they have achieved that goal, with around 5 acres in cultivation
(most of which is rented), a 40-member CSA, two farmers' markets
a week, and standing accounts with several restaurants and
an organic co-op.
The key to the operation, said Gurley, "is diversity, both
in crops and markets." He continually seeks out new crops,
new varieties, new forms of presentation. He and his wife are
both enthusiastic cooks, testing what they grow every day in
the kitchen. "We cook, we go out to restaurants, we subscribe
to food magazines." At the farmers' market, Gurley said,
"for everything you grow, you should be able to
give a ten to fifteen-second recipe to the customer.
That makes a huge difference for people trying new things."
Creative cooking has helped Gurley discover profitable crops
where others would just see waste: he has made something of
a specialty out of edible flowers, including flowers from crops
that bolt readily, like broccoli and arugula. From a single
planting of garlic he gets four crops: garlic scallions, garlic
scapes, traditional garlic bulbs, and garlic roots--these are
trimmed from the bulbs, washed, and sold by the clamshell to
chefs, who use them for garnishes and in stir-fries. "Restaurants
are trying to be different, trying to create something unusual
too," he observed; "as a farmer you want to help them
Gurley's pragmatic market orientation doesn't mean he's not
sincerely committed to organic principles. He underlined the
importance of organic certification and pointed to ways in which
the best management practices yield the best quality food. At
Calvert's Gift they use no plastic mulch or drip tape on their
tomatoes because they have found that "tomatoes are like
grapes, they taste better when they're a little bit stressed."
Instead, Gurley seeds white Dutch clover for combined weed suppression
and fertility. He has also found crops that can do double duty
for nutrient inputs and cash sales: when he sows Austrian winter
peas as a cover crop, they harvest the tender tips for sale
as pea shoots.
Finally, Gurley told the audience to take it easy. "We
have two young kids--so we usually stop work at 5:00. In the
winter, I spend a fair amount of time lying on the sofa reading."
In order to be able to think and plan well, he said, "you
need to rest, to read, and to relax. That's what sustainable
farming is about, after all--seasons and cycles."
Rethinking regional markets
The direct marketing track continued in the afternoon with
presentations by Kathleen Frascatore, market manager for the
Oneonta Farmers' Market in upstate New York, and Michael Rozyne,
founder and managing director of Red Tomato, a not-for-profit
marketing venture based in Massachusetts. The two speakers
described creative efforts to connect regional producers with
The Oneonta Farmers' Market is run by the non-profit Center
for Agricultural Development and Entrepreneurship (CADE) on
behalf of the city of Oneonta. Started in 2002, the market
has grown to include 18 farmers, while total gross food sales
have risen from $100,000 in 2002 to $130,000 in 2003--impressive
figures given that the market is in operation just 20 half-days
per year. (As a market manager, Frascatore strongly recommends
gathering gross sales data from vendors: "No matter what
your sales are, it gives you a base line, a place to build
from," she argued. "It will help you evaluate the
success of your promotion strategies from year to year.")
Although CADE secured some outside funding to develop the farmers'
market and other initiatives, Frascatore had a publicity budget
of just $500 for the first year, forcing her to come up with
inexpensive promotional strategies. Many people's first marketing
idea, she noted, is to do a postcard mailing or run a newspaper
display ad--but both these methods are relatively pricey for
the number of people they reach. Instead, Frascatore sent press
releases to the local paper, got herself invited on to the morning
show at the radio station, and put together a temporary window
display in one of the downtown banks. Like many farmers' market
managers, she also organized special events: a Children's Festival,
including a scavenger hunt with questions about the different
sellers' stalls; a Dairy Festival, highlighting goats' milk
and goat cheese; a Watermelon Day, inspired by one vendor's
||"It's a big job you're trying
to undermine fifty years of mass marketing education."
Other promotional efforts were based on reciprocity. To find
musicians to come play at the market, for instance, Frascatore
contacted bands scheduled to perform at local restaurants, so
that by making an appearance at the market they could promote
their evening gig. An 'After the Market' campaign involved restaurants
featuring local farm products on their menus in exchange for
promotion at the market. With the farmers' market located on
a downtown plaza, Frascatore felt it was important to build
solidarity with Oneonta's downtown merchants. "I didn't
want to ask the downtown merchants for money, because really
they're in the same boat that farmers are, struggling against
the big-box stores. Instead, I joined the local merchants' association."
Today the farmers' market is recognized as "the number
one draw for downtown Oneonta on Saturday mornings in the summer."
Like the morning speakers, Frascatore emphasized the importance
of educating consumers about food and farming, but she advised
against making abstract arguments about things like the plight
of family farmers. "Direct sales are about human connection--any
advertising you do should reflect that." Either focus on
the quality of the product, or appeal to fundamental values
like children's health. "The challenge," she noted,
"is to reach working-class, middle-class America,"
to show that "there are hidden costs to cheap food. It's
a big job," she acknowledged, "you're trying to undermine
fifty years of mass marketing education."
the challenge of efficient distribution
In a final session, Michael Rozyne described how managing the
non-profit produce brokerage Red Tomato has been like "getting
a university degree in each fruit or vegetable" they handle.
Red Tomato works with about 30 medium-sized farms--fruit growers
of 50-100 acres, vegetable growers of 25-200 acres--mostly in
the Connecticut River Valley, brokering sales to Boston area
supermarkets while maintaining the farms' distinctive product
identity. Red Tomato's original concept, Rozyne explained, was
to arrange sales and provide marketing materials while letting
the farmers handle actual distribution. It quickly became apparent,
however, that trucking is a big challenge for many farmers.
Now Red Tomato considers every possible trucking solution: farmer
delivery, delivery by Red Tomato drivers, third-party trucking,
and 'back haul'--buying discounted truck space on the return
trip of somebody else's delivery, usually (ironically enough)
trucks going into Boston to bring produce from the Chelsea Terminal
Market out to supermarkets in western Massachusetts. The trick
for Rozyne is to figure out how to match buyers' orders with
the farmers' production, consolidate from many farms into as
few shipments as possible, and all the while manage temperature
and humidity to protect delicate crops like sweet corn and leafy
greens. With flexibility, ingenuity, and a lot of good will,
usually it all works out.
Before launching Red Tomato in 1997, Rozyne was a co-founder
of the fair trade coffee company Equal Exchange, and he admitted
that compared to coffee, profit margins in vegetable wholesaling
are razor-thin. Typically, Red Tomato makes between 50¢
and $1.50 per box of produce they handle; operating revenue
currently covers just 25% of their total expenses. (The balance
is made up by grants and donations.) Red Tomato was founded
with the goal of becoming self-supporting within a decade, but
at the moment Rozyne thinks it might take longer. Nevertheless,
he emphasized all the positive feedback Red Tomato has received.
"Despite all the pressures of consolidation in the supermarket
business, [the big chain stores] are willing to talk--they are
interested in this kind of thing," he said.
Asked for advice on organizing other farmers' distribution and
marketing projects, Rozyne response was similar to those of
the other speakers throughout the day: inventory all the positive
attributes of your farm or your area and then make the most
of them. "You've got to study your particular situation
and say, where's the opening, where's the crack? Where can I
get a toehold here?" In the game of direct marketing, those
who are thinking hardest can win.