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
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
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
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
||"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 Philadelphia restaurants.
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 provide that."
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."
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 local markets.
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
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."
Cracking 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,"
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.